Iconic quotes from '70s TV shows
Iconic quotes from '70s TV shows
Television in the 1970s pushed the envelope. Coming on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, creators like Norman Lear started conversations about race and cultural taboos, producing groundbreaking shows like "All in the Family" and "Maude." The former was a sitcom centered around family and dared to joke about controversial topics at the time, like homosexuality. The latter featured a liberal older woman who constantly talked about politics (even featuring a two-part abortion subplot in the first season).
Women's rights became a large part of society's concerns, giving rise to feminists like Gloria Steinem and Susan Brownmiller. On air, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Rhoda" proved women could be funny, independent, and riveting leads.
"Sanford and Son" and "The Jeffersons" also highlighted Black talent in American households, albeit with complicated racial negotiations to navigate. These shows espoused values leading to heated debates around the TV set. Topics of violence, sex, race, and class were now regularly explored.
On the other side of the spectrum, sitcoms like "Happy Days," "The Brady Bunch," and "Mork and Mindy" lightened the mood. Children's programming (such as "Sesame Street" and "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood") also grew beyond simple fodder, offering sensitive educational opportunities for young minds in front of television sets.
1970s television created a culture of its own; American society has not been the same since. Even now, some of the sayings that permeate our conversations have their origins in none other than '70s television—that's right, "Kiss my grits" is not just a Southern saying, and "Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!" has become more than a complaint about one's sibling. Stacker highlighted 25 of the most iconic quotes from '70s TV shows using IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes data.
Keep reading to learn more about this fascinating time in TV history.
'And I would've gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for those meddling kids!'
This iconic phrase and its various forms—including "I'd have done it, too, if you kids hadn't come along!" and "You blasted kids—why didn't you mind your own business?"—all originated from the classic children's show "Scooby Doo, Where Are You?"
Each episode of this comedic mystery follows the same structure: The Scooby gang, including Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, and Scooby, catch wind of mysterious (often supernatural) activity and jump into their groovy van to investigate. Without fail, the various monsters, pirate ghosts, spooky robots, and mummies all turn out to be men in costumes—and when the gang unmasks them, they utter, "And I would've gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for those meddling kids!"
'Just one more thing'
Peter Falk shines as the quick-thinking eccentric homicide detective Columbo. The show "Columbo" subverts the typical murder mystery format wherein the audience and protagonist try to solve the mystery together, instead showing the crime and perpetrator at the top of the episode. And this is where the character Columbo shines, as the audience delights in guessing what clues and traps he'll employ to discover the information viewers are already privy to—and he does so with mastery, always coming back with "Just one more thing" he'd learned that cracks the whole case open.
The pop culture hit "Happy Days" inspired several spinoffs, including "Mork & Mindy," which sparked Robin Williams' career. In an episode of "Happy Days," Mork, a kooky alien from the planet Ork, duels with the Fonz. The spinoff series, "Mork & Mindy," follows Mork as he becomes unlikely friends with a 21-year-old woman. Mindy, who mistakenly thought he was a priest, helps Mork assimilate into Earth's culture.
Mork was the perfect vehicle for William's physical comedy and excellent voice acting, creating hilarious gags like "Nanu Nanu," which is Orkan for "hello."
'Good night, John Boy!'
Described as "one of America's favorite TV families in the '70s" by Rachel Martin of NPR, "The Waltons" follows the titular family as they struggle to survive during the Great Depression—no easy feat with two grandparents, two parents, and seven children all in one home.
Their situation doesn't dampen the family's good nature and sense of connectedness, making the audience feel like they're a Walton with them. Each episode ends with the same sequence, as each light in the house turns off one by one as the family calls out, "Good night, Son. Good night, Mama. Good night, Mary Ellen…" all the way to "Good night, John Boy!" the most repeated and most famous catchphrase from the show.
"Good Times" is a spinoff of "Maude," which is a spinoff of "All in the Family." Its somewhat convoluted origin doesn't distract from the fact that "Good Times" is one of the first sitcoms to explore the harsh realities a Black family in America faces.
"Good Times" tackles evictions, gang violence, discrimination and good parenting, familial love, and comedy. Much of the comedic relief came from James "J.J." Evans Jr., who quickly became the show's breakout character thanks to his repeated use of the catchphrase, "Dy-No-Mite!"
'Up your nose with a rubber hose!'
"Welcome Home, Kotter" is a comedic television series based on comedian Gabe Kaplan's real-life experiences in a Brooklyn, New York, high school. Kaplan assumes the role of Kotter, a former Sweathog (the school mascot) who returns to his high school as an adult to teach social studies—only he hasn't entirely grown out of his teenage troublemaking streak.
