Article on broadcastingcable.com by Melissa Grego
WHO: Sue Naegle, President of Entertainment, HBO
WHERE: Le Pain Quotidien, Studio City, Calif.
WHEN: April 2009
THE DISH: It’s just a few weeks shy of a year since Sue Naegle made her big career shift when we meet for breakfast at the casual, quiet Le Pain Quotidien in Studio City. She left her 16-year stint at talent agency UTA to become president of entertainment at HBO on May 1, 2008, and the results of her first bit of development for the pay-TV network are now rolling in. At the same time, she’s also entering her second period of pilot production.
“After going through it in the fall, I feel better about doing it,” she tells me over breakfast in early April.
But the pressure is on. The executive trio of CEO Bill Nelson and HBO co-Presidents Richard Plepler and Eric Kessler took over the network in 2007 after former chairman Chris Albrecht was ousted. Michael Lombardo took over the programming group at that time. They took a gamble by installing an agent with no programming or development jobs on her resume to rejuvenate the programming lineup.
Her bar is as high as that of any executive, as success at HBO is measured by much loftier standards after hits like The Sopranos and Sex and the City made it one of the top creative places in television. Naegle hopes pouring more time and money into more pilots than ever will help HBO get its mojo back.
Naegle is taking a, pardon the expression, big shot with the first series developed entirely under her aegis, dramatic comedy Hung, about an unusually well-endowed schoolteacher-turned-male prostitute. Call it the former agent’s debut HBO “package.” It premieres in July alongside new seasons of sophomore True Blood and veteran Entourage. Her second and third entries, comedies Bored to Death and How to Make It in America, are slated to debut in the fall and 2010, respectively.
After slugging out the often-frustrating broadcast development cycle for years as an agent, Naegle quickly employed a process at HBO for creating series that diverges both from how the broadcast networks do it and how HBO has developed in the past.
“I did have the feeling what the company needed to do to right the ship required money,” she says. “There hadn’t been enough in the pipeline, and there wasn’t enough choice. So [failed series] John From Cincinnati comes along, and you just have to put it on the air. That went right to series; they didn’t even pilot it.”