Ludwin, the longtime NBC late-night executive who died Sunday at age 71, famously championed Seinfeld. But also fought for Conan O'Brien when the then-unknown former Simpsons and SNL writer was struggling following the September 1993 launch of Late Night with Conan O’Brien. “In 1993, when I took over the late-night show — it was a long time ago — but I had a very rocky start,” O’Brien recalled on his Monday show. “Pretty much everyone at the network thought that I should be canceled, but one executive disagreed and that was Rick Ludwin. Rick actually came to many of our early shows and watched what we were doing.” Conan said Ludwin was “brutally honest,” but fair. “He also saw that there was a lot of value to what we were trying to do," Conan said. "He was a generous laugher when we had something good. Rick argued passionately for me with the network and he helped keep me on the air for those first two years." Conan also played a clip of him and Jerry Seinfeld paying tribute to Ludwin in 2009 during the final days of Late Night with Conan O'Brien. “Sixteen years later, during the Tonight Show fiasco, Rick stuck by me again, even though he was putting his own job at risk,” Conan said. “After I ended up here at TBS, Rick was a regular visitor and he remained a loyal friend to our show.” Conan asked his studio audience to give Ludwin a round of applause.
How Rick Ludwin saved Seinfeld: NBC decided to burn off the poorly received The Seinfeld Chronicles pilot during the dog days of summer, on July 5, 1989. But Ludwin “went to (then-NBC president) Brandon Tartikoff after he saw that the pilot was being burned off. Rick had (the budget for) two one-hour specials, and he said he’d give them to Brandon so we could make four more episodes,” recalled Alan Horn, then head of Seinfeld producer Castle Rock Entertainment. Horn said NBC only had one suggestion after the pilot: "Put a girl in it," which led to the casting of Julia Louis-Dreyfus. “So we made the four episodes, and Seinfeld took off,” Horn said. “Rick was the unsung hero. He cheered us from the sidelines and we never forgot him.”
NBC praises the "indelible mark" Ludwin left on the network: “The entire NBC family is deeply saddened today by the news of Rick Ludwin’s passing,” George Cheeks, vice chairman of NBCUniversal Content Studios, said in a statement. “Rick left an indelible mark in his 30-plus years at the network, with a rich legacy that lives on to this day.”
Jerry Seinfeld says it was "privilege" to have known Ludwin: “Rick Ludwin was the ONE person at NBC in 1989 that thought The Seinfeld Chronicles would be a funny TV series,” Seinfeld said in a statement. “He loved the Stooges, Jerry Lewis, and Abbott and Costello, so he and I always got along great. He was also just a sweetheart of a guy. Everyone at our show loved working with him.”
Seth Meyers pays tribute to "legend" Ludwin: "He often came by, gave thoughtfully worded notes that were complimentary but firm and fair," said Meyers, who first met Ludwin when he joined SNL in 2001. Ludwin, he recalls, would send a copy of SNL sketches that did well and send them to cast members from his office in L.A.
Michael Schur says so many actors, writers and comedians owe Ludwin a debt of gratitude: "Rick was the most unassuming comedy executive I've ever met," the Parks and Recreation creator and former SNL writer said in a series of tweets. "He knew more about show business than anyone, but he looked (and carried himself) like a small-town insurance agent...He was a gem of a guy. A truly nice person. He loved what he did, and he did it well. This is a very sad day for the industry."