Compulsive gambler

Taxi (TV series)

Taxi is an American sitcom that originally aired from 1978 to 1982 on ABC, and from 1982 to 1983 on NBC. The series, which won 18 Emmy Awards including three for Outstanding Comedy Series, focuses on the everyday lives of a handful of New York City taxi drivers and their abusive dispatcher. The series was produced by the John Charles Walters Company in association with Paramount Television.

Taxi was inspired by the non-fiction article "Night-Shifting for the Hip Fleet" by Mark Jacobson, which appeared in the September 22, 1975 issue of New York magazine. This article helped suggest the idea for the show to James L. Brooks and David Davis, though nothing from it was used directly. The article was a profile of several drivers who worked the night shift for a New York cab company.

Premise and themes

The show focuses on the employees of the Sunshine Cab Company. Of all the taxi drivers, only Alex, who is disillusioned with life, considers it his profession. The others view driving as a temporary job until they can succeed in their outside careers and leave it behind. Elaine O'Connor Nardo is a receptionist at an art gallery, Tony Banta is a boxer with a losing record, and Bobby Wheeler is a struggling actor. John Burns, who was written out of the show after the first season, is working his way through college. The rest of the drivers take pity on "Reverend Jim" Ignatowski, an aging hippie minister burnt out from drugs, and help him become a cabbie. Some episodes involve one of the characters having an opportunity to realize his or her dream and move up in the world, only to see it yanked away. Others deal with the workers coping with their unsatisfying lives and their amoral dispatcher Louis De Palma.

Despite the zany humor regularly featured on the show, Taxi often tackled such dramatic issues as drug addiction, single parenthood, blindness, bisexuality, teenage runaways, failed marriages, sexual harassment, pre-menstrual mood disorders, gambling addiction, and the loss of a loved one.

Characters

  • Alex Rieger (Judd Hirsch) - Alex is the sensible, compassionate core of the show, the one everyone else turns to for advice. At one point, he reveals his frustration with this unwanted burden. He once worked in an office, with a good chance of advancement, but lost his job due to his refusal to follow the company line. He was married to Phyllis Bornstein (Louise Lasser). When his wife divorced him because of his lack of ambition, she sought sole custody of their baby daughter, Cathy; he gave in rather than fight. He is also estranged from his philandering father, Joe (Jack Gilford). Alex is a recovered compulsive gambler, although he relapses in one episode. A pessimist, he has resigned himself to driving a cab for the rest of his life.
  • Louie De Palma (Danny DeVito) - The dispatcher for the Sunshine Cab Company. He not only has no morals to speak of, he positively revels in his misdeeds. Nothing is beneath him, from taking advantage of a drunken friend of his sometime-girlfriend Zena Sherman (played by real-life wife Rhea Perlman) to gambling with a young boy to stealing from the company. He lives with his mother (DeVito's real mother, Julia, in two episodes). Under the amoral exterior beats a heart of pure lead. That said, he has (on very rare occasions) helped his workers, as in the episode in which an arrogant hairstylist (played by Ted Danson) gives Elaine a garish makeover just before a very important event and further humiliates her by stating he "didn't know how to do taxi drivers." It is Louie who bolsters her confidence to confront him. TV Guide ranked De Palma first on its list of the 50 greatest TV characters of all time.
  • Elaine O'Connor Nardo (Marilu Henner) - Elaine is a divorced mother of two struggling to cope, while trying to realize her ambitions in the field of fine art. The object of lust of Louie, she is attracted to characters played by actors ranging from Tom Selleck to Wallace Shawn.
  • Tony Banta (Tony Danza) - The sweet-natured, if somewhat dimwitted boxer has little success in the sport. In fact, Louie makes a lot of money betting against him. Finally, the boxing commission takes away his license because he has been knocked out one too many times. Danza actually was a professional boxer.
  • Bobby Wheeler (Jeff Conaway) (1978-1982) - Bobby is a shallow, conceited actor whose pretensions are Louie's favorite target. Success eludes Bobby. Once, he is signed up by a famous manager, but it turns out she does not want to represent him; she only wants him as a lover. Another time, he is cast in a pilot for a soap opera called Boise. The show goes into production, but his part is recast. Conaway left the show after Season 3, but continued to make guest appearances in Season 4 before being written out altogether.
  • Reverend Jim Ignatowski (Christopher Lloyd) (1979-1983) - A burned-out relic of the '60s, Jim lives in a world of his own. He was once a hard-working, serious student at Harvard University, with an extremely wealthy father (Victor Buono), but one bite of a drug-laden brownie was enough to get him hooked and send him into a downward spiral. (His last name was originally Caldwell; he changed it to Ignatowski, thinking that the backward pronunciation of that name was "Star Child.") The cabbies help him pass a written exam to become one of them, in a particularly memorable episode (see Quotes section below). He occasionally exhibits unexpected talents, such as the ability to play the piano masterfully. TV Guide placed Ignatowski 32nd on its list of the 50 greatest TV characters of all time.
  • Latka Gravas (Andy Kaufman) - Latka is an immigrant from a very strange land, often speaking in his invented foreign tongue ("ibi da", "nik nik"). He works as a mechanic, fixing the taxis. Latka was an adaptation of the "Foreign Man" character Kaufman originated in his stand-up comedy act. He eventually grew tired of the gag, so the writers gave Latka multiple personality disorder, allowing Kaufman to play other characters, the most frequent one being a repellent, smooth-talking lounge-lizard persona calling itself Vic Ferrari. In one episode however, he becomes Alex, with profound insights into "his" life. Just when he is about to reveal to the real Alex the perfect solution for all his problems, he reverts back to Latka.
  • Simka Dahblitz-Gravas (Carol Kane) (1980-1983) - She is from the same country as Latka. They belong to different ethnic groups which traditionally detest each other, but they fall in love and eventually get married. She is much more assertive than her husband, often standing up to Louie for him.
  • John Burns (Randall Carver) (1978-1979) - The naive young man works as a cabbie to pay for college. According to Carver, "...the characters of John Burns and Tony Banta were too similar...Some of the lines were almost interchangeable..., so he was dropped after the first season without explanation.
  • Jeff Bennett (J. Alan Thomas) - Sunshine Cab's assistant dispatcher, he shares the "cage" with Louie but rarely speaks or interacts with the other characters. One exception is the Season 5 episode "Crime and Punishment", wherein Louie turns Jeff in for stealing car parts from the company and selling them on the black market (a crime which Louie himself committed).

Awards and nominations

Taxi is one of television's most lauded shows. During its run, the sitcom was nominated for 31 Emmy Awards and won 18, including three for Outstanding Comedy Series. It was also nominated for 25 Golden Globes, with four wins (three for Best TV Series - Musical/Comedy). In 1979, it received the Humanitas Prize in the 30 minute category. It was also ranked 48th in TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.

Awards

Emmy Awards:

  • Comedy Series (1979-1981)
  • Lead Actor in a Comedy Series - Judd Hirsch (1981, 1983)
  • Guest Actress in a Comedy Series - Ruth Gordon (1979)
  • Lead Actress in a Comedy Series - Carol Kane (1982)
  • Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series - Carol Kane (1983)
  • Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series - Danny DeVito (1981)
  • Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series - Christopher Lloyd (1982, 1983)
  • Directing in a Comedy Series - James Burrows (1980, 1981)
  • Writing in a Comedy Series - Michael Leeson (1981)
  • Writing in a Comedy Series - Ken Estin (1982)
  • Film Editing for a Series - M. Pam Blumenthal (1979-81), Jack Michon (1981)

Golden Globe Awards:

  • Best Television Series-Comedy (1979-1981), tied in 1980 with Alice
  • Best TV Supporting Actor - Danny DeVito (1980), tied with Vic Tayback in Alice

Nominations

Emmy Awards:

  • Comedy Series (1982, 1983)
  • Lead Actor in a Comedy Series - Judd Hirsch (1979, 1980, 1982)
  • Lead Actress in a Comedy Series - Eileen Brennan (1981)
  • Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series - Danny DeVito (1979, 1982, 1983)
  • Directing in a Comedy Series - James Burrows (1982)
  • Writing in a Comedy Series - Michael Leeson (1979)
  • Writing in a Comedy Series - Glen Charles and Les Charles (1980, 1981)
  • Writing in a Comedy Series - David Lloyd (1981)
  • Writing in a Comedy Series - Barry Kemp and Holly Holmberg Brooks (1982)
  • Writing in a Comedy Series - Ken Estin (1983)

