You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Alan Horn Remembers How Rick Ludwin Saved ‘Seinfeld’

Rick Ludwin was the unsung hero of “Seinfeld.” That’s how Alan Horn, Walt Disney Studios chairman and former head of “Seinfeld” producer Castle Rock Entertainment, remembered the longtime NBC executive who died Nov. 10 at the age of 71.

Ludwin was instrumental in getting the beloved “show about nothing” on to NBC as a regular series. Castle Rock had produced an offbeat pilot starring Jerry Seinfeld as a standup comedian in New York. NBC decided to burn off “The Seinfeld Chronicles” pilot with an airing in the dog days of summer — on July 5, 1989.

Horn told Variety that Castle Rock figured the show had no future at NBC. But Ludwin, who ran NBC’s late-night and variety specials division, still thought the “Seinfeld” concept had potential. He went out on a limb with his boss, then-NBC chief Brandon Tartikoff, to prove it.

Ludwin “went to 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,” Horn told Variety.

Horn and former Castle Rock partner Glenn Padnick recalled that NBC executives made only one suggestion to producers after the pilot aired, and it was a good one. “Seinfeld” gained traction with critics slowly but surely. By the 1993-1994 season, it was the most-watched comedy series in primetime.

“NBC had one note and one note only after the pilot: Put a girl in it,” Horn said. “Julia Louis-Dreyfus was not in the pilot – and it made all the difference in the world.”

“Seinfeld” remained among the top three most-watched series in primetime for the rest of its nine-season run, which wrapped in May 1998. In 1996 the show began its record-setting run in syndication, generating north of $2 billion in revenue, and counting. In September, Netflix ponied up an estimated $500 million to snare streaming rights to the “Seinfeld” archive of 180 episodes away from Hulu beginning in 2021.

All of those ratings and all of those riches might never have materialized if not for the faith and creativity demonstrated by Ludwin.

“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.”

(Pictured: “Seinfeld”)

More TV

  • Weeknd

    Watch The Weeknd Perform 'Heartless' on 'The Late Show with Stephen Colbert'

    The Weeknd channeled major Michael Jackson and Prince vibes for his first ever performance of recent single “Heartless” on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” Dressed in a red retro suit and dancing in the backstage hallways of the Ed Sullivan Theater, the three-time Grammy-Award winner had some fun with the impromptu music video, his [...]

  • Abby McEnany as Abby in WORK

    TV Review: Showtime's 'Work in Progress'

    There’s never a second that Abby (co-creator Abby McEnany) is unaware of all the things that make her different from the characters we’re used to seeing on TV, let alone those that typically get to anchor their own shows. She’s a butch “queer fat dyke” (her words) with OCD whose deep insecurity about all the [...]

  • Snooki Jersey Shore

    Nicole 'Snooki' Polizzi Says She's 'Retiring' From 'Jersey Shore'

    The fist-pumping and GTL days are over. Nicole Polizzi — aka Snooki — says she’s retiring from “Jersey Shore.” “I am retiring from ‘Jersey Shore,'” Snooki said on Friday’s episode of her iHeartRadio podcast, “It’s Happening With Snooki & Joey.” “I am not coming back for ‘Jersey Shore’ Season 4, if there is one. The [...]

  • Showtime Lakers book cover

    1980s Los Angeles Lakers Drama Scores Series Order at HBO

    HBO has given out a series order to the untitled one-hour drama about the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s. The project had originally been ordered to pilot at the premium cabler back in April. The show is described as chronicling the professional and personal lives of the 1980s Los Angeles Lakers, one of sports’ [...]

  • Comedy Central Refinery29

    Comedy Central and Refinery29 Team for Two All-Female Digital Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Comedy Central and Refinery29 have signed a digital content partnership to produce two comedy series featuring an all-female lineup of comedians, Variety has learned exclusively. Slated to premiere spring 2020, the series will be co-branded and distributed on both Comedy Central and Refinery29’s digital platforms. While neither series is being eyed for a linear run at present, [...]

  • Keli LeeStep Up Women Network 9th

    Keli Lee Exits ABC Studios International as Disney Considers Division's Fate (EXCLUSIVE)

    ABC veteran Keli Lee has left the international arm of ABC Studios as Disney considers the future of the London-based content unit, Variety has learned. Sources said Disney has told the creative community that there “has been a re-evaluation of ABC Studios International” and that it is re-assessing “the creative direction” of the business. There [...]

  • Biggest Scandals Feuds and Apologies of

    Biggest Scandals, Feuds and Apologies of 2019

    Variety looks back on some of the biggest scandals, feuds and apologies of 2019: College Admissions Scandal Wealthy parents including Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were charged with bribing school officials to get their unqualified kids into prestigious universities. Shane Gillis Executives at “SNL” hired, then fired, Gillis in September, before the new season started, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content