For around 60 years we’ve been glued to the television set to watch the endless array of programs being produced. Many aspects of tv viewing have changed over this time. Black and white gave way to color broadcasts, television screens slowly got larger, antenna use and over the air broadcasts gave way to cable and satellite and cathode ray tube televisions gave way to a new range of big screen high-definition tvs, including plasma and lcd. Picture quality has improved dramatically over this period even if, as some of you probably feel, the content available has not. Nonetheless, from the black and white era of the 1950s to the emergence of 4K tv, the one thing that is for certain is that the majority of us maintain a love affair with television.
Everybody has different tastes when it comes to tv programming. You may prefer the shows from CBS’s ‘golden era’ during the 1990s or perhaps the more early black and white sitcoms of the 1950s. Perhaps you enjoy a good animated series or tend to lean towards sci-fi with all its aliens and pointy-eared First officers. Whatever specific content you like, there’s a lot of it. Yet, what makes these shows so memorable? What’s the one thing that consistently stands out and sticks with us over the years from all of these shows? Is it the good writing and excellent acting? Probably not, as a lot of memorable shows didn’t (or don’t) necessarily have these things. Instead, popular and culturally significant shows tend to stand out thanks to memorable catchphrases. While the catchphrase didn’t necessarily make the show popular or successful, it’s what comes to mind for most of us when we think of a certain television program.
The following looks at 20 of the most popular television catchphrases from across the past several decades. Sit-coms, sci-fi, animated and action – there are a wide variety of shows with memorable catchphrases that have become ingrained into our culture and daily lives. In fact, most of the shows listed below are known for having more than one memorable phrase. Of course, having room for only 20 catchphrases means that a few notable examples will have to be left out. I asked for more room but you know how it is – you send your boss an e-mail asking for more space, he says “I got some ‘splaining to do,” and yadda, yadda, yadda, I’m left with room for just 20 catchphrases.
20. Mork and Mindy
Catchphrase: “Na-nu Na-nu”
From 1978 to 1982, people tuned in to watch a then unknown comedian named Robin Williams play an extra-terrestrial sent to Earth to observe human behavior. Viewers watched each week as Mork tried to understand human behavior and American culture while occasionally acting bizarre in that classic Robin Williams manor. After the first season the show began its steady decline downward as every trick in the book was used to breathe some new life into Mork and Mindy. Time slot changes, new storylines and guest actors were all brought on board, but to no avail. In 1982 after 95 episodes it was time to say Na-nu Na-nu to the show that launched Robin Williams’ career.
19. Arrested Development
Catchphrase: “I’ve made a huge mistake”
Ironically, this catchphrase probably went through the heads of everyone who was involved in cancelling this hit show at FOX back in 2006. That said, Arrested Development didn’t do well enough in the ratings during its first three years and creators were worried that the show had run its course and that the actors were ready to move on to bigger things – which most of them did do. All that aside, the show was a huge hit with critics and those who watched it. The main character may have been Michael Bluth, played by Jason Bateman, but the one character who quickly became a fan favorite was Michael’s brother Gob, played by Will Arnett. Gob, a magician, is desperate to win his father’s approval and many of his schemes usually revolve around this issue. More often than not, Gob’s plans fall apart or lead to some sort of undesirable ending. In such instance he can usually be found using his famous catchphrase. In addition, the catchphrase is used by other members of the Bluth family whenever things fall apart – as they often do.
18. Family Guy
Catchphrase: “Giggity Giggity”
The show that was, then wasn’t, then was again. Family Guy almost didn’t survive a cancellation early in its history after FOX didn’t get the viewership it wanted. Following big numbers in DVD purchases and rerun viewership, FOX gave the show another go and haven’t looked back since. Now entering its thirteenth season, Family Guy probably has as many fans as it does critics thanks to its many controversial storylines and jokes which can push the limit of what many think is acceptable. Nevertheless, the show is popular and has produced many memorable jokes and moments. In terms of catchphrases, there are a few contenders. We first wanted to include Peter’s often used “shut up Meg,” line but thought that the catchphrase of neighbor Glenn Quagmire still came out on top. Whenever there is some sort of sexual situation or joke around you can be guaranteed that this pilot will unleash his now familiar catchphrase.