Golden Globe Awards:

  • Television Series-Comedy (1982-1984)
  • Actor in a TV Series-Comedy - Judd Hirsch (1979-1983)
  • TV Supporting Actress - Marilu Henner (1979-1983)
  • TV Supporting Actress - Carol Kane (1983)
  • TV Supporting Actor - Tony Danza (1980)
  • TV Supporting Actor - Danny DeVito (1979, 1981, 1982)
  • TV Supporting Actor - Jeff Conaway (1979, 1980)
  • TV Supporting Actor - Andy Kaufman (1979, 1981)

Ratings

The show was acclaimed by critics and was a ratings success during its first two seasons, placing in the Top Ten in its first season behind the ABC powerhouse line-up of Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and Three's Company, but numbers plummeted when it was moved from that secure time-slot into more competitive positions. The show was cancelled in 1982 by ABC. The show was then picked up for its fifth and final season by NBC, being paired at first on Thursday night with Cheers.

The show's seasonal ratings were as follows:

Production

The series was produced on Stage 23, at Paramount Television, in Los Angeles, California, from July 5, 1978, to February 18, 1983.

Opening sequence

The opening titles show a cab driving east across the Queensboro Bridge. The footage originally was intended as a "bridge" between scenes and is only about fifteen seconds long; parts of it are subtly repeated a few times to fill the opening. Tony Danza drove the cab in the sequence; he was in New York to shoot a scene that would air in the first season finale. It ended up being the whole series' only scene filmed in New York.

The external shot of the Sunshine Cab Company was of a garage in New York's West Village. The building has since been demolished, the site now containing an apartment building and a Rite Aid.

Theme music

Bob James wrote the theme music for Taxi throughout its entire run, including the main theme, "Angela", which was written for a sequence in episode 3 of the first season ("Blind Date", see below). The producers liked the slower, more melancholy tune better than the original, more up-tempo original opening theme chosen, which was the title cut of James's 1978 album, Touchdown, on which "Angela" also appears.

Quotes

Elaine [on first meeting Alex]: I'm only going to be working here part-time. I'm not really a taxi driver.
Alex: Oh yeah, I know. We're all part-time here. You see that guy over there? Now he's an actor. The guy on the phone, he's a prize fighter. This lady over here, she's a beautician. The man behind her, he's a writer. Me? I'm a cab driver. I'm the only cab driver in this place.


Jim [taking a written driving test]: Pssst. What does a yellow light mean?
Bobby: Slow down.
Jim: Okay. What...does...a...yellow...light...mean?
Bobby: Slow down!
Jim [increasingly befuddled]: Okay. Whaaat...doooeees...aaa...yeeel-looow...liiight...meeeaaan?

Director James Burrows instructed Conaway and Lloyd to continue repeating their lines until he called cut. The gag wound up being performed at least a half-dozen times in the studio until the audience laughter finally died down. Henner (who was also in the scene) can be seen stabbing herself in the hand with a pen in order to avoid laughing.

Episodes

Season 1

# Episode Title Airdate/Summary
01 "Like Father, Like Daughter" September 12, 1978

John finds that the money case on the pay-phone is missing the door; thus, any call can be made using the same quarter over and over again. Alex calls his ex-wife. He finds out that his daughter, whom he has not spoken to in fifteen years, is taking a flight out of Miami to study in Portugal. Alex's friends volunteer to take turns driving a company cab all the way there so Alex can get acquainted with her before she leaves.

02 "One-Punch Banta" September 19, 1978

Tony knocks out champion Carlos Navarone (played by real-life world champion Carlos Palomino) with one punch during a sparring session, and as a result, gets a match at Madison Square Garden. Tony is confident that he can win, but finds out minutes before the fight that the knockout was staged.

03 "Blind Date" September 26, 1978

Alex, after having a conversation with the operator on Bobby's answering service, decides to ask her out, only to find that she is overweight and so defensive about it that she is obnoxious. Meanwhile, Latka finds $2,000 in the back of one of the taxis and is pressured by Louie to hand it over.

04 "Bobby's Acting Career" October 5, 1978

After giving himself three years to succeed as an actor, Bobby finds his deadline approaching and goes on a mad audition spree. Meanwhile, Alex rescues an abused dog from its owner and refuses to return it.

05 "Come As You Aren't" October 10, 1978

Elaine throws a party at her apartment for the art dealers she works with, and invited Alex. Fearing that her guests would look down on her if they found out she is a taxi driver, she tells Alex to lie about his occupation.

06 "The Great Line" October 17, 1978

John uses a pick-up line ("Let's skip the preliminaries...you want to get married?") to ask out a girl named Suzanne Caruthers (Ellen Regan), only to find it works all too well when he finds himself a married man only one hour later.

07 "High School Reunion" October 24, 1978

Louie does not want to show up for his twenty-year high school reunion, fearing that being a taxi-dispatcher (and still the same height) would not impress those who tormented him back then. Bobby is intrigued by the acting challenge and offers to impersonate Louie, an offer which Louie accepts. Bobby convinces everyone he is Louie (telling them he had a growth spurt in college) and proceeds to charm them all, including the class beauty Louie lusted after (Arlene Golonka). He tells Stanley Tarses, Louie's former chief nemesis, that he now works for the Internal Revenue Service, and that, based on their conversation, Tarses can expect an audit.

08 "Paper Marriage" October 31, 1978

Latka finds out he is going to be deported, so the cabbies arrange a marriage between Latka and a prostitute to keep Latka in America. Reverend Jim, in his first appearance, performs the ceremony. (He does not reappear until the second season, when he becomes a regular character.)

09 "Money Troubles" November 14, 1978

John and Suzanne find themselves in financial trouble, so Alex offers them a loan. Louie attempts to talk Elaine into inviting him to John's house for dinner.

10 "Men Are Such Beasts" November 21, 1978

Tony starts to get annoyed with his clingy, pill-popping girlfriend Denise, and tries to break up with her. But Denise refuses let him go, and starts following him around. Finally, he is forced to take desperate measures to drive her away. Meanwhile, Alex gets into an accident when, swerving to avoid a dog, he hits a parked car instead.

11 "A Full House For Christmas" December 12, 1978

Louie's brother Nicky, a professional gambler, comes to visit from Las Vegas for Christmas. Louie's mother, upset over not having heard from Nicky for six years, wants him to take her back to Vegas with him for a while, but Nicky refuses. Louie, frustrated over his brother's indifference for their mother (though he himself treats her no better), gets Alex to play poker with Nicky. When Nicky loses all his money, Louie pays him to show Mrs. De Palma a good time in Las Vegas.

12 "Sugar Mama" January 16, 1979

Alex is hired by wealthy older widow Dee Wilcox (Ruth Gordon) to drive her around town, but Alex starts to feel uncomfortable with the nature of their relationship.

13 "Friends" January 30, 1979

While Tony is away, Bobby neglects to feed Tony's long-lived goldfish. When Tony returns to find "Tony" and "Wanda" dead, Tony vows never to talk to Bobby again.

14 "Louie Sees The Light" February 6, 1979

Louie is about to undergo a major medical operation, and is worried that he might not live through it. In a desperate attempt to save himself, Louie promises God (with Alex as his witness) that he will be "the best man he can be." Louie returns to the garage a changed man. Bobby makes a bet with Alex over how long Louie will be able to go without reverting to his old self.

15 "Elaine And The Lame Duck" February 13, 1979

Congressman Walter Griswold (Jeffrey Tambor) breaks up with his girlfriend in the back of Alex's cab. Feeling sorry for the pathetic politician, Alex introduces Walter to Elaine. Elaine soon gets annoyed by Walter's childish behavior and sexual suggestions, but does not have the heart to dump him.

16 "Bobby's Big Break" February 15, 1979

Bobby lands a role as a new character on a popular soap opera. Thinking he has gotten his big break, he rips up his cab driver license in Louie's face. He later finds out that his character is being killed off, and is too embarrassed to ask for his job back.

