In a somewhat strange turn of events, Hearst’s Esquire is “reanimating” Spy, the magazine cofounded by Kurt Andersen and Graydon Carter in 1986, starting today on its site for a month leading up to the presidential election.
Spy, which ceased publishing in 1998, took a satirical look at culture and politics. Its cofounder Carter would eventually move on to Condé Nast‘s Vanity Fair, where he has served as editor in chief since 1992. Since then, Carter has developed Vanity Fair into a publication that comments, delights, plays in, pokes fun at, and, at times, polices the land of the powerful. Carter hasn’t missed a beat when it comes to the presidential election, penning essays on his time writing about Republican nominee Donald Trump and rebranding him as a “short-fingered vulgarian.” That reference came from Carter’s days at Spy.
With so much buzz surrounding the presidential election, it seemed only fitting to revive Spy in some way as it marks its 30th anniversary, although it does seem somewhat odd that its rebirth is taking place at Hearst, not Condé Nast. But that might be part of the humor, depending on whom you ask.
Jay Fielden, editor in chief of Esquire, said Carter was not only looped in about the project but that he “gave his blessing.”
“Jay reached out to me to tell me,” Carter said. “But I couldn’t contribute for a host of reasons. Besides, it’s not as if I don’t have an outlet to write about Trump.”
“There’s no conflict of interest with Graydon,” said Fielden, who echoed Andersen’s editor’s letter on the pop-up site, that Spy fills a white space of sorts.”Now we don’t have Gawker, we don’t have Jon Stewart,” Fielden offered. (It should be noted that Carter’s name is absent from Andersen’s letter, save from a caption showing the two editors in Spy’s offices).
Fielden expounded on how the partnership came about, noting that Hearst’s newly named chief creative officer Joanna Coles had dinner over the summer with Andersen. The two struck up a conversation about bringing back Spy. Coles approached Fielden with the idea. All that stood in the way was talking to Psychology Today chief executive officer Jo Colman, who owns the rights to the Spy name.
The Spy pop-up is edited by Josh Wolk, who previously served as editorial director of Vulture and as editor of Yahoo Entertainment. Other writers include J.R. Havlan of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and Gabriel Snyder, formerly of The New Republic, The Atlantic, Gawker and the Observer. The team tapped Wieden + Kennedy for the creation of spoof ads, which appear on the site. Richard Turley, the buzzy former creative director at MTV and Bloomberg Businessweek, just joined Wieden and he’s working on the project, Fielden added.
Asked why Esquire didn’t just launch its own humor vertical, Fielden said pulling off a “groundswell” of excitement in 30 days with an unknown property wouldn’t be an easy feat.
“The innermost hive has to get excited about it,” said Fielden, perhaps not so coincidentally name-checking Vanity Fair’s recently launched media vertical “the Hive.”
Still, only a small segment of the population has even heard of Spy —and most of them are not Millennials — the target demographic for the digital reader.
“Come on,” the editor shot back with a mixture of humor and frustration. “It can be a rubrik. We’re tweeting it out, using Instagram…it just has to be funny and smart.”