I confess that I have used the expression “Whachoo talkin’ about Willis?” without ever having seen a single episode of “Diff’rent Strokes” (nor have I ever spelled ‘different’ as ‘diff’rent’) but I am aware where the phrase comes from.
Noted authority TV Land, is coming out with a special “The 100 Top TV Catchphrases.” Purists will be annoyed that they have combined lines from comercials (“I Can’t Believe I Ate The Whole Thing”), political expressions (“Read My Lips”), one time memorable lines (“I Don’t Like Spunk”) and what I would regard as true catchphrases, repeated phrases (“Aaay” or “D’oh!”).
Ironists will note that Hank Kingsley’s “Hey Now!” is on the list, as it is a parody of a catchphrase.
Moralists will note that two catchphrases on the list end in ‘Bitch!’, including Dave Chapelles’ ‘I’m Rick James, Bitch!”, which, coincidentally, is how our firm signs its demand letters.
At least one phrase is the subject of an IP case, ‘Here’s Johnny!’ Carson v. Here’s Johnny Portable Toilets, Inc., 698 F.2d 831 (6th Cir. 1983), which went off on rights of publicity. I’m sure there are more cases – please email me.
The question arises – if a catchphrase enters the lexicon, does that diminish or enhance its protectability? Does ‘Where’s The Beef?” signify Wendy’s, or Walter Mondale, or does it have it’s own significance at this point?
Note the trilogy above: does Homer’s parody refer to Johnny Carson, or to Jack Nicholson, or to both?
Here’s Johnny by Stephen Cox available here.
Here’s Johnny by Ed McMahon available here.