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Rick Ludwin, NBC Late-Night Executive Who Backed ‘Seinfeld,’ Dies at 71

Rick Ludwin, the longtime NBC executive who championed “Seinfeld” and worked in late-night from the Johnny Carson era through Jimmy Fallon, died Sunday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 71.

Ludwin was well-liked throughout the TV industry and was highly regarded as a student of the medium. He retired from NBC after 31 years in 2011. He was hired at NBC in 1980 by the legendary Brandon Tartikoff, who had worked with Ludwin at WLS-TV Chicago.

Ludwin died Sunday after a brief illness, NBC confirmed. In his retirement, Ludwin remained an active TV biz commentator on TV via his Twitter account, @riclud. His last tweet on Oct. 13 offered praise for a “Saturday Night Live” skit: “#SNL airing right now. Very funny movie trailer parody — From director Todd Phillips, “GROUCH,” origin story of Oscar the Grouch. Great!!”

Seinfeld” star Jerry Seinfeld said he felt it was a “privilege” to have known Ludwin. The two were together earlier this year to celebrate Seinfeld’s 65th birthday.

Rick Ludwin was the ONE person at NBC in 1989 that thought ‘The Seinfeld Chronicles’ would be a funny TV series,” Seinfeld said. “He loved the StoogesJerry 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.”

O’Brien, now host of TBS’ “Conan,” who worked with Ludwin from his earliest days as “Late Night” host, said he was “stunned and saddened” by news of the executive’s passing.

“Though Rick always looked the part of a network ‘suit,’ he was a remarkable rarity in our business — a principled and uncompromising fan of comedy and a lover of television who stood up for performers and shows he believed in even when it was personally risky for him,” O’Brien said. “There is not a single executive in my career that I admire more, and I will not see his like again.”

Andy Richter, longtime sidekick to O’Brien, called Ludwin “simply one of the best humans to ever work in television” in a Twitter message.

Although the original 1989 pilot for the quirky ensemble comedy “The Seinfeld Chronicles” tested poorly, Ludwin continued pushing for it. NBC entertainment president Brandon Tartikoff famously advised it was “too New York” and “too Jewish,” but Ludwin even used funds from his specials budget to order four more episodes. Over time, “Seinfeld” grew to become a smash hit for NBC and an anchor of its 1990s Thursday comedy lineup.

During his 31 years at NBC, Ludwin had the unique experience of having worked with every “Tonight Show” host — Steve Allen and Jack Paar, albeit after their time on “Tonight,” as well as Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Fallon. Ludwin was in charge of late-night programming during the late 2009/early 2010 tussle for the show between O’Brien and Leno. He also helped guide the network through the choppy waters of the Carson to Leno handoff.

Ludwin grew up in Rocky River, Ohio. He graduated in 1970 from Miami University, which he supported throughout his career, returning often to talk with students.

Ludwin’s survivors include his brother, Daniel Ludwin, a niece and a nephew.

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