Trying to come up with a list of the best one-liners from the small screen is akin to asking Yogi to choose his favorite pic-a-nic basket in Jellystone park: the choices are nearly limitless and most of them look delicious. Although it’s clearly a subjective exercise, laying some ground rules can help out. To wit, a classic TV quip should
- … have taken on a life of it’s own and become at least a small part of the American vernacular.
- … represent the essence of a popular TV personality or character.
- … encapsulate the appeal of a particular show.
- … provide a snapshot in time of some aspect of our culture.
With those tenets in mind, and at the risk of starting some arguments, here is one list of the greatest one-liners in TV history.
“You hear that Elizabeth? I’m coming to join you, honey. “ — Fred Sanford, Sanford and Son
Fred was one of the great TV characters of the 1970s, and this is undoubtedly his signature phrase. It perfectly captures his flair for exaggeration and his love of family.
“Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” — Jerry and George, Seinfeld
So many great quips came from Seinfeld that it just HAD to be represented here, but, at the same time, it’s nearly impossible to choose just one. In this case, George and Jerry had just been “outed” as being gay, even though they proclaimed otherwise. Realizing that their protests may be offensive to some, they quickly added the above utterance to their disclaimer. As much as any other phrase from this landmark series, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” is still in regular use around the country.
“Senator, you’re no John Kennedy.” — Lloyd Bentsen, 1988 Vice Presidential Debate
Responding to Vice President Dan Quayle’s self-comparison to martyred former President JFK, Bentsen delivered a zinger for the ages. Bentsen and his running mate, Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis quickly faded into the sunset, but this indignity was just one in a long line for Bush and Quayle that led them to defeat in 1992.
“Here I am, 5 o’clock in the morning, stuffing breadcrumbs up a dead bird’s butt. “ — Roseanne, Roseanne
“Domestic goddess” Roseanne Barr singlehandedly changed the TV landscape in the 1980s with her raw, real, irreverent humor. Here, Roseanne bemoans a mother’s responsibilities on Thanksgiving morning.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094540/quotes – Roseanne
“You’re breakin’ about 18 laws, maybe even a dozen.” — Archie Bunker, All in The Family
An icon of the 1970s and, with Ralph Cramden, the quintessential blow-hard patriarch, Archie was an expert in just about everything. If you didn’t believe that, all you had to do was ask him. Unfortunately for Archie, his mouth often betrayed his know-it-all ambitions, and this quote is a perfect example.
“Mr. McGee, don’t make me angry … you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” — David Banner, The Incredible Hulk
This utterance still sends shivers down the spine for any fan of the green monster’s TV series. Inevitably, the warned failed to heed this advice, and seam-splitting mayhem ensued.
“Dad always thought laughter was the best medicine, which I guess is why several of us died of tuberculosis. “ — Jack Handey, Saturday Night Live
Jack Handey was the fictitious poet/philosopher whose voice-over vignettes on life peppered between-segment transitions during Saturday Night Live broadcasts in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of his “Deep Thoughts” were apparently nonsensical, but almost all of them made you laugh. We’ve all heard pithy advice like this from our parents, and Jack’s take just drives this advice to its logical conclusion.
“On Wall Street yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrial plummeted more than 100 points, prompting New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner to fire manager Lou Piniella.” — Dennis Miller, Saturday Night Live
The acerbic Miller has provided the world with too many biting one-liners to count. This one is great, though, because it displays Miller’s wit while touching on financial jitters, The Boss’s neuroticism, and even New York’s social structure all in one fell swoop.
“As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.” — Arthur Carlson, WKRP in Cincinnati
Well-meaning station owner Arthur Carlson cooked up a Thanksgiving promotion: he would have turkeys dropped out of a helicopter over Cincinnati to get WKRP’s name into the public consciousness. As the one-liner above indicates, though, Carlson failed to take into account that turkeys can’t fly. Needless to say, the whole promotion went over like a lead balloon, and Carlson’s lament is still imminently recognizable 30 years later.
“John McCain looks like the guy who picks up his TV remote when the phone rings.” — David Letterman, Late Show with David Letterman
Like Miller, Letterman can zing with the best of them and has done so with great zest over the years. Letterman’s running jokes about McCain during the last Presidential election cycle demonstrated that Dave is not shy about expressing his political views in his nightly monologues, rife with biting one-liners. Besides, the mental imagery is hilarious.