Rick Ludwin, Former Head of NBC Late-Night, Dies at 71

Ludwin is known as the executive who pushed “Seinfeld” onto the airwaves

Last Updated: November 11, 2019 @ 3:54 PM

Rick Ludwin, a former NBC executive and its head of late-night, has died. He was 71.

The native of Cleveland, Ohio died after “a brief illness,” an NBC spokeswoman told TheWrap. Ludwin was born on May 27, 1948.

Ludwin is perhaps best known for backing “Seinfeld,” a sitcom that at the time was not a particularly popular choice for NBC’s airwaves. After a shaky start, “Seinfeld” would go on to become one of television’s most popular and most successful comedies of all time.

Ludwin, pictured above in 2004 documentary “Seinfeld: How It Began,” got his start in showbusiness by writing jokes for Bob Hope in the 1970s. He joined NBC in 1980.

By the end of his first decade there, Ludwin commissioned what was then called “The Seinfeld Chronicles.” He used money from his budget for TV specials to pay for four additional episodes and even canceled a planned Bob Hope special to finance the rest of “Seinfeld” Season 1.

In September 2011, Ludwin became a consultant for the network. He left NBC in 2012, shortly after “The Tonight Show” awkwardly transitioned from Jay Leno to Conan O’Brien and then back to Leno.

“The entire NBC family is deeply saddened today by the news of Rick Ludwin’s passing. Rick left an indelible mark in his 30-plus years at the network, with a rich legacy that lives on to this day,” George Cheeks, vice chairman, NBCUniversal Content Studios, said. “From Carson to Fallon and Seinfeld, Rick was instrumental in many of our greatest successes. Our thoughts are with Rick’s family and loved ones as we remember a broadcasting legend and colleague.”

As a youth, Ludwin left Rocky River, Ohio, to study at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he earned a mass communications degree. He also started in television as host of “Studio 14” at the school’s WPDT station. He later wrote jokes for Hope in the 1970s in Ohio.

Ludwin returned to Miami University every year to speak to students and was a key adviser to recent department chairs. He also donated memorabilia and 15 original “Seinfeld” scripts to the university. The school named the Richard A. Ludwin Television Facility in his honor.

Rick is survived by his brother, Daniel L. Ludwin (Linda), niece Julie Honefenger (Scott), nephew Daniel B. Ludwin (Amy) and his great-nieces and nephews Sara Hathaway, Dan Hathaway (Catalina), Caroline Helm and Jack Ludwin.

A celebration of life will be held in both L.A. and Cleveland at a  yet-to-be-determined date.

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