Jay Switzer’s last and biggest project for VideoAge appeared in the October Issue of the publication, and was titled: “The Complex World of Canada’s TV Upfront.” Few executives knew the Canadian TV industry better than Jay, who died on January 29 after battling an aggressive tumor.
VideoAge and the worldwide television industry lost a universally loved friend, and our thoughts are now with his beloved wife, Ellen Dubin, a talented actor who never left Jay’s side.
Born in Calgary, Jay was the son of Canadian cable pioneer Israel (Sruki) Switzer and CITY-TV co-founder Phyllis Switzer.
Jay first entered the TV business at age 13 when he was tasked with reporting to his mother on CRTC regulatory hearings. At age 16, he was “promoted” to CITY-TV switchboard operator in Toronto, making C$1.50 an hour.
While continuing to work in television, Jay obtained an MBA degree at the University of Western Ontario. In 1978, he became a program manager for CITY-TV, and in the year 2000, he was appointed president of CHUM Television, a group that had acquired CITY-TV in 1978, and owned several TV channels.
When CHUM founder Allan Waters stepped down in 2002, Jay assumed control of the entire CHUM broadcast group, a position he only relinquished in 2007 when CTV acquired the group. Three years later, he founded four specialty channels that became known as Hollywood Suite.
Last December, Jay was invested into the Order of Canada, one of the country’s highest civilian honors. We’ll miss his trademark salutation at every L.A. Screenings party, “Let me introduce you to a Canadian buyer…”
Here’s how some of his friends and industry executives remember Jay:
Sony’s Andy Kaplan: “Jay’s enthusiasm and passion for television was contagious. Jay looked forward to every new television season like he was waiting by the mailbox for his first TV Guide. We will miss Jay very, very much.”
Shaftesbury’s Christina Jennings: “Jay’s kindness and generosity is something that really stands out about the man. He was always so willing to help and to give of his time. I always loved meeting Jay after he came back from the L.A. screenings. He always went and I didn’t. We would have lunch. He would bring out this folded piece of paper from his top pocket. On this one sheet of paper, in small handwriting, Jay had noted all the good shows and the not-good shows. All on that one sheet of paper. And usually, when I saw the shows later on, I would realize that Jay had gotten so many right.”
Lionsgate’s Kevin Beggs: “I will remember Jay for the pure joy he felt and conveyed in building a business around storytelling immersed in pop culture. Jay was excited to hear pitches, to pitch you the projects that were exciting to him, and to share in fandom for great entertainment that was simply in the world. Jay was one of the first programmers in Canada to embrace a start-up called Lionsgate and returned every call and e-mail I lobbed his way. He loved the work, but was the first to ask about personal well-being. He is a role model for anyone currently in the media business and to those yet to join it. Long may your light shine, Jay.”
BBC’s Matt Loze: “From breakfast at the BH Hotel coffee shop talking about Ellen’s accomplishments, to the pre-Banff dinners at the River Rock Hotel gossiping about Canadian TV, Jay’s passing has left a massive black hole in the international TV universe. None of us will ever be as shining or talented as when Jay would introduce us to another friend. He knew the best versions of each of us. Jay was a truly exceptional mensch.”
Hollywood Suite’s David Kines: “Like his mom, Jay started in the business as a television programmer, and even as he went on to be a president and then CEO and then a member of various boards, he was always still a programmer at heart. He loved attending the L.A. screenings every May, and made concise notes on each and every series he screened. He and programming vp Ellen Baine could endlessly discuss how each series evolved once they got under way and met their fate with the viewing public.”
Communications executive Mary Powers: “Jay was a truly remarkable man, a rare combination of business acumen and creative talent, who led with generosity and kindness. There is so much he will be remembered for, not the least of which was his unwavering support of Canadian television and his belief in its place on the world stage. For those of us who had the good fortune to work for Jay at CHUM for so many wonderful years, he never stopped challenging us to grow, to take chances and find new ways to accomplish goals as our industry dramatically changed. It was an honor to have called Jay my boss, my mentor, and my friend.”