While NBC Entertainment has undergone a major shakeup in its executive ranks since Bob Greenblatt took over as chairman in January, the ankling of latenight topper Rick Ludwin on Thursday caught TV bizzers by surprise, including some at NBC.
Another NBC latenight exec, veep Nick Bernstein, was let go on Thursday as well after 11 years with the network. Ludwin and Bernstein handled all of NBC’s latenight properties, including “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” and “Saturday Night Live.”
Ludwin’s departure after 31 years at NBC was said to be spurred by an effort to streamline the network’s exec ranks and trim some costs, especially at a time when NBC is investing bigtime in programming and marketing for the network and creative assets to beef up its newly renamed Universal Television production arm.
The effort to trim costs in latenight is somewhat ironic in that the daypart is a huge cash cow for the net and much more stable than primetime. Following the Conan O’Brien-Jay Leno brouhaha of a few years ago, “The Tonight Show” is back as the leader in the 18-49 demo at 11:30 p.m. over David Letterman, and Fallon is one of TV’s rising stars.
Leno, coincidentally, had a falling out with Ludwin after the latenight host returned to “The Tonight Show.” Leno believed Ludwin was more in the O’Brien camp when the network had to decide who would ultimately be best suited to host the show.
News of Ludwin’s segue to a consulting role at the network came the same day that NBC’s alternative programming exec veep Paul Telegdy was promoted to prexy of alternative and latenight programming, in recognition of his success with the unscripted sleeper “The Voice” and “America’s Got Talent.” Handing Telegdy the reins of latenight was seen as a move to make NBC’s exec structure more efficient.
Doug Vaughan, senior VP for special programs and alternative development, will likely take up much of the latenight slack left by the departures of Ludwin and Bernstein.