Every TV show wants one, but few achieve it: a catchphrase. The best ones not only propel their show into the limelight, but eventually take a life of their own, sometimes getting into the dictionary, sometimes even electing a president. Here are the stories behind some of TV's most famous catchphrases:
From: The Simpsons (1989- )
Here's the Story: Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer Simpson, came up with Homer's signature line himself. "It was written into the script as a 'frustrated grunt,'" he explains, "And I thought of that old Laurel and Hardy character who had a grunt like 'D'owww.' Matt Groening (Simpsons creator) said 'Great, but shorten it.' ... No one thought it would become a catchphrase."
But it did - in a big way. The sitcom is seen by more than 60 million people in more than 60 countries. In 2001, "D'oh!" earned a spot in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Holy ______, Batman!
From: Batman (1966-68)
Here's the Story: Uttered by Robin (Burt Ward) whenever he was dumbfounded, this silly phrase helped make the show a hit ... and also led to its demise. During the first season, which aired two nights a week, Batman was fresh. ABC quickly realized that one of the things viewers loved was Robin's quirky lines, so they milked it for all it was worth. But by the end of the second season, the plots were all recycled and the "Holy whatever, Batman!" had lost its impact. It didn't do much for Burt Ward's career either; he was never able to get past the Boy Wonder image.
In the 1995 film Batman Forever, Chris O'Donnell's Robin gave a nod to this famous catchphrase in the following exchange with Val Kilmer's Batman: "Holy rusted metal, Batman!" exclaims Robin. "Huh?" asks Batman. "The island," explains Robin, "it's made out of rusted metal ... and holey ... you know." "Oh," says Batman dryly.
What'chu talkin' 'bout, Willis?
From: Diff'rent Strokes (1978-86)
Here's the Story: Gary Coleman's snub-nosed delivery helped keep Diff'rent Strokes going for eight years. After the show's demise, the struggling Coleman began using it at public appearances and in TV cameos to help keep his career afloat. But in recent years he's grown so sick of the line - and the TV business in general - that he's vowed never to say it again.
Sock it to me!
From: Laugh-In (1968-73)
Here's the Story: The phrase came from pop music (Aretha Franklin's Respect). But the popular variety show Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In turned it into a mindless slapstick sketch ... and repeated it week after week. Here's how it worked: An unsuspecting person (usually Judy Carne) would be tricked into saying "Sock it to me!" Then he or she was either hit by pies, drenched with water, or dropped through a trap door. Viewers loved it; they knew what was coming every time, and they still loved it. It quickly became an "in" thing to get socked.
This catchphrase was more than popular - it may have altered history: On September 16, 1968, presidential candidate Richard Nixon appeared on the show. HE was set up in the standard fashion but surprised everyone by changing the command into a question: "Sock it to ME?" It did wonders for Nixon's staid, humorless image, and may have helped propel him into the Oval Office.
Beam me up, Scotty
From: Star Trek (1966-69)
Here's the Story: Although Captain Kirk (William Shatner) never actually said this exact phrase (the closest version he came was on the Star Trek animated series: "Beam us up, Scotty"), it has somehow been transported everywhere - feature films, advertisements, and even bumper stickers ("Beam me up, Scotty - there's no intelligent life down here") Sometimes it even finds its way into the news: when 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult committed suicide in 1997, expecting to leave their bodies and join with a spaceship, the press dubbed them the "Beam Me Up Scotty" cult.
From: Happy Days (1974-84)
Here's the Story: Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler) was not originally intended to be the "cool" character; Potsie was. The Fonz was added as a "bad influence" to give the show more of an edge. But Winkler's hip-yet-sensitive portrayal, along with his trademark leather jacket, thumbs up, and "Ayyyyy" had such screen presence that ABC started working him into more and more storylines, making sure he got at least one "Ayyyyy" in each episode. By 1977 Winkler's billing had gone from closing credits to fifth, and finally to second. When Ron Howard left the show in 1980, Winkler was given top billing. ABC almost retitled the show Fonzie's Happy Days.
Blast From the Past: Check out the scene in Pulp Fiction where the hit-man Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) is trying to calm down the diner robbers he's terrorizing: "Let's all be good little Fonzies. And what was Fonzie like?" he asks. One of them sheepishly answers, "Coo-ol." "Correctamundo!" says Jackson.
