Pentagram’s Emily Oberman is pretty much Saturday Night Live’s go-to designer at this point. She’s done three separate SNL identities, including this year’s 40th-anniversary logo, as well as several opening title sequences, and a smattering of SNL commercial parodies. Generally speaking, though, Oberman’s SNL geekdom lives on the screen, not the page, which makes her latest project something of a departure. Teaming up with the art book publisher Taschen, Oberman has designed Saturday Night Live: The Book, a 500-page comedy bible that aims to take readers behind the scenes of what could be the most chaotic, last-minute, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants show in television history.
With a boxy cover designed to evoke a rock-and-roll album cover, Saturday Night Live: The Book is roughly divided into three parts. The first part of the book structures itself as a weekly calendar, emulating SNL’s own Monday through Saturday production schedule. “We had this idea that the book should be built around this idea of the work week, so that each day is done as a separate chapter,” Oberman says. Everyone has a certain era of SNL that immediately comes to mind when they think of the show, but Oberman and Castle wanted readers to explore all eras of the show. The weekday structure allows Saturday Night Live: The Book to tell the history of the show from a non-chronological, but still rigid, structure. If you’re reading the Monday chapter, for example, it might tell the history of Saturday Night Live‘s writing rooms, because the skits start getting written on Monday; a history of SNL musical guests, on the other hand, wouldn’t be found until the Saturday chapter.
After the calendar section, Saturday Night Live: The Book dives into a lengthy exclusive interview with Lorne Michaels, then finishes up with an encyclopedic reference guide to the entire series, including a complete list of skits, hosts, musical guests, and more.
Oberman was not involved with the design of the Taschen book from the get-go. While designing SNL‘s 40th-anniversary identity, Oberman heard through the grapevine that Taschen was working on a companion book. It was a dream project for Oberman, but she had to convince Taschen editor Alison Castle to let her work on it. Luckily, that was easy. “We’re both SNL super-fans and comedy geeks, so we hit it off pretty much immediately,” Oberman says. “Alison and I just had very similar feelings about what the tone of the book should be: as much of an art book as an encylopedia, and definitely more of a coffee table book than one you’d keep in your bathroom.”
Finding a graphic design language that could support that volume of content was uniquely challenging. Over the years, Saturday Night Live has been so many things to so many people, so it was important to avoid evoking any one era of SNL history too strongly. For the weekday calendar section of the book, Oberman settled on typography that calls to mind a typed script, without being too on the nose. “We wanted something that could change weight and feel like a typewriter, but also feel like design at the same time,” Oberman says. Another motif was trying to capture the design language of television itself. As you follow the calendar from production to the airing of the show itself, the borders of the pages change to black, like the borders of a television. And since Saturday Night Live: The Book is meant to be the ultimate SNL bible, ribbons have been sewn into the book as chapter markers. Their colors are red, green, and blue, to represent the RGB colors of the television spectrum.
Although Oberman and Castle have been working on Saturday Night Live: The Book for more than a year, it was still a skin-of-the-teeth project to pull together at the end. For example, the weekly calendar format of the book resulted in unique layout challenges. If a picture of Chevy Chase was in the Tuesday section of the book, it had to have been taken on a Tuesday. “We’d layout a page of photographs, only to realize we had to redo the spread, because one or two photographs were taken on a different day of the week, she laughs. But at the end of the day, according to Oberman, the process just gave her a better appreciation of what Saturday Night Live is all about.
“Over the years, I’ve talked to a lot of people who have worked on SNL, and invariably, they all talk about it as this big rolling machine, like a carnival, where everyone has their job,” Oberman says. “When you do an identity for SNL, you’re kind of detached from that carnival air, but with this book, I was able to feel a lot more how that machine works and how incredible it is that they get SNL on the air every week at all.”
Saturday Night Live: The Book is now available for sale for an MSRP of $49.99. You can purchase it through Amazon here.