What You're Missing at the Start of Every John Oliver Episode

The title sequence to Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is memorable for its minimalistic, sleek design. But what do those graphics actually say?

When producers from HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver approached Trollbäck + Company to design the introduction sequence for the show, they knew exactly what they didn't want the firm to create: another news show parody package, a la the shows of Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. That'd been done.


So the firm instead created a sleek, minimalistic sequence featuring a rotating suite of graphics accompanied by faux (and sometimes real) Latin labels. 

Example: Hostus Mostus, John Oliver.

Graphic designer Kelli Miller, currently of And/Or, told Art of the Title about the inspiration for the sequence:

"The concept that we ultimately went with was inspired by cabinets of curiosity and encyclopedic reference books. I was thinking about how all these events, people, and cultural touchstones are examined, dissected, and kind of fantastically wonderful when you look at them through the lens of humour and satire."


Before settling on the encyclopedia-inspired aesthetic, designers considered other looks, like the one below.


The title sequence is now a signature part of the show, but it moves so quickly that it's hard to register all the visual jokes, like the photo of Vladimir Putin with the label Potus Operandi.

...or Logos Marlborum.

The title sequence's key feature, however, is the easter egg that appears briefly just before the start of the show, typically making a topical joke about the news of the week. For the July 30 episode, the joke was about the ouster of Reince Priebus from the Trump administration.

Miller said the easter eggs help keep the show's intro fresh and exciting.

"That’s really awesome because sometimes TV shows don’t have the staff to manage that sort of thing, but they did a really great job of carrying through the vision." 

"The density of the visual language and these updatable easter eggs really makes it fun to watch every week rather than the kind of thing that you might want to skip over after several viewings."

Translation: Love conquers Pence.

A small tribute to Adam West from the June 11 show.

A joke about student debt just in time for graduation.

The most recent episode on August 20 paid tribute to Dick Gregory, American civil rights activist and comedian, who passed away on August 19, 2017. 

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver isn't the only show to change up its title sequence. 

Earlier this year, Reddit user RohitMSasi shared screenshots of the title sequences of HBO's Game of Thrones seasons 6 and 7, noting a key difference between the two: the seas on either side of The Wall appear to be frozen in the newest version, but not in season 6. Who cares? Obsessive fans, sure – but also White Walkers seeking a strategic entry into the northern regions of the Seven Kingdoms. 

It's possible that the convention of the TV title sequence will someday become obsolete. Its original function was to let viewers know what show they're watching, but that seems less necessary given that people don't really stumble into watching random TV shows on streaming services like they might have while flipping through channels.

The people behind The Office, for instance, shortened the show's title sequence midway through the series' run, ostensibly to give editors more wiggle room. On Netflix, "The Office" doesn't even have a title sequence if the episode doesn't feature a cold opening. 

Viewers can also manually skip title sequences now. Netflix has already added a "skip intro" feature that its users seem to like, and other streaming services could follow suit. Still, there will probably always be a cohort of fans willing to endure title sequences in search of easter eggs. And Reddit karma.

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Keep reading Show less

Adam Gopnik on the rhinoceros of liberalism vs. the unicorns of everything else

Torn between absolutism on the left and the right, classical liberalism—with its core values of compassion and incremental progress whereby the once-radical becomes the mainstream—is in need of a good defense. And Adam Gopnik is its lawyer.

Think Again Podcasts
  • Liberalism as "radical pragmatism"
  • Intersectionality and civic discourse
  • How "a thousand small sanities" tackled drunk driving, normalized gay marriage, and could control gun violence
Keep reading Show less

Why the south of Westeros is the north of Ireland

As Game of Thrones ends, a revealing resolution to its perplexing geography.

Image: YouTube / Doosh
Strange Maps
  • The fantasy world of Game of Thrones was inspired by real places and events.
  • But the map of Westeros is a good example of the perplexing relation between fantasy and reality.
  • Like Britain, it has a Wall in the North, but the map only really clicks into place if you add Ireland.
Keep reading Show less

Fascism and conspiracy theories: The symptoms of broken communication

The lost practice of face-to-face communication has made the world a more extreme place.

Videos
  • The world was saner when we spoke face-to-face, argues John Cameron Mitchell. Not looking someone in the eye when you talk to them raises the potential for miscommunication and conflict.
  • Social media has been an incredible force for activism and human rights, but it's also negatively affected our relationship with the media. We are now bombarded 24/7 with news that either drives us to anger or apathy.
  • Sitting behind a screen makes polarization worse, and polarization is fertile ground for conspiracy theories and fascism, which Cameron describes as irrationally blaming someone else for your problems.
Keep reading Show less