When I started hosting podcasts a year-and-a-half ago, one of the people high on my guest list was Slawko Klymkiw.
There are many reasons for this. First of all, Slawko has spent over 40 years towering over the media landscape in Canada. His list of achievements are many, both as head of programming at CBC and as the CEO of the Canadian Film Centre — a post he retired from at the beginning of this month.
Mainly though he’s just one of those people you want to have a conversation with. He’s fast on his feet and is not afraid to express what he thinks. He’s also a keen listener — a great quality in a leader, a podcast guest and a friend.
We talk about his robust and adventurous career journey at CBC. He acknowledges that being the top programmer there was a bit like standing at the wrong end of a shooting gallery at times. As he says, “CBC is an easy target to pile on.”
As the head of programming there in the ’90s and into the 2000’s, Klymkiw was responsible for giving the green light to hits such as The Rick Mercer Report and Da Vinci’s Inquest. Even there he deflects attention, crediting former CBC TV Variety head George Anthony with bringing Mercer in on a silver platter.
Not everything Klymkiw tried at CBC worked. Back when I was The Toronto Sun’s TV critic, I would razz him in print for experimenting with things such as “hosted prime.” That’s when CBC stars such as Mercer or David Suzuki would welcome viewers at 8 p.m. and give 60-second intros to that night’s fare. I saw it then as a minute to reach for the remote, but really it was the same thing TCM does now every evening and a strong way to distiguish a brand — a notion that maybe should be revived in today’s cluttered TV environment.
After 25 years at CBC he moved on to have an even greater impact as head of The Canadian Film Centre. The past 16 years, Klymkiw took a visionary approach to managing the CFC, broadening the scope of the institution Norman Jewison built to include mentorship programs in television as well as in film and guiding the institution into the digital era by welcoming new industry partners such as Netflix into the CFC sponsorship tent.
He was also responsible for helping to raise an estimated $150 million in funds for the Centre, a legacy that will continue to inspire and help educate the next generation of Canadian media storytellers.
We talk about all that; about the COVID challenges of the past year-plus, and about getting to go to work at Windfield Farms every day. Klymkiw acknowledges that he was beyond lucky to work at this lush, rural estate in the heart of a city. It’s the ultimate Canadian campus and office space — and a hell of a place to pitch the Great Canadian Baking Show tent.