John Travolta landed his first major TV role as Vinnie Barbarino, the Sweathogs team captain and certified ladies' man. He quickly delivered "Up your nose with a rubber hose!" at any sign of disrespect.
'Won't you be my neighbor?'
Few phrases contain as much kindness within them as the classic question "Won't you be my neighbor?" from the PBS children's show "Mister Rogers Neighborhood." The titular Fred Rogers created the show and served as host, writer, puppeteer, voice actor, and musical composer.
His care and appreciation for his content and audience are evident in every facet of the series. Children across the globe were invited into Mister Rogers' Neighborhood of Make-Believe, a land filled with friendly puppets, fun locations, and simple moral tales encouraging the audience to find the good in the world.
"Chico and the Man" was a mid-'70s sitcom born of the "new wave" style in which narrative realism became the priority. Set against the backdrop of a struggling gas station and garage in a barrio (neighborhood) of East Los Angeles, the show followed Chico, a young Chicano man, who sweet-talks his way into a job at said gas station despite the owner's initial dislike of him.
Chico's positive attitude and easy charm were infectious to those around him, making him a beloved Latino protagonist at a time when few appeared onscreen. His delivery of the "Lookin' good!" catchphrase cements his place in the comedy history book.
'Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.'
While contemporary Marvel fans might consider Mark Ruffalo's "That's my secret Cap—I'm always angry" to be the most memorable quote attributed to the character of the Hulk, audiences in the 1970s may disagree.
Their Hulk was Dr. David Banner, played by Bill Bixby, who spent the five seasons that "The Incredible Hulk" aired searching for a cure for his affliction, which was that he turned into a giant green monster under emotional duress. When Banner encounters an investigative reporter determined to unravel the truth, he delivers this powerful line, "Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."
'Who loves ya, baby?'
The 1970s was a particularly crime-heavy and dangerous era for New York City, and as a result, inspired several significant pieces of media, including Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" and Michael Winner's "Death Wish."
A show that similarly captured this gritty vibe is "Kojak," a realistic police procedural that follows Lieut. Kojak as he works with his team of cops within Manhattan's 11th Precinct. Kojak possessed an undeniable swagger and a willingness to do whatever was necessary to solve the case, combined with his constant consumption of lollipops and often repeated slogan, "Who loves ya, baby?"
"Stifle yourself!" is a phrase from the family sitcom "All in the Family." The show followed the sometimes tense and often comedic dynamic of the Bunker family, pitting bigoted and old-fashioned patriarch Archie against his son-in-law Mike Stivic, a liberal college student. Edith Bunker was Archie's wife and his better half, although her head was often in the clouds, frequently leading Archie to reprimand her with, "Stifle yourself!"
'Kiss my grits!'
The phrase "Kiss my grits!" earned its place in Southern culture thanks to the popularity of the '70s TV comedy "Alice." Florence "Flo" Castleberry first delivered this line as a family-friendly alternative to a common expression. Polly Holliday expertly played the role of Flo, winning two Golden Globes for Best Supporting Actress in a Supporting Role for her work.
"Alice," a spinoff of the 1974 Martin Scorsese film "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," also inspired a spinoff. "Flo" was created after the popularity of Holliday's character exploded.
'God will get you for that!'
The character of Maude Chadbourne-Hillard-Findlay (Bea Arthur) originated in "All in the Family," serving as a feminine liberal counterpoint to Archie Bunker's conservative masculinity.
The popularity of her character sparked her show "Maude," where her free-thinking politics combated with her staunch and stubborn personality in every episode. When confronted with inappropriate behavior or an opinion she disagrees with, Maude is quick to strike back with, "God will get you for that!"
'We are two wild and crazy guys!'
The late-night sketch show "Saturday Night Live" has produced countless hilarious quotes over the years, including "More Cowbell" from the "Don't Fear the Reaper" parody sketch and "Da Bears," from Robert Smigel's Mike Ditka series.
Only a couple of years after "SNL" debuted in 1975, Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd introduced audiences to the Festrunk brothers from Czechoslovakia. Discussing how American ladies sway and how easy it is for them to pick up chicks, Martin delivers the classic line, "We are two wild and crazy guys!"
'Book 'em Danno!'
The name "5-0" has become synonymous with the police. This phrase originates from the classic cop procedural "Hawaii 5-0," created by Leonard Freeman and CBS. The show centers around an entirely fictional police department in Hawaii led by Steve Garrett (Jack Lord), a brave and determined man whose personal life was intentionally left unexplored by the showrunners (at least for the first few seasons) for an air of mystery.
Garret had many snappy catchphrases incorporating police jargon, but most notable was, "Book 'em, Danno!" which Garrett yelled to his fellow officer Danno when arresting the culprit.
'What you see is what you get!'
