Taxi


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

Tabs

About

Taxi's television history is filled with contradictions. Produced by some of television comedy's most well-regarded talent, the show was canceled by two different networks. Despite winning fourteen Emmy Awards in only five seasons, the program's ratings were rock-bottom for its final seasons. Although it thrives in syndication and is still well-loved by many viewers, Taxi will be best remembered as the ancestral bridge between two of the most successful sit-coms of all time: The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Cheers.

In the mid-1970s, MTM Productions had achieved huge success with both popularity and critical appraisal. So it was an unexpected move when four of the company's finest writers and producers, James L. Brooks, Stan Daniels, David Davis, and Ed. Weinberger, jumped off the stable ship of MTM in 1978 to form their own production company, John Charles Walters Company. To launch their new venture, they looked back to an idea that Brooks and Davis had previously considered with MTM: the daily life of a New York City taxi company. From MTM head Grant Tinker they purchased the rights to the newspaper article that had initiated the concept and began producing this new show at Paramount for ABC. They brought a few other MTM veterans along for the ride, including director James Burrows and writer/producers Glen and Les Charles.

Although Taxi certainly bore many of the trademark signs of "quality television" as exemplified by MTM, other changes in style and focus distinguished this from an MTM product. After working on the middle-class female-centered worlds of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, and Phyllis for years, the group at John Charles Walters wanted to create a program focusing on blue-collar male experience. MTM programs all had clearly defined settings, but Taxi's creators wanted a show that was firmly rooted in a city's identity--Taxi's situations and mood were distinctly New York. Despite MTM Productions innovations in creating ensemble character comedy, there was always one central star around which the ensemble revolved. In Taxi Judd Hirsch's Alex Rieger was a main character, but his importance seemed secondary to the centrality of the ensemble and the Sunshine Cab Company itself. While The Mary Tyler Moore Show proudly proclaimed that "you're going to make it on your own," the destitute drivers of Taxi were doomed to perpetual failure; the closest any of them came to happiness was Rieger's content acceptance of his lot in life--to be a cabby.

Taxi debuted on 12 September 1978, amidst a strong ABC Tuesday night line-up. It followed Three's Company, a wildly-successful example of the type of show MTM "quality" sit-coms reacted against. Taxi used this strong position to end the season ninth in the ratings and garner its first of three straight Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series. The show's success was due to its excellent writing, Burrows's award-winning directing using his innovative four-camera technique, and its largely unknown but talented cast. Danny DeVito's Louie DePalma soon became one of the most despised men on television--possibly the most unredeemable and worthless louse of a character ever to reside on the small screen. Andy Kaufman's foreign mechanic Latka Gravas provided over-the-top comedy within an ensemble emphasizing subtle character humor. But Kaufman sometimes also brought a demonic edge to the character, an echo of his infamous appearances on Saturday Night Live as a macho wrestler of women and Mighty Mouse lip-syncher. In the second season Christopher Lloyd's Reverend Jim Ignatowski was added to the group as television's first drugged-out '60s burn-out character. But Lloyd's Emmy-winning performance created in Jim more than just a storehouse of fried brain cells; he established a deep, complex humanity that moved far beyond mere caricature. The program launched successful movie careers for DeVito and Lloyd, as well as the fairly-notable television careers of Tony Danza and Marilu Henner; Kaufman's controversial career would certainly have continued had he not died of cancer in 1984.

In its third season ABC moved Taxi from beneath Three's Company's protective wing to a more competitive Wednesday night slot; the ratings plummeted and Taxi finished the next two years in 53rd place. ABC canceled the show in early 1982 as part of a larger network push away from "quality" and toward the Aaron Spelling-produced popular fare of Dynasty and The Love Boat. HBO bid for the show, looking for it to become the first ongoing sitcom for the pay channel, but lost out to NBC, which scheduled the series for the 1982-83 season. Ironically, this reunited the show's executive producers with their former boss Tinker, who had taken over NBC. Tinker's reign at NBC was focused, not surprisingly, on "quality" programming which he hoped would attract viewers to the perennially last-place network. Taxi was partnered with a very compatible show on Thursday night--Cheers, created by Taxi veterans Charles, Burrows, and Charles. Although this line-up featured some of the great programs in television history--the comedies were sandwiched by dramas Fame and Hill St. Blues--the ratings were dreadful and Taxi finished the season in 73rd place. NBC was willing to stick by Cheers for another chance, but felt Taxi had run its course and canceled it at the end of the season. Had Taxi been given another year or two, it would have been part of one of the most successful nights on television, featuring The Cosby Show (co-created by Taxi creator Weinberger), Family Ties, Hill St. Blues, L.A. Law, and eventual powerhouse Cheers.

