Rick Ludwin was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He attended Rocky River High School in Rocky River, Ohio, and then attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Speech in 1970. During his college days at Miami University, Ludwin hosted “Studio 14,” a variety-comedy show that aired on Miami's WMUB-TV station. The show was completely student-run. Ludwin and his fellow classmates wrote, produced, directed and starred in the live show. "I had this love for live television. There was nothing more exciting," says Ludwin.
Ludwin next went on to complete a Master of Arts degree at Northwestern University. Soon after, he began working in broadcasting for stations WLS-TV Chicago and WXYZ-TV Detroit. Eventually, he became a producer on both Bob Kennedy and Mike Douglas’ television talk shows.
In free-lance stints for NBC, Ludwin helped to produce “Olympathon '79,” a television fundraiser special designed to foster support for American athletes who would be participating in the Olympic games in 1980. He also helped produce the NBC daytime television show “America Alive!.”
During his time working in Chicago television, Ludwin met and impressed Brandon Tartikoff, who soon after was appointed President of NBC Entertainment. Tartikoff then offered Ludwin the position of Director of Variety Programs at NBC in 1980. By 1983 Ludwin had been promoted to Vice President for Specials and Variety Programs. Later, in 1989, he was named Senior Vice President for Specials, Variety Programs and Late Night, and then in 2005 Ludwin was promoted to Executive Vice President for Late Night and Primetime Series.
Looking back on his early years with the network Ludwin admits, "I thought I'd be here a year and be fired or would leave out of frustration, and here I am all these years later. It worked out pretty well."
Ludwin is credited for the success of series such as “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “Late Night with Conan O'Brien,” “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Unsolved Mysteries” and “Seinfeld.” Furthermore, in addition to serving as an executive on those numerous successful NBC programs since the 1980s, Ludwin has also made cameo appearances on “Seinfeld,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Late Night with Conan O'Brien” and alongside comedian Bob Hope.
Ludwin has also supervised numerous landmark primetime specials, including the EMMY Awards, Golden Globe Awards and “Saturday Night Live” primetime specials. He also worked on NBC’s 60th and 75th Anniversary telecasts, both of which featured a wide array of famous guests, such as Jennifer Aniston, Bea Arthur, Pierce Brosnan, Johnny Carson, Dick Clark, Courteney Cox, Ted Danson, Barbara Eden, Jimmy Fallon, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Michael J. Fox, David Hasselhoff, Bob Hope, Matt LeBlanc, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Rue McClanahan, Ed McMahon, Bob Newhart, Conan O’Brien, Rhea Pearlman, Matthew Perry, Mekhi Phifer, Phylicia Rashad, John Ratzenberger, Alfonso Ribeiro, Joan Rivers, Doris Roberts, Chris Rock, Maya Rudolph, David Schwimmer, Jerry Seinfeld, Molly Shannon, William Shatner, Barbara Walters, Betty White and many more.
Additionally, Ludwin helped to oversee the television special “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever,” which was a celebration of Motown’s 25th year. Notable performers on the special included Lionel Richie, Marvin Gaye, Mary Wells, Martha Reeves, The Jackson 5, The Miracles, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, and The Temptations and Four Tops, who competed in a “Battle of the Groups” style event. This special also included the now-iconic performance by Michael Jackson of his song “Billie Jean.” This was the first time that Jackson performed what would become his most famous signature move, the moonwalk. In fact, his concert performances of "Billie Jean" in the years after “Motown 25” were always based on his performance on the special, from the opening pose with the fedora, black sequin jacket and glove, to the moonwalk routine in the song's bridge.
Being the "longest-tenured employee at NBC Entertainment," Ludwin "rises up in meetings to argue for what he believes...but rarely stands up to take a bow," according to Chicago Tribune writer Phil Rosenthal. "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.
Ludwin's reply, "I don't put that in the category of death-defying leaps. That's what we're supposed to be doing."
Ludwin’s connections to his alma mater, Miami University, also remained strong. He visited the campus regularly to give talks to students in the Media, Journalism and Film Department. Furthermore, thanks to his professional connections in the entertainment industry, Miami University has been able to secure campus appearances by stars such as Bob Hope and Jay Leno. Additionally, on March 19, 2019 the Williams Hall TV studio located on campus, the place where Ludwin began his career by hosting “Studio 14,” was named the “Rick Ludwin Studio” in his honor.