The 1970s was a popular era for the variety show format, which saw actors, singers, and comedians host episodes full of skits, performances, and special guests. One example was "The Flip Wilson Show," which centered on Golden Globe-winning comedian Flip Wilson.
A recurring skit saw Wilson dress in drag, transforming into the confident and authentic Geraldine Jones, whose catchphrase was "What you see is what you get!"
Few shows have had a more significant impact on pop culture than "Happy Days," which bolstered the career of director Ron Howard, popularized the phrase "jumping the shark," and created the Fonz.
Famously played by Henry Winkler, the Fonz is the classic leather-jacket-wearing cool guy from 1960s culture who quickly became the fan-favorite character of the show. One of his classic catchphrases was "Ayyy," which had several meanings ranging from an expression of disgust to a celebratory exclamation.
'You big dummy!'
"Sanford and Son" aired on NBC from 1972-1977, reaching #2 in the Nielsen ratings and spending most of its six seasons in the top 10. It was the first Black sitcom to make it past its 100th episode.
The show featured a comedic but heartfelt relationship between protagonist Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx) and his son Lamont (Demond Wilson), who share a junk business in Los Angeles. Fred is a grumpy older man who often berates his son for little mistakes despite the antics Fred tries to keep him around, like faking an illness. Fred's most famous phrase, often directed at Lamont, is "You big dummy!"
'De Plane! De Plane!'
A precursor to the anthology format, the showrunners of "Fantasy Island" took each episode in a unique direction in which the elusive Mr. Roarke (Ricardo Montalbán) helps fulfill the wishes of visitors to the island. Roarke's French assistant, Tattoo (Hervé Villechaize), dutifully monitors the island, keeping track of flights that land and loudly announcing "De plane! De plane!" upon their arrival.
Much like "Good Times," the sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes" tackled issues of race in class in a family-friendly format. Audiences watched as Black brothers Arnold and Willis were suddenly taken from their Harlem home and moved to an affluent area of Manhattan to live with socialite Mr. Drummond and his daughter Kimberly. Arnold was as cute as he was witty, repeatedly asking, "Whatchoo-talkin'-bout, Willis?" when his brother said something confusing or dumb.
'Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!'
"The Brady Bunch" is one of the most remembered family sitcoms from the 1970s. When Mike and Carol marry, their three sons and three daughters must learn how to get along in this new blended family. Two of the sisters, Jan and Marcia, have a particularly competitive relationship—in one episode, Jan gets tired of her older sister's popularity at school, causing her to lament how everything is always about "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!"
'Here comes the Judge!'
Before "Saturday Night Live" in 1975, the sketch comedy revue show, "Laugh-In," first aired in 1968 and continued into the early '70s. Hosted by Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, the show featured celebrity guests, including John Wayne, Tiny Tim, and Sammy Davis Jr., and early career cast members like Goldie Hahn and Lily Tomlin.
Davis was the star of the "Judge" series wherein he assumes a Judge Judy-type role and assigns various cast members innocent or "guilty as sin," as he proclaims in the opening, following up with the now famous "Here comes the Judge!"
'Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happy Hour'
As of 2023, the show "M*A*S*H," which stands for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, still holds the record for the most-watched season finale," racking in 105.9 million viewers in 1983. The show utilized the success of the 1970 film "M*A*S*H" and grew its loyal audience base over 11 seasons, first airing in 1972 with a focus on the crew of a MASH during the Korean War.
The Chief Surgeon Hawkeye (Alan Alda) was the show's protagonist with a handsome amount of wit and fatigue, leading to classic lines like "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happy Hour" when he ends another night at the base's bar.
'Hey, hey, hey!'
Not to be confused with Fat Albert's "Hey, Hey Hey," this entry originates from the sitcom "What's Happening," which aired for three seasons on ABC. This show, based on the 1975 film "Cooley High," aims to capture the culture of Black teenagers in the United States in the 1970s.
Following Roger Thomas (Ernest Lee Thomas) and his two friends Dwayne (Haywood Nelson) and Rerun (Fred Berry), the show produced many iconic quotes such as Dwayne's "Hey, hey, hey!"—loudly proclaimed whenever he entered the room.
Anyone remotely in tune with pop culture likely associates the quote "Here's Johnny!" with Stanley Kubrick's horror classic "The Shining," creepily delivered by Jack Nicholson as he breaks down The Stanley Hotel's bathroom door with an ax.
The phrase originated on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," the late-night panel show still in existence today, albeit with a different host. Before Carson stepped onto the stage each night, his second-in-command Ed McMahon would loudly announce, "Heeeeere's Johnny!" to set the scene and get the audience hype.
Story editing by Carren Jao. Copy editing by Kristen Wegrzyn. Photo selection by Clarese Moller.