Taxi lives on in syndication, but its most significant place in television history is as the middle generation between The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Cheers. It served as a transition between the star-driven middle-class character comedy of MTM programs and the location-centered ensemble comedy inhabited by the losers of Cheers and Taxi. Considered one of the great sit-coms of its era, Taxi stands as a prime example of the constant tension in television programming between standards of "quality" and reliance on high ratings to determine success.

-Jason Mittel

CAST

Alex Rieger................................................. Judd Hirsch

Bobby Wheeler (l978-1981) ........................Jeff Conaway

Louie De Palma....................................... Danny DeVito

Elaine Nardo............................................ Marilu Henner

Tony Banta .................................................Tony Danza

John Burns (1978-1979)........................... Randall Carver

Latka Gravas ..........................................Andy Kaufman

"Reverend Jim" Ignatowski (1979-1983)...........Christopher Lloyd

Simka Gravas (1981-1983) ...........................Carol Kane

PRODUCERS    

James L. Brooks, Stan Daniels, Ed Weinberger, David Davis, Glen Charles, Les Charles, Ian Praiser, Richard Sakai, Howard Gewirtz

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

111 Episodes

ABC

September 1978-October 1980   Tuesday 9:30-10:00

November 1980-January 1981   Wednesday 9:00-9:30

February 1981-June 1982   Thursday 9:30-10:00

NBC

September 1982-December 1982   Thursday 9:30-10:00

January 1983-February 1983   Saturday 9:30-10:00

March 1983-May 1983   Wednesday 9:30-10:00

June 1983-July 1983   Wednesday 10:30-11:00 

FURTHER READING

Feuer, Jane, Paul Kerr, and Tise Vahimagi, editors. MTM-'Quality Television.' London: British Film Institute, 1984.

Sorensen, Jeff. The Taxi Book. New York: St. Martin's, 1987.

Waldron, Vince. Classic Sitcoms: A Celebration of the Best of Prime-Time Comedy. New York: MacMillan, 1987.

Highlights
Marilu Henner on being cast as "Elaine Nardo" on Taxi
04:08
Danny DeVito on the legacy of "Louie De Palma" on Taxi
James L. Brooks on the final season of Taxi on NBC after ABC cancelled the show
03:05
Glen and Les Charles on Andy Kaufman's peculiar deal (with Tony Clifton) on Taxi and the character "Latka Gravas"
04:31
Sam Simon on Jeff Conaway being fired from Taxi
02:10
Tony Danza on being cast on Taxi
04:57
Who talked about this show

Andy Ackerman

View Interview
Andy Ackerman on James Burrows take on Taxi
00:22

James L. Brooks

View Interview
James L. Brooks on the final season of Taxi on NBC after ABC cancelled the show
03:05
James L. Brooks on the cast of Taxi
03:32
James L. Brooks on the genesis, development and casting of Taxi
26:59
James L. Brooks on the making of some of the best-known episodes of Taxi
14:53
James L. Brooks on the first episode of Taxi: "Like Father, Like Daughter"
01:41
James L. Brooks on the episode of Taxi: "Love Un-American Style" featuring the Schloogle
05:26
James L. Brooks on the two part episode of Taxi: "Scenskees From a Marriage" - Latka's affair
03:08

Allan Burns

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Allan Burns on how great Taxi was
00:32

James Burrows

View Interview
James Burrows on getting his nickname "Beads" from Danny DeVito
00:56
James Burrows on getting hired to direct Taxi; on the cast
03:33
James Burrows on the opening sequence of Taxi
01:19
James Burrows on the challenges of being the series director of Taxi
02:40
James Burrows on the writers of Taxi
02:45
James Burrows on "Latka" getting married on Taxi
02:25
James Burrows on directing Taxi
25:44

Glenn Gordon Caron

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Glenn Gordon Caron on enjoying the pilot of Taxi and wanting to write for the show
00:43
Glenn Gordon Caron on moving to California to write for Taxi and not understanding how a writers' room worked
02:13
Glenn Gordon Caron on James L. Brooks and how he rewrote people on his shows, including Taxi
01:51

