For the month of July we are taking a look at some of the innovative talk shows of the past. With only three channels to choose from in the sixties, almost everyone tuned into The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. However, talk shows were also popular during the day.
The Mike Douglas Show began in Cleveland, Ohio in 1961. It had light banter with guests and featured musical performers daily, although more serious interviews were also conducted from time to time. In 1963, the show was expanded to Pittsburgh, Boston, Baltimore, and San Francisco.
In 1965, the show moved to Philadelphia and went into national syndication that same year. One final move was made in 1978 when it relocated to Hollywood. For 1980, Douglas handed the show over to John Davidson to host. It went through some changes and replaced about one-third of the staff, but the ratings continued to plummet and it was officially cancelled in November of 1981 with more than 6000 shows and 30,000 guests.
Douglas was born in Chicago in 1925 and became a teenage singer, entertaining on the radio and in supper clubs. He sang a lot of big band numbers and became the staff singer at WKY in Oklahoma City before joining the Navy in WWII. He had two hits in the fifties, “Old Lamplighter” and “Ole Buttermilk Sky,” but his career was not going anywhere, so he decided to turn to television.
Douglas had a different celebrity co-host every week, and they interviewed a variety of entertainers. The show was very popular and had high ratings. Douglas had a fun personality . In 1976, Match Game received higher ratings, so Douglas made an unscheduled appearance on the game show to congratulate Gene Rayburn on having the number 1 daytime show on the air.
I could literally fill pages with the guest stars and musical performers who appeared on the show. Some of the more interesting ones included two-year-old Tiger Woods who showed off his golf swing for Bob Hope and James Stewart.
A Who’s Who listing of guests also included Fred Astaire, Lucille Ball, George Burns, Sid Caesar, Angela Davis, Bette Davis, Judy Garland, Alfred Hitchcock, Malcom X, Mother Teresa, the Muppets, Ralph Nader, Richard Nixon, Vincent Price, and John Wayne.
A variety of musical genres were represented with performers including ABBA, The Beach Boys, The Bee Gees, James Brown, Ray Charles, Cher, Sam Cooke, Electric Light Orchestra, Marvin Gaye, Genesis, The Jacksons, Jefferson Airplane, Elton John, John Lennon with Yoko Ono, The Mills Brothers, The Rolling Stones, Sly and the Family Stone, The Supremes, and Frank Zappa.
Critics also liked the show. It received its first Emmy in 1967 and would go on to win four more.
Tom Kelly, who co-authored with Douglas on his memoir, revealed why he thought Mike was so successful: “One big key to his great success was he had his ego in check. He always let the guest have the limelight. He was a fine performer. He could sing, he could do comedy, he did it all, but he always gave the guest the spotlight.”
I can remember my mother watching Mike Douglas most days while I played with my toys. Here we are sixty years later and afternoon talk shows like Ellen DeGeneres and Kelly Clarkson are still going strong thanks to pioneers like Mike Douglas who showed us the classy way to be a host.
We all have those family members who seem to find fun catch phrases which get repeated by friends. Then there are those relatives who say something that drives us crazy and overuse expressions. That is what we’re talking about today: catchphrases from our favorite television shows. I prepared a list of twenty phrases that caught on with viewers. What seems strange to me are expressions that come from a series or movie that were never actually said. For example, “Play it again Sam,” from Casablanca is a well-known phrase. However, that line was never said in the actual movie. You often hear someone say, “Beam me up Scotty,” but once again, it was never said in Star Trek. The closest line was only used once, and it was, “Beam us up, Mr. Scott.”
I’ll list these memorable phrases by shows alphabetically and tell you how often they were used: none, one, fun, or overdone. I also rate them: green light means I like it, yellow if it was getting close to being overkill, and red for those expressions that never should have been used at all. Here we go.
The A Team – Pity the fool
Mr. T often says this on commercials, public appearances,and as a guest on other shows, but he never said it on The A-Team. Mr. T explained how this phrase came about on the Conan show one night, “When you pity someone, you’re showing them mercy. I didn’t start this pity stuff, it was in the bible. You’ll find pity so many times in the Bible and fool so many times, so I put ‘em together. Pity the fool,” Mr. T said. He added, “Lotta guys in the Bible [were] asking for pity. And then a lot of them were saying, I did a foolish act. So, I put ‘em together.”
Not only has he trademarked the phrase, but he actually had a series developed around the phrase which was the title of the show. It aired in October of 2006 and was off the air by November 6, so I pity the fool who stuck money into it.
Rating: None, Green– I can’t really give it a light because it was never used but it was a good expression at the time.
