Working on shows involving life-changing drama and million-dollar ‘lifelines’ helped ESPN Motorsports producer prepare for current gig

Matt Ruhe
ESPN producer Matt Ruhe cut his teeth working on a reality television series as well as “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” game show. (Andy Hall/ESPN)

A little more than seven years ago, Matt Ruhe was part of the crew that produced one of the most popular shows on network television. But he wasn’t totally satisfied. As Who Wants to be a Millionaire? was in its stellar run, Ruhe worked behind the scenes, testing potential contestants to ensure they were qualified to be on the program.

“I started out just making sure everyone was happy, then went to running the whole department, a big swing in two years,” he said. “And then once I kind of plateaued there, I decided I needed something bigger and better.”

That desire, and a lifelong love of motorsports, led him to ESPN. He’s now an associate producer on ESPN’s motorsports event production team, working on both NASCAR and IndyCar coverage. He joined shortly before ESPN resumed live NASCAR event telecasts in 2007.

Working in the features unit, Ruhe produces highlights and pieces that tell the stories of drivers, crew chiefs and teams. Some of the unit’s work will be part of ESPN’s telecasts of the NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide Series races this weekend from Dover (Del.) International Speedway.

After growing up in Wyomissing, Penn., and graduating from Ithaca (N.Y.) College, Ruhe went to work on the ABC-TV reality series Houston Medical as an assistant editor for two years. “That show was a blast to work on,” he said.

Then came his time in New York on Millionaire. And the inner calling to move to ESPN.

Though he has worked on features all seven years he has been with ESPN, Ruhe has had the opportunity to do other jobs in the ESPN compound on occasions when there were races to televise from separate locations and crews had to be split. He’s worked on graphics, monitoring team radios and content coordinating. “I’ve gotten to experience a lot,” he said.

For the past two years, he also has produced the opening tease for the Indianapolis 500 telecast, which he ranks as the highlight of his career so far.

“That race holds such a special meaning to me and to my [late] father, Tom,” he said. “Just to be chosen to do that the past two years now is the absolute joy that makes me beyond so happy to do this.”

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