Glen Charles

View Interview
Glen and Les Charles on producing Taxi
00:30
Glen and Les Charles on producing and head-writing for Taxi
06:18
Glen and Les Charles on the premise and production of Taxi
04:56
Glen and Les Charles on the title sequence of Taxi
01:38
Glen and Les Charles on a typical work-week on Taxi
03:32
Glen and Les Charles on the atmosphere in the writing room of Taxi
05:34
Glen and Les Charles on the actors and the casting process on Taxi
10:06
Glen and Les Charles on Andy Kaufman's peculiar deal (with Tony Clifton) on Taxi and the character "Latka Gravas"
04:31
Glen and Les Charles on the "Sugar Mama" episode of Taxi with Ruth Gordon
00:56
Glen and Les Charles on the "Going Home" episode of Taxi, for which they won an Emmy
01:13
Glen and Les Charles on the "Honor Thy Father" episode of Taxi, featuring Jack Gilford
01:14
Glen and Les Charles on their favorite Taxi episodes and why the show was cancelled
02:08
Glen and Les Charles on dealings with the network and Standards and Practices on Taxi
00:58

Les Charles

View Interview
Glen and Les Charles on Andy Kaufman's peculiar deal (with Tony Clifton) on Taxi and the character "Latka Gravas"
04:31
Glen and Les Charles on producing Taxi
00:30
Glen and Les Charles on producing and head-writing for Taxi
06:18
Glen and Les Charles on the premise and production of Taxi
04:56
Glen and Les Charles on the title sequence of Taxi
01:38
Glen and Les Charles on a typical work-week on Taxi
03:32
Glen and Les Charles on the atmosphere in the writing room of Taxi
05:34
Glen and Les Charles on the actors and the casting process on Taxi
10:06
Glen and Les Charles on the "Sugar Mama" episode of Taxi with Ruth Gordon
00:56
Glen and Les Charles on the "Going Home" episode of Taxi, for which they won an Emmy
01:13
Glen and Les Charles on the "Honor Thy Father" episode of Taxi, featuring Jack Gilford
01:14
Glen and Les Charles on their favorite Taxi episodes and why the show was cancelled
02:08
Glen and Les Charles on dealings with the network and Standards and Practices on Taxi
00:58

Tony Danza

View Interview
Tony Danza on being cast on Taxi
04:57
Tony Danza on his Taxi character "Tony Banta"
03:31
Tony Danza on helping to shape the character of "Tony Banta" on Taxi and being embraced by the writers
03:15
Tony Danza on working with Judd Hirsch as "Alex Reiger" on Taxi
01:21
Tony Danza on working with Marilu Henner as "Elaine Nardo" on Taxi
02:15
Tony Danza on working with Christopher Lloyd as "Reverend Jim Ignatowski" on Taxi
00:52
Tony Danza on working with Jeff Conaway as "Bobby Wheeler" on Taxi
01:34
Tony Danza on working with Andy Kaufman as "Latka Gravis" on Taxi
06:55
Tony Danza on his son appearing on Taxi with him
06:06
Tony Danza on public reaction to Taxi
02:01
Tony Danza on ABC's cancellation of Taxi  and its revival on NBC by Brandon Tartikoff
02:32
Tony Danza on the end of Taxi's NBC run 
01:03
Tony Danza on the legacy of Taxi
01:35

Danny DeVito

View Interview
Danny DeVito on his Taxi character "Louie De Palma"; on meeting the cast
Danny DeVito on his Taxi co-stars
Danny DeVito on his real mother playing his TV mother on Taxi
Danny DeVito on his wife Rhea Perlman appearing on Taxi and the first utterance of "holy crap" on TV
Danny DeVito on his Taxi character "Louie De Palma's" softer side
Danny DeVito on "Louie's" "cage" on the Taxi set
Danny DeVito on creating his iconic Taxi character, "Louie De Palma"
Danny DeVito on the Taxi episode "Louie Sees the Light"
Danny DeVito on Taxi and its legacy

Richard Frank

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Richard Frank on on overseeing production of Taxi
08:30

Marilu Henner

View Interview
Marilu Henner on being cast as "Elaine Nardo" on Taxi
04:08
Marilu Henner on the character of "Elaine Nardo" on Taxi
02:41
Marilu Henner on having input on "Elaine's" stories on Taxi and working with the producers including James L. Brooks and Ed. Weinberger
04:46
Marilu Henner on meeting the cast of Taxi
04:17
Marilu Henner on James Burrows directing the pilot of Taxi
01:48
Marilu Henner on the production of Taxi
04:51
Marilu Henner on shooting Taxi on Friday nights
02:57
Marilu Henner on Taxi bloopers
01:18
Marilu Henner on Danny DeVito as "Louie De Palma" on Taxi
08:43
Marilu Henner on choosing Taxi over The Paper Chase
02:05
Marilu Henner on Judd Hirsch as "Alex Reiger" on Taxi
01:32
Marilu Henner on the relationship between "Alex" and "Elaine" on Taxi
05:32
Marilu Henner on working with Tony Danza as "Tony Banta" on Taxi
03:44
Marilu Henner on working with Jeff Conaway as "Bobby Wheeler" on Taxi
01:46
Marilu Henner on working with Randall Carver as "John Burns" on Taxi and the first time she got recognized from Taxi
03:50
Marilu Henner on working with Christopher Lloyd as "Reverend Jim Ignatowski" on Taxi
02:44
Marilu Henner on working with Carol Kane as "Simka Dahblitz-Gravas" on Taxi
03:43
Marilu Henner on working with Andy Kaufman as "Latka Gravas" on Taxi
09:24
Marilu Henner on doing publicity for Taxi
01:10
Marilu Henner on Taxi being cancelled by ABC and picked up and cancelled by NBC
06:12
Marilu Henner on shooting the final episode of Taxi; on the Taxi theme song
03:41
Marilu Henner on the legacy of Taxi
01:22

Barry Kemp

View Interview
Barry Kemp on coming to write for, and the premise of Taxi
01:30
Barry Kemp on his role in the writing process of Taxi
02:45
Barry Kemp on working with James L. Brooks, Ed. Weinberger, David Davis and Stan Daniels on Taxi
01:43
Barry Kemp on working with James Burrows on Taxi
00:53
Barry Kemp on the atmosphere on the set of Taxi
02:05
Barry Kemp on the comedy of Taxi
01:03
Barry Kemp on using real cab drivers' stories on Taxi and stories from his own personal life
02:52
Barry Kemp on working with Judd Hirsch as "Alex" on Taxi
02:28
Barry Kemp on working with Marilu Henner as "Elaine" on Taxi
01:16
Barry Kemp on working with Randall Carver as "John" on Taxi
00:51
Barry Kemp on working with Jeff Conaway as "Bobby" on Taxi
00:49
Barry Kemp on working with Tony Danza as "Tony" on Taxi
00:42
Barry Kemp on working with Andy Kaufman as "Latka" on Taxi and Kaufman's alter ego Tony Clifton
03:36
Barry Kemp on working with Carol Kane as "Simka" on Taxi
01:36
Barry Kemp on working with Christopher A. Lloyd as "Reverend Jim" on Taxi
01:25
Barry Kemp on the actors being involved in the writing process on Taxi
01:57
Barry Kemp on his favorite Taxi episodes and his Emmy nomination
03:58
Barry Kemp on what he learned from Taxi and why he left the show
03:00

Louise Lasser

View Interview
Louise Lasser on playing "Phyllis Reiger," ex-wife of "Alex Reiger" on Taxi
00:58

Gene LeBell

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Gene LeBell on stunt work on Taxi, usually as a referee during one of Tony Danza's boxing matches
05:14

Will Mackenzie

View Interview
Will Mackenzie on directing Taxi and on working with Andy Kaufman on that show
01:51
Will Mackenzie on working with Carol Kane and Andy Kaufman on Taxi
02:22

Carroll Pratt

View Interview
Carroll Pratt on providing a laugh track for Barney Miller, The Love Boat, Mork & Mindy, Eight is Enough, Taxi, and Benson
05:29

George Shapiro

View Interview
George Shapiro on how Andy Kaufman (and Tony Clifton) got roles on Taxi
07:15
George Shapiro on Andy Kaufman's work on Taxi
00:49

Sam Simon

View Interview
Sam Simon on Jeff Conaway being fired from Taxi
02:10
Sam Simon on how he came to write for Taxi
03:02
Sam Simon on writing for Taxi
03:43
Sam Simon on the writing process for Taxi
03:11
Sam Simon on the comedy of Taxi and dealing with the actors
03:10
Sam Simon on working with Andy Kauffman as "Latka Gravis" on Taxi
02:50
Sam Simon on the cast of Taxi
01:47
Sam Simon on favorite episode of Taxi and the tone of the show
04:31

Howard Storm

View Interview
Howard Storm on the disadvantages of stepping into a show like Taxi that's been in the hands of multiple directors

Jeffrey Tambor

View Interview
Jeffrey Tambor on appearing on Taxi
06:18

Grant Tinker

View Interview
Grant Tinker on his confrontation with Judd Hirsch at the Emmys
01:49

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