UPDATED: After six years at Condé Nast Entertainment, Joe Sabia is stepping down as the division’s SVP of creative development.
Sabia, best known as the host of Vogue’s “73 Questions” interview series, told Variety he is departing the media and publishing company on good terms. He said he’s setting up shop as an independent creative video producer to “go back to my roots as an artist.”
“I just feel like I’ve achieved everything I want to achieve” at Condé Nast, Sabia said.
A Condé Nast spokesman confirmed Sabia’s resignation, declining to provide further comment.
Sabia’s exit comes amid a leadership changeover at Condé Nast Entertainment: Later this month, Agnes Chu, former head of content for Disney Plus, is set to take the helm as president of CNE, replacing Oren Katzeff, who is moving into a new, unspecified role. Condé Nast Entertainment in recent months has been accused of racial pay disparities, leading several popular hosts of Bon Appétit’s “Test Kitchen” to refuse to sign new contracts for the series. (Bon Appétit, meanwhile, last month named book publishing vet Dawn Davis as editor-in-chief after the ouster of former EIC Adam Rapoport amid allegations of racial discrimination and after an old picture of Rapoport in brown face surfaced.)
Sabia said his leaving Condé Nast has nothing to do with the CNE executive shakeup or the company’s racial controversies. “I credit Condé with giving me all this freedom over the years,” he said.
To date, CNE has amassed 47 million subscribers on YouTube across its portfolio of brands, with the channels generating 500 million views per month, Sabia noted: “We built something big; we built something special.” He said he’ll continue to work with CNE as the interviewer of “73 Questions,” among other clients.
During his time at Condé Nast Entertainment, Sabia led the development and creation of multiple talent-led video franchises, including Wired’s “Google Autocomplete Interviews,” W’s “Celebrity ASMR” on W, Glamour’s “You Sang my Song” and Vanity Fair’s “Lie Detector” and “Tinder Takeover,” and GQ’s “Actually Me” (aka “Celebrities Go Undercover”). He’s also interviewed singer-songwriter Billie Eilish for Vanity Fair’s “Same Interview, One Year Apart” series, starting in 2017.
Sabia, who will remain based in New York City, said his client roster includes Outlier, a platform offering online university courses founded by Aaron Rasmussen (co-founder of MasterClass), as well as radio and podcast venture The Moth. He said he’ll also pursue creative collaborations with celebrities and commercial work, among other projects.
In 2007, Sabia became known for “Seven Minute Sopranos,” created with his friend Paul Gulyas, which edited footage from the first six “Sopranos” seasons (without permission from HBO) to summarize the entire series to that point. In 2011, Sabia delivered a TED Talk about “the technology of storytelling,” and he said those ideas for how to reach audiences in fresh ways will form the basis of the new business he is starting.
Going forward, Sabia will work on a contract basis to continue “73 Questions,” whose guests over the years have included Margot Robbie, Alicia Keys, Cardi B, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Zendaya, Selena Gomez and Sarah Jessica Parker. How did it happen that 73 was the set number of questions? “It’s an unusual number. It has good SEO [search engine optimization],” he explained. “And 100 questions is too many.”
Condé Nast credits Sabia with creating and launching “73 Questions” along with Vincent Peone. But according to a Business Insider report in July, filmmaker Shruti Ganguly was “instrumental” in creating the show’s format. (Per the BI article, Sabia had originally proposed asking interviewees 100 questions in three minutes.) The BI report also cited 13 current and former Condé Nast employees who said CNE’s process for vetting new projects — overseen by Sabia and VP of creative strategy and video programming Ian Edgar — “consistently rejected video pitches that would feature people of color and topics about nonwhite communities,” including those featuring Megan Thee Stallion and Lizzo, based on a “scale check” of how well proposed videos would perform on YouTube.
Sabia referred questions about the allegations in the BI article to Condé Nast PR. Asked about the charge that CNE’s vetting process is “racist,” a company rep cited comments by Condé Nast Entertainment SVP of programming Reggie Williams, who defended the scale system process based on data analysis: “In order to have cultural impact, you have to reach people, no matter what the cause.”