There are many things that make a TV show memorable. Some shows have iconic characters. Others have theme songs that get stuck in our heads for years. Then there are the shows that spawned memorable catchphrases. Many shows over the years have featured characters who become famous for one thing they always said, and those phrases often entered the lexicon. Here are some of the most famous TV catchphrases from the airwaves over the years.
When “Good Times” started, it was a somewhat serious show about an inner-city black family trying to make it while dealing with racial bias in America. Then the character of J.J. Walker dropped one word with gusto, and the entire world of the show was turned on its head. The first thing people remember from “Good Times” is J.J. exclaiming “dy-no-mite!” — for a lot of people it’s the only thing they remember. That’s the power of the catchphrase.
We could do an article just of catchphrases from “The Simpsons.” There have been dozens. However, if we are holding ourselves to only one, we have to go with “D’oh!” After all, Homer’s iconic annoyed grunt even made it into the dictionary.
“The Big Bang Theory” seems primed to go down in the books as the last highly watched, long-running, multicam sitcom like those in the days of yore. It was a throwback, right down to the wacky character spouting a catchphrase. Sheldon Cooper would often punctuate moments by saying, “bazinga!” It doesn’t mean anything, but it caught on to be sure.
Michael Scott didn’t invent the phrase, “that’s what she said.” He did help popularize the double entendre punchline on “The Office.” If there is one phrase from modern sitcoms that has entered popular culture, it’s this one. We thought new catchphrases were difficult to make successful, but maybe it’s not so hard. That’s what she said.
Apparently “Diff'rent Strokes” loved its apostrophes, not just in its name, but in its iconic catchphrase. Many of us never saw the show. Even so, we all are at least familiar with Gary Coleman’s catchphrase, which he delivered to his brother, Willis, played by Todd Bridges. It overtook the show, and in a way it overtook Coleman’s life.
It wasn’t even a word, much less a phrase, but everybody remembers The Fonz and his famous utterance. And his jacket is in the Smithsonian! Arthur Fonzarelli was the coolest guy in the world of “Happy Days,” so he was able to get away with simply delivering an “ayyyyy,” usually with a pair of thumbs ups. If you aren’t a fan of this catchphrase, we have another "Happy Days" line for you: Sit on it!
Usually catchphrases come from comedies. They get a laugh, so the show goes to the well repeatedly to try and keep getting that laugh. On occasion, though, dramas have catchphrases as well. At the end of most episodes of the original “Hawaii Five-0,” Steve McGarrett would tell Danny Williams, aka Danno, to book the perp he had just caught.
Hey, robots can have catchphrases too! That was certainly the case on “Lost in Space,” where the Robinson family’s robot would frequently warn the youngest member of the family of impending danger. Why the rest of the family couldn’t get a warning, we don’t know.
Even people who didn’t like football found something to enjoy about the drama “Friday Night Lights.” There was a lot to find inspiring about Coach Taylor, played by Kyle Chandler in an Emmy-winning role. Of course, when he needed to inspire his players, there was one line he would deliver over and over. Even if you don’t play sports, “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” can inspire you.
With both Garry Shandling and Rip Torn now deceased, the legacy of the showbiz satire “The Larry Sanders Show” has been on the minds of comedy fans more often recently. It was a brilliant show at its best, a pitch-perfect look at the world of late night talk shows when they were still in their glory days. Catchphrases weren’t spared in the parody, as Larry’s sidekick, Hank Kingsley, would often deploy his, exclaiming “Hey now!” quite often. In fact, in one of the first episodes Larry confronts Hank on the meaninglessness of his catchphrase.
“Friends” and “Seinfeld” were the iconic sitcoms of the ‘90s, but neither of them really had catchphrases. Oh, “Seinfeld” inspired a ton of bits, but they were rarely repeated in the shows. “No soup for you!” was only in one episode, after all. One character in “Friends” did have a catchphrase, though, and that was lunkheaded Joey, who would use this line on all the ladies.
The crux of “I Love Lucy” was Lucy Ricardo getting involved in some crazy situation that had invariably gone wrong. Then her husband Ricky would find out about the wackiness that had ensued. At that point, there was only one thing for the Cuban bandleader with the thick accent to say. In other words it was time for Lucy to do some ‘splaining.
