Susan Lacy Exits WNET for HBO Documentary Films

Susan Lacy Headshot - P 2013
Courtesy of HBO

Susan Lacy Headshot - P 2013

The "American Masters" creator and executive producer will work closely with HBO Doc chief Sheila Nevins.

Susan Lacy, creator and executive producer of WNET's iconic American Masters documentary series, is leaving public broadcasting for HBO where she'll produce and direct documentaries and work closely with HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins.

The surprise announcement came Wednesday from Nevins, who noted in a statement: “It’s exciting to have someone as talented as Susan Lacy bring fresh ideas to HBO,” said Nevins in a statement. “I’ve long admired her film portraits, which have been consistently stellar over the years. We look forward to great things from her.”

PHOTOS: 40 Years of HBO

Lacy created American Masters in 1986 and built the franchise, which is shown nationally on PBS stations, into the destination for the life stories of iconic Americans. The series has examined the lives and careers of everyone from David Geffen and Mel Brooks to F. Scott Fitzgerald and John F. Kennedy

And Lacy has been an entirely hands on executive whose booking prowess is legendary. She called Jeff RosenBob Dylan’s long-time manager, once a month for 10 years to convince him to persuade the notoriously press-averse Dylan to submit to the American Masters treatment. Rosen had amassed a treasure-trove of video interviews with Dylan; the resulting film, No Direction Home, was directed by Martin Scorsese and aired on American Masters in 2005.

And she pursued Salinger filmmaker Shane Salerno for about three years after she read that he had spent several years working on the documentary of reclusive Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger

"It was like she was Harrison Ford and I was Tommy Lee Jones," Salerno told THR during an interview earlier this year. 

Salinger, which opened in theaters earlier this month, will make its TV debut in January as American Masters' 200th episode.

In her own statement, Lacy noted: "It has been my honor to be part of the PBS and WNET family for so many years, and to have had the opportunity to amass a body of work which I hope demonstrates the depth of our unique cultural history and the value of quality documentaries in contributing to understanding our world. I have had the great privilege of working with some of the most talented filmmakers in the field, as well as the extraordinary individuals who have allowed us to tell their stories. I am now thrilled to become part of the HBO family. To work with the amazing Sheila Nevins and her team is the dream of most documentary filmmakers, and to be able to focus solely on producing and directing documentary films at a place which is creating some of the best television in history is an opportunity I couldn’t resist."

Lacy's departure is a big loss for American Masters. "We’re very sad to lose her leadership and vision at American Masters," said PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger. "But [we] will continue to build on her legacy with an ongoing commitment to American Masters on PBS.”

“Susan has put her heart and soul into American Masters and has created an archive of films that is truly a national treasure,” added Neal Shapiro, president and CEO of WNET, the flagship PBS member station in New York. “She is an original, and replacing her will not be easy. She leaves here with our gratitude and best wishes for more filmmaking success.”

Lacy's move to HBO also means that she will be joining forces with a longtime rival in the documentary world. American Masters and Nevins' HBO documentaries are often competitors on the awards circuit. Between 1999 and 2013, American Masters has won nine Primetime Emmy Awards for outstanding documentary series and five for outstanding documentary special, while its earned ten Peabody Awards between 1990 to 2011. 


Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie