The show focuses on the employees of the fictional Sunshine Cab Company, and its principal setting is the company’s fleet garage in Manhattan. Among the drivers, only Alex Rieger, who is disillusioned with life, considers cab-driving his profession. The others view it as a temporary job that they can leave behind after they succeed in their chosen careers.
Elaine Nardo is a receptionist at an art gallery. Tony Banta is a boxer with a losing record. Bobby Wheeler is a struggling actor. John Burns (written out of the show after the first season) is working his way through college. All take pity on “Reverend Jim” Ignatowski, an aging hippie minister, who is burnt out from drugs, so they help him become a cabbie. The characters also included Latka Gravas, their innocently wide-eyed mechanic from an unnamed foreign country, and Louie De Palma, the despotic dispatcher.
A number of episodes involve a character having an opportunity to realize his or her dream to move up in the world, only to see it yanked away. Otherwise, the cabbies deal on a daily basis with their unsatisfying lives and with Louie DePalma, their cruel dispatcher. Louie’s assistant, Jeff Bennett, is rarely heard from at first, but his role increases in later seasons.
Sunshine Cab goes through a change of owners. They are referred to, but seldom seen: Ed McKenzie (who appears in one episode, played by Stephen Elliott), and, later, Ben Ratlidge (who is also seen in only one episode, played by Allen Garfield).
Cast of the debut season (ABC, 1978–79). From left to right: (back) Marilu Henner, Judd Hirsch; (middle) Andy Kaufman, Jeff Conaway, Tony Danza; (front) Randall Carver, Danny DeVito
Cast of the final season (NBC, 1982–83). From left to right: (back) Kaufman, Carol Kane, DeVito, Hirsch; (front) Danza, Henner, Christopher Lloyd
Alex Rieger (Judd Hirsch) – Alex is the sensible, pragmatic, 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 owing to his refusal to follow the company line. He was married to Phyllis Bornstein (Louise Lasser), and when she divorced him because of his lack of ambition she sought sole custody of their baby daughter, Cathy. He gave in rather than fight it. He is also estranged from his philandering father, Joe (Jack Gilford). Alex is a recovered compulsive gambler, although he relapses in one episode. A dry-humored pessimist, he has resigned himself to driving a cab for the rest of his life.
Robert L. “Bobby” Wheeler (Jeff Conaway) (1978–1981, recurring 1981–1982) – Bobby is a shallow, conceited actor whose pretensions are Louie’s favorite target. Success eludes Bobby as a struggling actor. 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 made a guest appearances in Season 4. On The Howard Stern Show, Taxi writer Sam Simon said that when Conaway was absent during the production of one episode, his dialogue was reassigned to the other cast members who delivered the jokes as well or better, which made the producers realize that Conaway was expendable.
Louie De Palma (Danny DeVito) – The head dispatcher for the Sunshine Cab Company, Louie spends the bulk of his time holding court inside the caged-in dispatch office at the garage and trading insults with the drivers. 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 DeVito's real-life wife Rhea Perlman) to gambling with a young boy to stealing from the company to even spying on Elaine while she is changing (which he does indiscreetly and almost loses his job). He lives with his mother (DeVito's real mother, Julia, in two episodes). 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. In 1999, 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. The last name for the character was taken from Patricia Nardo, a scriptwriter, former secretary, and close friend of Taxi co-creator, James L. Brooks.
Anthony Mark “Tony” Banta (Tony Danza) – The sweet-natured, if somewhat dimwitted, boxer has little success in the sport. (Danza himself actually was a former professional boxer.) 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. Though not by any means the smartest of the cast, he has no trouble comprehending the meaning of Latka’s speech, even though he cannot actually understand him. In the final season, Tony is introduced to new girlfriend Vicki (Anne De Salvo) by Simka. He and Vicki have a falling out after she becomes pregnant by him, but reconcile and get married. The last name for the character was taken from Gloria Banta, a scriptwriter and close friend of Taxi co-creator James L. Brooks.
Reverend Jim Ignatowski (Christopher Lloyd) (guest star 1978, main cast 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".) In a particularly memorable episode the cabbies help him pass a written exam to become one of them. 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.