It’s hard to think of 1980s television without thinking of Cheers. From 1982 to 1993, audiences watched while Sam Malone and his staff dealt with issues related to running a bar and life in general. Only three characters were classified as main characters over the entire 11 year running of Cheers. In addition to Ted Danson (Sam) and Rhea Perlman (Carla), the character of Norm Peterson, played by George Wendt headlined from the first to last day. Norm character was just a customer who frequented Cheers on a regular basis. The accountant, painter and decorator was such a fixture at the bar that every time he entered Cheers everyone would shout his name. It became such a well-known part of the show that “Norm!” is forever associated with the Boston bar.
16. The A-Team
Catchphrase: “I love it when a plan comes together”
They tried to remake this show into a movie but it wasn’t the same. This show about a group of former Vietnam veterans left more than one guy dreaming about forming a band of vigilantes. It probably didn’t hurt the sale of the GMC Vandura van either (with red stripe and spoiler, of course). For five seasons, the four very different main characters worked together to blow things up, send cars flying through the air and end the day on a happy note. Each show’s plot usually saw the A-team developing an intricate plan of deception and ambush to solve a problem. A lot of shooting and explosions later, the bad guys were locked up or sent running while the timid civilians came out to thank the heroes. This was often the moment that John “Hannibal” Smith, the leader of the group, broke out his famous line about a plan coming together.
15. The Brady Bunch
Catchphrase: “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”
Airing from 1969 to 1974, The Brady Bunch was probably more popular after it was cancelled and ran in syndication. This is demonstrated by the number of spin-offs and movies released years after the show ended. A traditional family sitcom, The Brady bunch looked at all the usual things you’d expect from a wholesome show. One topic which appeared throughout was that of sibling rivalry. One area this was seen best occurred between sisters Marcia and Jan Brady. Marcia was pretty and popular while Jan, the middle child, had freckles, glasses and was insecure. Jan often got frustrated with the attention her older sister received and made that apparent by her outbursts in which she repeated her sister’s name. It has long since been associated with the show and instances of sibling rivalry.
14. South Park
Catchphrase: “Oh my god, they killed Kenny”
Sometimes controversial but always entertaining, the animated series South Park has been tackling social and political issues and making fun of celebrities and politicians since 1997. Since the show debuted it has definitely moved away from the more slap-stick style comedy to satirical. This has only enhanced its popularity among fans and controversy among critics. One of the longest running animated series, South Park introduced us to Kyle, Stan, Kenny and Eric as well as a host of supporting characters in the small Colorado town with the same name as the show. Over the last 18 seasons there have been many catchphrases you could associate with this show. Perhaps one of the best known is Eric Cartman’s “screw you guys, I’m going home,” which is said whenever the character doesn’t get his way. Overall, however, the catchphrase used by Stan and Kyle whenever Kenny is killed likely remains the best known for this hit animated show.
13. Family Matters
Catchphrase: “Did I do that?”
Look around the internet and most people are divided over this one. Sure, the character of Steve Urkel was key to much of the story in the ABC show Family Matters – but he could be just too annoying at times. This Jar-Jar Binks of network television was an uber-nerd who looked and sounded the part. He made appearances in all 9 seasons of the show, annoying the Winslow family as much as the fans and getting more air time with each passing season. That said, his awkward and clumsy nature could provide some moments of laughter. Whenever Urkel was around and something went terribly wrong or broke you could bet the house that he had a major role in it all. Once the dust had settled and the cast and fans had taken stock of the situation, the silence was inevitably broken by the high-pitch voice of Urkel asking “Did I do that?”
12. The Flintstones
Catchphrase: “Yabba Dabba Doo”
This ABC show which aired from 1960 to 1966 was originally aimed at the adult audience as a way for Hanna Barbara to attract a larger and older audience. In the long run, children probably ended up watching it more, yet The Flintstones became a cultural hit and spawned numerous cartoon, television and movie spin-offs. The influence of the Honeymooners on The Flintstones is pretty obvious. The main character, Fred Flintstone, although possessing bad manners and temper, was a loyal family man who often found himself in awkward situations. When Fred was in a happy mood he was often heard exclaiming his trademark catchphrase “yabba dabba doo.”