Remember that brief period of time when “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” was the biggest show in the world. It was a prime-time game show that ran five days a week! Game shows don’t seem like the place to spawn catchphrases, but Regis Philbin’s line he would deliver to every contestant before revealing if they were right or wrong took the country by storm just like the show did.
“The A-Team” was always coming up with plans to try and help the oppressed and less fortunate. Most of them involved explosions that would flip vehicles but not kill anybody. Face was the con artist, Murdock was the pilot and B.A. was the muscle. Hannibal, though, was the mastermind, and he always let us know how much he liked it when a plan came together.
“South Park” made quite a splash when it debuted. It was crass and rude and featured animated kids doing crazy things. Also, one of them got killed in every episode. When poor Kenny would bite the bullet, somebody, usually Stan, would exclaim this line. Then usually Kyle would follow up with something a little more vulgar.
The wide cultural impact that “Star Trek” ended up having is kind of crazy. In its initial run it wasn’t all that popular and almost got canceled after only a couple of seasons. It took a write-in campaign to get another season, to get to syndication and to help spawn one of the biggest sci-fi properties ever. If there is one line associated with “Star Trek,” though, it’s Spock’s famous farewell address, usually accompanied with an equally iconic hand gesture.
This is the rare catchphrase not said by a specific person. It’s not just one character from “Cheers” who would exclaim “Norm!” when the barfly would amble into Sam Malone’s establishment. Basically everybody in the bar would shout out when Norm swung by Cheers to take his usual seat. Norm was far from the most important character on “Cheers,” but he’s the one who got all the love.
You may not know the show that “kiss my grits!” came from. You may not know the character who said it. It’s not from a sitcom that has really stood the test of time. Yet we can pretty much guarantee you’ve heard this catchphrase, and it's one that has echoed through the ages. If you were wondering, it was the catchphrase of Flo from the series “Alice.”
“Sock it to me!” was not one person’s catchphrase on “Laugh-In.” It was said by basically everybody. It was simply a thing that was exclaimed here and there during the frenetic action of the sketch comedy show. There is one particularly notable person who said “Sock it to me!” though. That would be Richard Nixon.
Fred Flintstone didn’t waste much time getting to his catchphrase. He said it in literally every episode of “The Flintstones,” because it was in the opening credits. The first line of every episode was, in a way, “Yabba dabba do!” Then he’d say it a bunch during the show as well.
Speaking of catchphrases said in every episode, Ed McMahon exclaimed “Heeeeeeere’s Johnny!” to start so many episodes of “The Tonight Show.” He said it hundreds of times, making it one of the most uttered phrases in TV history. Even Jack Torrance said it in “The Shining.” Of course at the time he was trying to murder his wife with an axe.
Oh, Urkel. What a time it was when Steve Urkel, the nerdy neighbor on “Family Matters,” suddenly became a household name. With his strange style and nasally voice, he was a broad character on a silly family sitcom. But that voice lent itself to his catchphrase, which people took to mimicking in Urkel’s inflection. “Did I do that?” got annoying, but first it got super famous.
A chef with a catchphrase? Believe it! When Food Network started to get in the swing of things, it found a star in Emeril Lagasse. He became so popular that he eventually got his own sitcom, which was weird. Before that, though, he rose to fame thanks to his style, which included a couple of catchphrases. In addition to kicking things up a notch, he often would exclaim, “bam!” while throwing some spice into a dish.
Robin kind of had a catchphrase on the ‘60s version of “Batman.” He would start many an exclamation with “Holy,” but then he would always change what came next. On the other hand, “To the Batmobile!” was proclaimed many times over. That’s how we knew Batman and Robin were about to get into the action, and it usually meant we were going to hear some of that famous theme song as well.
And we end with just one more catchphrase. Columbo had some tricks up his sleeve to catch whatever murderer of the week he was trying to stop. He looked disheveled and acted absentminded, but it was all part of his ploy to lure criminals into a sense of security, or a feeling or irritation. One of his most-used tricks was to seemingly end a conversation, before acting as if he had just remembered he had one more thing he meant to ask. Usually, it was something the criminal wouldn’t want to hear.
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