Two thumbs up
From: Sneak Previews (1975-80), renamed At the Movies (1980-)
Here's the Story: "Thumbs up" has been a symbol of approval since Roman times. But "two thumbs up" means a whole lot more to the movie industry. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, film critics for rival Chicago newspapers, worked together for 24 years before Siskel's death in 1999. Their opposite tastes in movies assured moviegoers that if both of these guys liked the movie, chances are you would too. Filmmakers also took note of the growing popularity of the phrase; they watched the show each week, hoping their latest project would get two thumbs up. If so, it was plastered all over movie ads. Why? Because "two thumbs up" means big box office. If not ... well, have you ever seen a movie advertised that got "one thumb up"?
De plane! De plane!
From: Fantasy Island (1978-84)
Here's the Story: At the beginning of each episode, the vertically-challenged Tattoo (Herve Villechaize) shouted this phrase to alert his boss, Mr. Roarke (Ricardo Montalban), that "de plane" was coming. The phrase did so much for Fantasy Island that in 1983 Villechaize asked for the same salary as Montalban. Instead, he was fired. Ratings dropped off dramatically and the show was cancelled after the following season. In 1992 Villechaize turned up in a Dunkin' Donuts commercial asking for "De plain! De plain!" donuts.
Resistance is futile
From: Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-94)
Book 'em, Danno!
From: Hawaii Five-O (1968-80)
Here's the Story: Even though Hawaii Five-O ran for 12 years, more people today remember this catchphrase than the show itself. When he caught the bad guy, detective Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) would smugly utter this line to his assistant Danny "Danno" Williams (James MacArthur).
To say the catchphrase is part of pop culture is an understatement: a 2002 Internet search found more than 1,000 entries for "Book 'em, Danno!"
Yadda Yadda Yadda
From: Seinfeld (1990-98)
Here's the Story: The phrase has been around since the 1940s; but then it showed up on Seinfeld in the 1990s and yadda yadda yadda, now it's in the dictionary.
I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up!
From: TV commercials selling LifeCall personal emergency response system in the 1980s.
Here's the Story: Advertisers also try to come up with catchy catchphrases (remember the "Where's the beef?" lady from the Wendy's ads?) The "I've fallen ..." plea, however, was never intended to be catchy - or funny. But somehow it outlasted the company that advertised it (bankrupt) and the woman who said it (died). More than a decade after its debut, "I've fallen and I can't get up!" is still being used by comedians from Jay Leno to Carrot Top.
Oh my God, They Killed Kenny!
From: South Park (1997- )
Here's the Story: A bigger part of what made South Park a hit was the tasteless but innovative routine of killing off the same character in nearly every episode. Asked why, the show's creator Trey Parker and Matt Stone admitted, "We just like to kill him ... And we really like the line 'Oh my God, they killed Kenny!'" A few years later, Stone retracted: "We got sick of figuring out ways to kill him ... It was funny the first 38 or 40 times we did it. Then it turned into, 'OK, how can we kill him now?'" So in December 2001 they killed Kenny for good ... but the phrase lives on.
From: The Flintstones (1960-66)
Here's the Story: Just like Homer's "D'oh!" this one came from the man who voiced the character, Alan Reed. Flintstones co-creator Joe Barbera tells the story: "In a recording session, Alan said, 'Hey Joe, where it says "yahoo," can I say "yabba-dabba-doo?"' I said yeah. God knows where he got it, but it was one of those terrific phrases." Reed later said that it came from his mother, who used to say, "A little dab'll do ya."
Just The Facts, Ma'am
From: Dragnet (1952-59/1967-70)
Here's the Story: Sergeant Joe Friday's (Jack Webb) deadpan delivery made this statement famous ... sort of. He actually never said it. Friday's line was "All we want are the facts, Ma'am." Satirist Stan Freberg spoofed the popular show on a 1953 record called "St. George and the Dragonet," which featured the line: "I just want to get the facts, Ma'am." The record sold more than two million copies, and Freberg's line - not Webb's - became synonymous with the show. According to Freberg: "Jack Webb told me, 'Thanks for pushing us into the number one spot,' because after my record came out, within three weeks, he was number one."
Let's get ready to ... (something that rhymes with 'mumble' but starts with an 'R').
From: Sports announcer Michael Buffer
Here's the Story: This one wins out over many other famous TV sports sayings because of the controversy it created. After hearing others imitating his famous battle cry, Michael Buffer and his brother Bruce decided to trademark it, a decision that made them both millionaires. Michael now charges $15,000 to $30,000 just to show up, say it, and leave. But if you feel like yelling the "rumble" phrase out loud, do it quietly; the Buffer brothers will sue the pants off of you if you say it at an event without paying them. (They even sued Ollie North.) Why such big safeguards on such a trite saying? "It's probably the most famous phrase said by a human being in history," Michael explains.
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