11. The Big Bang Theory
Socially awkward, brilliant and somewhat emotionless are ways you might sum up Star Trek’s Spock. They would also be used to effectively describe theoretical physicist Sheldon Cooper, one of the main characters on the sitcom The Big Bang Theory. Played by Jim Parsons, the character of Sheldon can be a bit divisive among fans with some loving the bizarre character while others love to hate him because of the way he treats his friends. Outside of physics, Sheldon is less at home and often has trouble understanding humor and sarcasm. Part of the character’s way of informing others that he has just told a joke or been sarcastic is to follow up with his trademark “bazinga.” Of course, thanks to the show’s popularity, you can find people everywhere using this term when they’ve pulled one over on their friends.
10. Diff’rent Strokes
Catchphrase: “What’chu talkin’ ‘bout Willis?”
Diff’rent Strokes was a sitcom about a rich white widower and his daughter who adopted two African-American children from Harlem. The show aired from 1978 to 1985, making child-stars out of three of the cast members – most notably Gary Coleman. It was also notable because the show dealt with serious issues like child abuse, drug use and racism. While the child actors of Diff’rent Strokes went on to live very difficult lives with numerous legal issues, the show and Gary Coleman are forever ingrained in tv history thanks to the actor’s famous catchphrase. Whenever an uncomfortable, surprising or suspicious situation was created, often involving Coleman’s on-air brother played by Todd Bridges, Arnold would ask his now well-known question in a very memorable way.
9. Top Gear
Catchphrase: “… in the World”
Since 2002, this BBC show has educated us on super cars, told us what vehicles to stay away from, shown us how fast various celebrities can drive around a track and taken us around the world on danger-filled and hilarious journeys using a variety of vehicles. With an average of 350 million viewers per week, this show is – or was – an absolute giant. Given host Jeremy Clarkson’s recent termination from the show and past troubles with respect to claims of racism and political insensitivities towards other nations, we likely won’t be seeing a 23rd season – at least not the way we are used to it. Nevertheless, there have been some memorable moments for fans of this show. Among all the hijinks and hilarity, fans will probably best remember Top Gear for its main host and his grand statements when it came to summing up events, places or vehicles as the best…in the World.
8. Happy Days
When it came to being cool, no one was cooler than Arthur Fonzarelli. The Fonz or Fonzie, as most people refer to him, was played by Henry Winkler on the hit ABC show Happy Days which aired from 1974 to 1984. The show followed the life of a Milwaukee, Wisconsin family through the 1950s and 1960s and was originally supposed to be based around the character of Richie Cunningham played by Ron Howard. It soon became apparent, however, that Fonzie was popular with the viewers and the cool, motorcycle riding rebel was given top billing. Before he ‘jumped the shark,’ in an effort to boost slumping viewership, Fonzie was best known for coming out with his classic catchphrase. No question was too hard, direction too difficult or situation too serious that it couldn’t all be solved by simply giving a thumps up and saying “aay!”
7. The Office (US version)
Catchphrase: “That’s what she said”
Running from 2005 to 2013 on NBC, The Office took off as people tuned in every week to find out what the employees of the paper business in Scranton, Pennsylvania were up to. The show created a few memorable characters but the glue who held the entire series together was boss Michael Scott played by Steve Carell. Immature, naïve and sometimes unpredictable, Scott could also be a trusted friend who meant well and looked out for all his employees (except for Toby) as if they were his family. When Steve Carell left the show so did a significant portion of the viewers. Nonetheless, he left his mark and was especially well remembered for tagging the line “that’s what she said” onto any statements made by his employees which could, in any way, be construed in a sexual manner. If only I could think of a specific example, but it’s just too hard right now.
6. Star Trek
Catchphrase: “Live long and prosper”
Long before J.J. Abrams remade the movies and Jean-Luc Picard took control of the bridge, Captain Kirk and his crew took charge of the starship Enterprise on the NBC series Star Trek. Often referred to as the original series, Star Trek only aired from 1966 to 1969 yet kick-started a sci-fi revolution which continues to this day. Among the many characters created in the Star Trek universe, perhaps no one figure is more associated with that world than Spock. Played by the late Leonard Nimoy, to say Spock was different than the rest of his crew would be a massive understatement. Seemingly unemotional, guided by his logic and using his brilliant intellect, Spock often saved the crew as much as he frustrated them with his ways. That said, along with the trademark hand gesture, Spock’s farewell statement of “live long and prosper” has become forever linked with the character and the Star Trek franchise, even as it reboots under the direction of JJ Abrams.
