In Depth

Hot List: Marissa Devins

Television literary agent, UTA

Marissa Devins remembers clearly the day a writer named Caroline Williams first walked into the offices of United Talent Agency.

“I asked her what her dream job would be,” Ms. Devins said. “She said, ‘I’d like to be a writer on ‘The Office’ and then get my script made.’”

After a few calls and meetings with “Office” Executive Producer Greg Daniels, Ms. Devins helped Ms. Williams land a gig on “The Office.” And not long after, ABC greenlit production on “Miss/Guided,” a half-hour comedy created by Ms. Williams.

Neither accomplishment qualifies Ms. Devins for superhero status. After all, getting jobs for clients is what an agent does.

But while many agents get caught up in the art of the deal, Ms. Devins has thrived at UTA by maintaining a laser-like focus on clients, particularly those who haven’t yet become Big Names.

“For me, the greatest part of being an agent is taking someone you believe in, putting your support behind them and watching them succeed,” Ms. Devins said. “I like to find writers nobody has ever heard from before and start their career from scratch.”

Ms. Devins cites HBO entertainment chief Sue Naegle as her most influential mentor. Until just a couple of months ago, Ms. Naegle ran the TV division at UTA, helping shape Ms. Devins’ career.

“She is a fearless, passionate tornado,” Ms. Naegle said of Ms. Devins. “You can’t help but get caught up in her storm when she’s onto something.”

Ms. Devins’ focus on comedy and younger clients has paid off in recent years with several key deals.

In addition to “Miss/Guided,” she helped put together the Lifetime dramedy “Side Order of Life,” created by client Margaret Nagle. Both shows lasted just one season, but they helped put their respective creators on the map.

More recently, Ms. Devins worked with HBO’s Ms. Naegle to package client Colette Burson’s “Hung,” the first big project Ms. Naegle put together after arriving at HBO. HBO also is developing a U.S. version of British prison drama “Bad Girls” with client Raelle Tucker.

Ms. Devins’s other clients include Sera Gamble (“Supernatural”), Vanessa Reisen (“Swingtown”) and Sam Means (“The Daily Show”).

“Most of my influences have been comedy, so much of my business gravitates toward that” genre, Ms. Devins said. “I’d say it’s about 60/40 comedy.”

The depressed state of the TV comedy business means Ms. Devins has had to struggle to get jobs for some clients.

“In order to break writers, you need opportunities. You need jobs,” she said. “And those are fewer and far between. It’s harder to get people to that next level. I’ve had to learn patience.”

Ms. Devins—who remains close with most of her Kansas City high school friends—has been in the entertainment business for a decade. She started in the UTA mailroom in 1998 but left Los Angeles a year later to work on Madison Avenue. When she attended UTA’s annual upfront party in 2000, she realized she wanted to return to Hollywood.

It proved to be a fateful decision. In addition to building a successful career, Ms. Devins ended up meeting her husband of three years: UTA TV chief Matt Rice.

“There are pros and cons,” she said of her daily proximity to Mr. Rice. “Being a part of a team he’s part of is a good team to be on.”

There’s no carpooling to work, however.

“Oh, God, no,” she said, laughing. “That would just never work. Our day-to-day work lives are very different.”