One of TV’s top executives, Rick Ludwin, is leaving NBC after a 31-year run at the network, writes Bill Carter at The New York Times.
Back in 2005, our good friend Phil Rosenthal at the Chicago Tribune wrote, " ‘The headline for Rick Ludwin should be `NBC’s unsung hero.’ I absolutely believe that,’ said Warren Littlefield, who, as head of NBC Entertainment in its 1990s glory days, was Ludwin’s boss. ‘Rick goes down as an NBC patron saint.’
The occasion for Rosenthal’s article was Ludwin’s then promotion to EVP from SVP. Ludwin’s primary job, for years, has been to oversee NBC’s late-night lineup.
But Ludwin’s influence went beyond late-night. As Rosenthal wrote, ‘Without Ludwin, there would have been no ‘Seinfeld.’ He commissioned the pilot, took money out of his specials budget to keep the show alive and oversaw the program for its entire run."
Rosenthal added in that 2005 piece, "Leno, No. 1 for the past decade, might have been replaced by David Letterman early in his ‘Tonight Show’ tenure had Ludwin and Littlefield not waged war on behalf of their guy. And O’Brien wouldn’t have been named successor to Letterman on NBC’s ‘Late Night,’ let alone pegged to replace Leno on ‘Tonight’ four years from now, without Ludwin. When [Conan,] the former ‘Simpsons’ and ‘SNL’ writer stumbled early, Ludwin argued on his behalf and saved O’Brien’s job as host."
Of course what Rosenthal and no one knew back in 2005, the backing of Conan to replace Leno wasn’t going to work out so good.
As Carter wrote in his book "The War For Late Night," "Ludwin had been an integral part of the planning for this moment [when Leno was told, in March, 2004, that Conan was to take over ‘The Tonight Show’ in 2009]. Of all the executives at NBC, he had the only ongoing, straight-line connection to both Jay and Conan. Ludwin’s position throughout had been clear to everyone else in the talks: He supported Jay now and always but he believed the future was Conan."
In his New York Times article about Ludwin’s departure from NBC, Carter writes, "Mr. Leno had been unhappy with Mr. Ludwin over his role in those moves and had stopped communicating with him after [Leno] returned to ‘Tonight.’ "
Taking over for Ludwin is Paul Telegdy. Carter writes in the Times, that Telegdy "has been one of the network’s most successful entertainment executives in recent years, supervising its reality division. He will become president of alternative programs and late night."
As for Ludwin, Carter writes that he "will be transitioned into a consulting job, an NBC executive said."