Alf – I kill me
The Tanner family members weren’t often amused by Alf’s jokes. When no one responded or someone shook their head at him, he was often heard to say, “I kill me.”
The phrase was so popular, a poster and a t-shirt were sold featuring it.
Rating: Fun, Green – I also thought Alf was pretty funny, even when the Tanners were not as impressed.
Alice – Kiss my grits
While Flo was a warm-hearted person who would do anything to help a friend, or Mel, she didn’t take any sass from anyone. Whenever someone did something to irritate her, she responded, “Kiss my grits.”
Rating: Overdone, Yellow– Only Flo could get away with using the phrase so often, but it did become a bit too much.
The Andy Griffith Show – Nip it in the
Barney liked being on top of situations and being in charge.When something happened whether it was questionable behavior by Opie or a dangerous criminal activity being plotted, he was heard to say, “Just nip it, nip it in the bud.”
Rating: Fun, Green –Barney Fife was just a great character.
Big Bang Theory – Bazinga
Sheldon learned about sarcasm during season 2 of the show. Whenever he said something sarcastic or something that proved others wrong in a humorous way, he would utter, “Bazinga.” The first time he used it, it was not actually in the script, but he added it and it stuck.
Rating: Fun-ish, Green– I added the “ish” because it can be overdone some shows
The Brady Bunch – Marcia, Marcia, Marcia
Jan didn’t like being the middle child. While Cindy was the cute younger one and Marcia the pretty older one, Jan often felt left out. When she was upset Marcia was getting attention or doing something she wanted to do, she would pout, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.”
In the Season 3 episode, “Her Sister’s Shadow,” Jan said, “all I hear all day long at school is how great Marcia is at this or how wonderful Marcia did that. Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” Jan did not say the phrase much, but viewers sure did.
Rating: One, Green – I think every middle child understood what Jan meant. Apparently, viewers loved it, because it is an iconic quote for being only said one time. Actually, I always thought Jan was the cool one.
Columbo – Just one more thing
When the bad guy thought he had gotten away with a crime, Columbo would often turn around and say, “Just one more thing,” and that “thing” was usually the evidence he needed to arrest someone.
Rating: Fun, Green – Even when we knew it was coming, it was fun to see how the villain of the week realizes he has been found out.
Diff’rent Strokes – What you talkin’
Arnold was the “cute” kid in the Drummond family and often made others laugh. Whenever Willis said something Arnold didn’t want to do or thought should not happen, he would look at his brother and say, “What you talkin’ ‘bout Willis?”
Rating: Overdone, Red– Ok, I know I have a bias because this was one of those Norman Lear shows my readers know I don’t care for, but I do remember at the time, it was used a bit too often on the show. There is a fine line between defining a character and stereotyping a character.
Friends – How you doin’?
Joey was definitely the ladies’ man on Friends. He was always searching for his next social conquest. When he met a girl he wanted to get to know better, he often drawled, “How you doin?” It was a basic pick-up line, but he was so good looking, it almost always worked. While it became his catchphrase, it was not used for the first time until Season 4.
Rating: Fun, Yellow – It was a fun expression that is still used today but it was getting close to being overused.
Full House – Have mercy
Typically, it was Uncle Jesse who said, “Have mercy,” but occasionally another character would use it. He says Garry Marshall always told him he needed a catch phrase. He took on “Have mercy,” and it was probably one of the most-used phrases ever during the run of the show.
Rating: Fun, Green– I can still hear the exact tone of his voice whenever he used the line.
Get Smart – Missed it by that much
Maxwell Smart often messed up a spy mission, and 99 always saved the day. Often when the bad guys were put away and he was analyzing what had gone wrong, he would say, “Missed it by that much” which usually meant he was nowhere near to taking care of business.
Rating: Fun, Green– Everything on this show was fun and there were enough catch phrases that none of them took over.
Good Times – Dy-no-mite!
The Evans were a close-knit family who lived in the projects. JJ was an artist and the class clown. His favorite expression was “Dy-no-mite!”
He revived his catch phrase in several Panasonic commercials in the mid-1970s.
Rating: Overdone, Yellow– Sorry, it’s my Norman Lear bias again, but I feel like not only did JJ Evans overuse this phrase, but you heard it from viewers everywhere you went. I agree that imitation is the sincerest from of flattery, so it worked, and people liked it, but I thought it was overdone.
Happy Days – Sit on it
I think every cast member used the phrase “Sit on it” at one point or another. It was said when someone said something or insinuated something a character didn’t like.
