Sue Naegle named HBO Ent. president


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UPDATED 8:07 p.m. PT April 9, 2008
CORRECTED 8:41 p.m. PT April 9, 2008

UTA partner and TV department co-head Sue Naegle has been named president of HBO Entertainment. She fills the void left last month by the abrupt departure of HBO veteran Carolyn Strauss.

In the wake of Naegle's departure, UTA partner Matt Rice has been named head of the agency's television department.

Naegle will take over all responsibilities previously held by Strauss, including oversight of primetime series, late-night and specials. She will report to Michael Lombardo, HBO's president of programming group and West Coast operations.

Strauss' resignation triggered an onslaught of phone calls from agents with recommendations for the job and from people pitching themselves, Lombardo said, noting that he and HBO co-president Richard Plepler met with as many candidates as they could.

"The process was time consuming," Lombardo said. "I'm glad we did it, but truthfully, our answer was under our noses. Sue has the most impeccable creative taste and sense of what makes an HBO show really work."

Among the projects Naegle packaged are client Alan Ball's praised HBO drama "Six Feet Under" and his upcoming series "True Blood," also for HBO.

"It was very clear for us that Sue was the perfect fit for HBO," Plepler said.

A search had been under way for an executive to serve as No. 2 to Strauss when she exited. Now it will be Naegle's decision whether she will hire another exec on her team, Lombardo said.

Naegle had been among a half-dozen names rumored for the top series development job at HBO, and she emerged as the front-runner early this week.

Naegle said she only recently made the decision to leave UTA, the only company she'd ever worked for after starting in the agency mailroom in 1992 after college.

"So many agents there are my closest friends, we've all grown up together," she said. "But this kind of opportunity comes along once in a lifetime, so you have to jump and grab it."

HBO has been at a creative crossroads in the past couple of years as it has failed to launch strong successors to its signature series "The Sopranos," "Sex and the City" and "Six Feet Under" and has lost some of its status as the quality TV benchmark to other cable networks, including AMC, FX, TNT and Showtime.

Plepler, Lombardo and Naegle said there are no plans for major changes in HBO's creative direction.

"I don't believe walking into HBO and changing the direction completely makes sense," Naegle said.

Naegle, who became UTA's youngest partner in 1999 when she was 29, said she will spend the next week or so transitioning her business and her clients and plans to officially start at HBO the week after next.

"I expect the majority of my clients will stay at UTA," she said.

That view was shared by her agency colleagues.

"Sue has been my best friend for 15 years and my partner in crime for the past 10," said UTA board member Jay Sures, who ran the agency's TV department with Naegle. "We are all sad that she is leaving, but this was such a rare, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we fully supported her decision."

In his new position, Rice will oversee UTA's TV literary and talent operations. UTA partner Michael Camacho will continue to oversee the alternative television department. Both report to UTA's board of directors.

"Matt has emerged as a major player in the television business: He is well-respected by his colleagues, clients, buyers and by the tastemakers and the decisionmakers in the business," Sures said.

Rice joined UTA as a partner in 2002 from the Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann agency, where he had been a television literary agent for six years. His promotion comes on the heels of the elevation of longtime TV lit agents Larry Salz and Dan Erlij to partners.