17 "Mama Gravas" February 27, 1979

Latka's attractive widowed mother visits. She and Alex end up spending the night together. But Latka thinks the relationship is much more serious than it is.

18 "Alex Tastes Death And Finds A Nice Restaurant" March 6, 1979

Alex is shot in the ear by one of his passengers, and turns into a nervous wreck (he is unwilling to pick up a priest). Eventually, Alex quits his job and becomes a waiter at a stuffy French restaurant.

19 "Hollywood Calling" May 8, 1979

A Hollywood bigwig is writing a film about New York City cab drivers, and comes to the Sunshine Cab Company looking for inspiration. He takes a liking to Alex, but Louie is annoyed about the commotion in the garage disrupting business.

20 "Substitute Father" May 15, 1979

Elaine is going away for a week, but doesn't want to take her son Jason because he has a spelling bee the day before Elaine's return. Alex, Bobby, Tony, John and Louie take turns taking the kid on outings, but they have such a good time with the boy, he does not have time to study.

21 "Memories of Cab 804, Part 1" May 22, 1979

John crashes Cab 804, the most beloved cab in the garage. Alex, Bobby, Tony and Louie reminisce about their greatest moments in the cab:

Alex picks up John in that cab.
Bobby gets held up, but manages to hold his own in a prolonged Mexican standoff and eventually drives the mugger out of the cab.
Tony stops a man from committing suicide by jumping off a bridge.
Louie wins a $800 bet with a rich, obnoxious boy after the child first cheats him out of $200.
22 "Memories of Cab 804, Part 2" May 29, 1979

As Latka tries to save Cab 804 (which is now a heap of scrap metal), Elaine and Alex recount their memories of the beloved cab. Elaine picks up the man of her dreams and has a wonderful night with him, only to find she will never see him again. Alex delivers a baby in the backseat. Latka manages to repair the cab, although several defects remain (such as not being able to go over 20 miles per hour), and Alex gets to take it out first. However, the engine catches on fire after Alex starts it up. In subsequent episodes, the cab appears to work fine.)

Cast reunions

Danny DeVito hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live soon after Taxi was canceled after the fourth season. A filmed bit had him driving around New York looking morose until inspiration strikes and he blows up the ABC building. In addition, the Taxi cast members were given an opportunity for closure, which up to that point had been denied them due to the abrupt cancellation. The actors took their "final" bows during DeVito's opening monologue, only to have NBC pick up the show. HBO was also interested in renewing the series for a fifth season after ABC's cancellation.

Decades later, most of the cast returned to play their younger selves and briefly re-enact scenes for the Kaufman biopic, Man on the Moon. Judd Hirsch, Marilu Henner, Jeff Conaway, Carol Kane, Randall Carver, J. Alan Thomas, and Christopher Lloyd all reprised their roles. The only two who did not were Danny DeVito, who produced and co-starred in the film as Kaufman's manager George Shapiro, and Tony Danza, who declined to participate.

Kaufman incident

Kaufman wanted his stage character Tony Clifton to appear on the show. "Clifton" was hired for a guest role, but after throwing a tantrum on stage, had to be escorted off of the Paramount studio lot by security guards. The incident was recreated in Man on the Moon.

DVD releases

CBS Home Entertainment has released the first three seasons of Taxi on DVD in Region 1. It is unknown if the remaining 2 seasons will be also be released.

DVD Name US Release Date UK Release Date Ep # Additional Information
Season 1 October 12 2004 April 28 2008 22 No Bonus Features
Season 2 February 1 2005 TBA 24 No Bonus Features
Season 3 September 13 2005 TBA 20 No Bonus Features
Season 4 TBA TBA 24
Season 5 TBA TBA 24

Footnotes

References

  • Lovece, Frank, with Franco, Jules. Hailing Taxi: The Official Book of the Show. New York: Prentice Hall, 1988. Reissued as Taxi: The Official Fan's Guide. New York: Citadel, 1996. ISBN-10: 0806518014. SBN-13: 978-0806518015.

External links

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