Rating: Overdone, Yellow– This was a fun phrase when it started but it was overused and overused by everyone on the show.
Hawaii Five-O – Book ‘em Danno
The original Hawaii Five-O would end each arrest with Steve saying “Book ‘em Danno.” They did not resurrect the phrase for the current Hawaii Five-0. However, if you were watching the November 30th episode in 2018, you saw the conclusion of an older cold case homicide and a comic book created the ending to the mystery and in the book, McGarrett did say, “Book ’em Danno.”
Rating: Overdone, Green– It was over used although it did not occur on each episode, but I gave it green because it worked and fit the situation when it was used.
Hogan’s Heroes – I know nothing
Sargent Schultz began saying “I know nothing” when he didn’t want to answer questions Hogan asked him. He realized Hogan could always get him to talk by offering him food of some type. Later, the prisoners were not afraid of telling Schultz things they were doing or planning to foil the Nazis’ plans, and whenever he heard them talking about an upcoming mission, he also emphatically said, “I know nothing.”
Rating: Fun, Green– Schultz said it a lot but that was fitting for his character.
The Honeymooners – Bang, zoom, to the moon, Alice
This particular phrase is quoted a lot. Actually, Ralph Kramden had many similar expressions such as Bang, zoom” or “To the moon Alice,” but they all had similar wording and inferred that he was threatening her. The phrase would not go over well in a show today. However, Alice was never worried. She knew Ralph loved her and was all bark and no bite. Of course, one of the expressions he also used in a lot of shows was “Baby, you’re the greatest.”
Rating: One, Red – I only saw one episode that used the exact wording that has become a quote of the show. While I know it was innocent fun back then, I can’t say I was ever fond of the expression.
I Love Lucy – Lucy, you got some ‘splaining to do
Lucy always had some type of scheme in the works to get something she wanted. Often, it was something her husband had forbidden her to do. When he found out what she was up to, he often said, “Lucy, you got some ‘splaining to do” in his Cuban accent. Like Ralph Kramden, he rarely said this exact phrase; instead, he would tell her to “splain what happened” or “try to splain why you are here” or something along those lines. Viewers picked up on the exact wording that gets repeated still.
Rating: One, Green – Desi used similar words but not this exact phrase. However, when he used it, it was always an appropriate use because Lucy had done something that did need to be explained.
Laugh In – Sock it to me
Because so many people on the show say, “Sock it to me” started by Judy Carne, it has become a famous line. Of course, the celebrity who got the most attention saying it was Richard Nixon.
Rating: Fun, Yellow– It was still fun because it was used in different situations and with different celebrities but if the show had continued, it might have been overdone.
Lost in Space – Danger Will Robinson
Even kids who never heard of Lost in Space, quote “Danger Will Robinson” when they want to warn someone about an issue. The funny thing is it was only said one time on the show, but like The Brady Bunch, viewers have made it their own and it is now part of our lexicon.
Rating: One, Green– Although it was only said once, viewers have made it into a well-loved expression.
Welcome Back Kotter – Up your nose with a rubber hose
This was probably one of the most unusual catch phrases. The Sweathogs gave the image that they would not put up with nonsense and they made the rules. One of Vinnie Barbarino’s favorite insults was “Up your nose with a rubber hose.”
Rating: Fun, Green– I was not a huge fan of Welcome Back Kotter, but the phrase fit Barbarino, and he had enough other expressions, it was not overused.
I hope you had fun looking back at some of the expressions we grew up with in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. It’s interesting to think about what current shows will produce catch phrases that kids will still be using in 2050.
Occasionally, a show is so entrenched in the time and culture it debuts in, it becomes almost impossible to describe or understand away from its original setting. Dan Rowan and Dick Martin were nightclub comics who co-hosted a special called Laugh-In in 1967. The name was a play on words based on the love-in’s and sit-in’s happening in the 1960s. The special was so popular it was turned into a weekly series. I think of Laugh-In as Sesame Street for adults. Both shows debuted in the late 60s and had a rapid-fire approach, continually moving on to the next segment so the viewer would not get bored. The show captured the counterculture movement and the lime green, turquoise, fuschia, deep orange, bright yellow, and paisley flowers kept our eyes moving as quickly as the jokes did. The show lasted six seasons.
Regular cast members who went on to other careers included Ruth Buzzi, Gary Owens, Alan Sues, Arte Johnson, Henry Gibson, Lily Tomlin, Richard Dawson, Jo Anne Worley, Goldie Hawn, Judy Carne, Dave Madden, and Flip Wilson.
