Susan Lacy

"American Master" creator Susan Lacy is leaving public television for HBO. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Critically acclaimed documentary producer Susan Lacy, creator of "American Masters," is leaving public television for pay cable.

Lacy, who has been involved with PBS and its New York City affiliate WNET for close to 30 years, has signed a multi-year contract with HBO to produce and direct documentaries.

The deal is a big get for Sheila Nevins, president of HBO's documentary unit.

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"I've long admired her film portraits, which have been consistently stellar over the years," Nevins said.

Lacy said HBO is creating some of the best TV in history and going there was "an opportunity I couldn't resist."

"American Masters," which Lacy launched in 1986, is seen as the premier biography program and has won nine Emmy Awards and 12 Peabody Awards. Over the years, its subjects have ranged from Charlie Chaplin to Lou Reed.

"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 chief executive of WNET. "She is an original and replacing her will not be easy."

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