Susan Lacy, creator and executive producer of PBS‘ American Masters series, has signed a multi-year deal to produce and direct documentaries for HBO. PBS said today it plans to continue the docu series Lacy created in 1986. She has produced a library of more than 190 titles in that stretch, exploring the lives and creative journeys of American writers, musicians, artists, filmmakers and actors. It just landed its latest Emmy nomination for its most recent profile Inventing David Geffen. “It’s exciting to have someone as talented as Susan Lacy bring fresh ideas to HBO,” said HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins in a release today announcing the hire. “I’ve long admired her film portraits, which have been consistently stellar over the years. We look forward to great things from her.” Lacy is longtime PBS veteran, first with key roles in Great Performances and American Playhouse, and she later left to serve as head of the East Coast office of Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute. She rejoined NY pubcaster WNET in 1986 to launch American Masters, which has won a total of 14 Emmys in 67 nominations, 12 Peabody Awards, three Grammys, and a pair of Producers Guild Awards. The 200th film in the series, Shane Salerno’s biography of JD Salinger, is in theatrical release and slated to air early in 2014. “Susan has put her heart and soul into American Masters and has created an archive of films that is truly a national treasure,” said Neal Shapiro, president and CEO of WNET. “She is an original, and replacing her will not be easy. She leaves here with our gratitude and best wishes for more filmmaking success.”
2ND UPDATE, 9:23 AM: It has been quite a week for J.D. Salinger. The Shane Salerno documentary Salinger has been shown to only two parties so far, and in both cases, the result was a smashing deal. First to see it was the American Masters team, which quickly paid low-seven figures to license U.S. domestic TV rights and make it the 200th installment of the prestigious program in January. Second to see it were the Simon & Schuster editors, who quickly made a worldwide rights deal on the companion book, The Private War Of J.D. Salinger. Agency sources tell me that deal was closer to $2 million than $1 million for the sprawling book by David Shields and Salerno. It will be published in September, just ahead of the theatrical release.
Next up: the feature distribution deal. I don’t get the impression there will be a big gang bang screening and then an auction; it will be a subtler, more selective process than that. But the goal is to lock in a distributor who’ll give it a nice theatrical play in the months before the American Masters premiere next year, and figure out DVD and those other ancillaries excluding U.S. domestic TV rights. By the time all this is done, it should be a nice outcome for Salerno and the eight years and $2 million he invested to assemble both the film and the book.