NBC’s Emmy juggernaut Saturday Night Live entered a few episodes this season for the production design award, one of which was presented by Only kills in the building‘s Steve Martin and Martin Short and a hosted by Wednesday star Jenna Ortega.
A nomination, or nominations, would extend the remarkable track record of Eugene Lee, who died in February at age 83 after serving as a production designer for SNL since the 1975 pilot. He has been nominated 17 times for the show, and a posthumous award would earn him a seventh Emmy win for the sketch series.
“I was very honored to work with Eugene Lee for 47 years,” says fellow production designer Leo Yoshimura. “Eugene hired me to be his art director Saturday Night Live in August 1975. I stayed too long. I will miss his enormous passion for design. But it’s comforting to know that I can still work in Eugene Lee’s television studio. Studio 8H is his room; he created this studio. He made every Saturday Night Live an event.”
Yoshimura and production designer Keith Raywood count “The Holiday Train” sketch set from the Martin and Short episode among their favorites from this 48th season, which was cut short due to the writers’ strike. The skit, starring Kenan Thompson and Cecily Strong, begins on a train to Buffalo, with a variety show-style look inspired by the 1954 classic musical. White Christmas, starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.
“I love the way it breaks up theatrically during the scene to reveal a snow-covered landscape and then reassembles for the end, all manually moved by our 8H staging crew, the best in the business,” says Raywood.
Yoshimura describes that train split as “pure luck, as we only practiced this complicated move twice, once during the walk-through and once during the dress rehearsal in front of an audience. I think that’s how confident, how good and how foolish we really are.”
This story first appeared in a standalone June issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.