Numerous celebrities flocked to the show. Movie stars that were reeled in included John Wayne, Jack Benny, Peter Lawford, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Charles Nelson Reilly, Debbie Reynolds, Rock Hudson, Jack Lemmon, Edward G. Robinson, Sally Field, Orson Welles, and Rita Hayworth. Noted musicians included Sammy Davis Jr., Dinah Shore, Johnny Cash, Perry Como, Liberace, Bing Crosby, Cher, Rosemary Clooney, and Liza Minelli. Sports stars tackled the chore including Joe Namath, Wilt Chamberlin, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Howard Cosell. Comedians who laughed their way on the show included Rich Little, Don Rickles, Bob Hope, Bob Newhart, Paul Lynde, and Carol Burnett. Classic tv stars who accepted starring roles were Tim Conway, Carl Reiner, Steve Allen, Jim Backus, Ernest Borgnine, Eve Arden, Andy Griffith, Desi Arnaz, and Wally Cox.
The format rarely changed from week to week. Rowan and Martin opened each show with a dialogue; Rowan acted as the straight man, and Martin took on the gullible role. Then the regular cast, along with celebrities, danced against a psychedelic background, firing off one-liners and short gags. Comedy bits, taped segments, and sketches filled in the rest of the hour and always ended with Rowan telling Martin to “Say goodnight, Dick” and Dick replying, “Goodnight Dick.”
Some of the regular features were:
The Cocktail Party where the cast stood around spouting politically and sexually suggestive jokes.
Letters to Laugh-In where the cast read letters.
It’s a Mod, Mod World where go-go dancers danced in bikinis with puns and word play phrases painted on their bodies.
The Farkel Family about a group of red-headed, freckled family members.
The Flying Fickel Finger of Fate Award where dubious achievements were celebrated.
Laugh-In Looks as the News was comparable to the Saturday Night Live news sketches of today.
New Talent Time showing various weird skills.
Many of the regular cast members had their own skits that were repeated during the series’ run:
Judy Carne was always tricked into saying “Sock it to Me” which then caused her to get doused with water, fall through a trap door, or endure some other indignity. Sometimes celebrities ended up being the ones to say “Sock it to me,” the most famous being Richard Nixon when he was campaigning for president.
Arte Johnson played Tyrone, an inappropriate senior citizen who tries to seduce geriatric Ruth Buzzi as Gladys, forcing her to eventually hit him with her purse.
Henry Gibson came on stage holding an oversized paper flower, reciting poetry.
Lily Tomlin performed skits as Ernestine, a telephone operator or Edith Ann, a young girl sitting in a rocking chair. (Personal note: When I was in 4th grade, I performed an Ernestine and an Edith Ann skit for our talent show. Why a 9-year-old was watching Laugh-In and the school approved the skits, I can’t say, but I remember getting a lot of compliments. And Lily Tomlin didn’t sue me for stealing her material!)
Alan Sues portrayed Uncle Al, a children’s show host, who was short tempered and often in bad shape from his late partying nights.
Flip Wilson was Geraldine.
Jo Anne Worley would say “Bor-ing” in the midst of jokes.
Goldie Hawn as the ditzy blonde.
The series also became known for some of its catch phrases including “Look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls,” “You bet your sweet bippie,” “Beautiful downtown Burbank,” “Is that a chicken joke?,” “Sock it to me,” “Here come de judge,” and “Verrrry Interesting.”
The show was one of the highest rated shows in the late 1960s. It was in the top 4 of the top 40 shows for its entire run. It won Emmy and Golden Globe awards. The Nielsen polling determined it was the most-watched show in seasons 1 and 2.
The show had its own magazine for a year. Trading cards were sold with catch phrases and images from the show. Several records were produced capturing the humor of the time. There was even a set of View-master reels made, as well as lunch boxes and other memorabilia.
Laugh-In debuted fifty years ago, but still feels new and edgy. Because the show has not been syndicated in re-runs, it is hard for the current generation to imagine how very different this show was from anything else that appeared on television before it. The closest show to capturing any of its essence since then is Saturday Night Live. This was a time when everything was changing: civil rights, Vietnam, women’s lib, the hippie lifestyle, psychoactive drugs, anti-authoritarianism, freedom of speech and assembly, and environmental concerns, especially littering and pollution.
The Generation Gap was a real concept in the 1960s but this show might have come as close as anything else to bridge that gap. Families sat down together to watch the show. Many of the phrases still have a life of their own decades later even thought decades of kids have never seen the show. Plan your own little sit-in when you check out a couple of the you-tube videos to get a flavor of what the series was like.