5. How I Met Your Mother
Catchphrase: “It’s gonna be legendary”
Even though its final two seasons weren’t the best and the finale was received badly by many fans and critics, How I Met Your Mother was a very popular CBS sitcom which attracted an average of 9 million viewers per episode. Built around five main characters, the story develops as Ted Mosby tells his future children how he met their mother. The clear favorite when it came to characters from this show is Barney Stinson, played by Neil Patrick Harris. Barney is the breakout character of the show who is known to be a playboy and manipulator. His popularity among fans was solidified with such things as the ‘Bro Code’ and Lemon Law, as well as his famous catchphrases. In addition to the runner-up phrase “suit up,” Stinson’s most memorable catchphrase usually came out when he was trying to psych up the group for a night of adventure. It’s gonna be legen – wait for it…
Catchphrase: “How you doin’?”
When a show is responsible for influencing a hair trend – remember ‘The Rachel’? – you just know it’s also going to have many memorable moments and catchphrases. Friends aired on NCB from 1994 to 2004 and made up part of NBC’s dominant primetime lineup. With six memorable characters, a host of famous guest stars and some pretty funny story lines, Friends was a tv success which many have tried to emulate since. Everyone likely has their favorite lines and scenes from the show, but the most notable catchphrase which was used throughout much of its run time came thanks to Joey Tribbiani played by Matt LeBlanc. Of all the friends, Joey never had a problem getting a date as he was very smooth with the ladies. His trademark pick-up line was not only used throughout the series run but also became forever linked with the character and the show.
3. I Love Lucy
Catchphrase: “Lucy, I’m home”
From 1951 to 1957, Americans tuned in to see what Lucy and Ricky Ricardo were up to. The black and white series is considered an iconic television production, one of the first to be shot in front of a live studio audience. The show made Lucille Ball, already a model, film and stage actress, a huge television star. Her character’s desire to become a big-time star in show business caused Lucy Ricardo to get into all sorts of uncomfortable and comical situations which left much of America in stitches. Although Lucy was the star of the show, her tv and real life husband, Desi Arnaz, is probably just as famous thanks to his well-known catchphrase he uttered after arriving back at their New York apartment. To this day, the catchphrase, and variations of it, can be found all over the place.
From 1989 to 1998 NBC was dominant when it came to prime time television thanks in large part to the success of the sit-com series Seinfeld. The show centered on the lives of four New Yorkers and, as the creators imagined, was really was about nothing. One episode could be about what people do while they wait for a table at a Chinese restaurant while another could focus on how people waste a lot of time looking for their car in a parking garage. Of course, a lot of memorable catchphrases came out of this show. From ‘yadda yadda yadda’ to Kramer’s distinct “giddy up,” we all have our favorites. However, one of the best known Seinfeld catchphrases came up whenever the shifty and suspicious Newman, was around. The Lex Luther to Seinfeld’s Superman, whenever the main characters had felt they were stabbed in the back or wronged by the wily mailman they would say his name as if he were a true villain.
1. The Simpsons
This animated series has been on the air since 1989, amassing well over 550 episodes during 26 seasons. From Bart and Lisa to Ned Flanders and Ralph Wiggum, the show has brought us an army of characters each with their own distinct personality and familiar catchphrases. Like Seinfeld, there are many catchphrases this show is known for and fans no doubt have their favorites. Twenty years ago, The Simpsons would be known best for Bart’s famous line – “don’t have a cow, man.” Since then, the show has evolved and Homer has become a fan favorite thanks to his often hilarious methods of dealing with life. Whenever he has messed up a situation, been hurt or realized something bad is about to happen, you can be guaranteed to hear the distinct ‘d’oh.’ The catchphrase has become so universally well known that it appears in the Oxford English Dictionary and 20th Century Fox have even trademarked the phrase.
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