Latka Gravas (Andy Kaufman) – Latka is an immigrant from a strange foreign land, often speaking in his foreign tongue (actually composed of gibberish, often using invented phrases such as "ibi da" or "nik nik"), but when speaking English he speaks with a very heavy accent. He works as a mechanic, fixing the taxis. Latka was an adaptation of Kaufman's "Foreign Man" character, which he originated in his stage act. In this act, "Foreign Man" claimed to be from Caspiar, an island (which does not actually exist) in the Caspian Sea. Kaufman, feeling that he had lost creative control over the character he had created, eventually grew tired of the gag, leading the writers to give Latka multiple personality disorder. This allowed Kaufman to play other characters, the most frequent being a repellent, smooth-talking lounge-lizard persona calling himself Vic Ferrari. In one episode however, Latka 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 to Latka.
Simka Dahblitz-Gravas (Carol Kane) (recurring 1980–1982, starring 1982–1983) – 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, where he is working towards a degree in forestry. 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. The premiere episode, "Like Father, Like Daughter," established that John started working for the cab company after he was a passenger in Alex's cab. John did not have change, so he had to ride with Alex to the garage to pay him. Once there, he started hanging around and eventually applied for a job. In the episode "The Great Line," he spontaneously marries a woman named Suzanne; their marriage lasts through the rest of his run on the series.
Recurring guest cast
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. A quiet African-American man with an afro, Jeff appears throughout the show's run, initially as a background performer, but as the series progresses he gradually becomes more of a featured supporting player; his evolution culminates in a memorable storyline in the Season 5 episode "Crime and Punishment", in which Louie falsely accuses Jeff of stealing car parts from the company and selling them on the black market—a crime which Louie himself committed. Actor Thomas also makes background appearances in television series Domestic Life (1984) and Cheers (1984), 1984 made-for-television film The Ratings Game, and 1987 films Throw Momma from the Train and Broadcast News. Thomas appeared as himself in the 1999 film Man on the Moon.
Tommy Jeffries (T.J. Castronova) – The bartender and waiter at Mario's, the restaurant where the group often hangs out. Tommy is pretty friendly with the group, taking an interest in their personal lives.
Zena Sherman (Rhea Perlman) (1979–1982) – The woman who fills the vending machine. She begins a romantic relationship with Louie (played by Perlman's real-life husband DeVito), but Zena gets married after they break up.
Greta Gravas (Susan Kellermann) (1979–1982) – Latka's mother, who shares his strange cultural practices. The cabbies find her to be surprisingly attractive and she has a short fling with Alex.
Phyllis Bornstein-Consuelos (Louise Lasser) (1980–1982) – Alex's ex-wife with whom he has a daughter. She has since remarried.
Cathy (Talia Balsam) (1978–1980) – Phyllis and Alex's daughter, whom Alex left when she was a baby but reunites with in the first episode and later at Cathy's wedding.
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)
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 the article was used directly. The article was a profile of several drivers who worked the night shift for a New York cab company.
The series was produced on Stage 23 at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles, California, from July 5, 1978, to February 18, 1983.
When the series was cancelled by ABC, it seemed for a time that the premiumcable television network HBO would pick up the series. When it didn't, the series was picked up by NBC, which at first kept it on at its ABC time slot of Thursday 9:30 p.m following the first season of Cheers.
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 repeated to fill the opening.
The external establishing shot of the Sunshine Cab Company was of an actual taxi garage and gas station located on Charles and Hudson streets in New York's West Village; the Twin Towers can be seen in the background on various establishing shots of the garage. The building has since been demolished, and an apartment building and a Rite Aid pharmacy went up on the site.
Bob James wrote the opening theme, "Angela", which was originally intended for a sequence in episode #3 ("Blind Date"). The producers liked this slower, more melancholy tune better than the up-tempo opening theme they had initially chosen ("Touchdown"). Both songs are on James's 1978 album, Touchdown.
In 1983, James released The Genie, an LP containing much of the incidental music he had written for Taxi during its run.
On ABC, the first two seasons aired Tuesdays at 9:30, the third season aired Wednesdays at 9:00 and Thursdays at 9:30 and the fourth season aired Thursdays at 9:30. On NBC, the final season aired Thursdays at 9:30, Wednesdays at 9:30 and 10:30 and Saturdays at 9:30.
Danny DeVito hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live soon after Taxi was canceled after the fourth season. During the opening monologue, DeVito read a letter supposedly from his mother asking God to forgive ABC for cancelling the show, adding that "but I'll understand if you don't." 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 (which aired SNL) pick up the show.
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 living members of the Taxi cast who didn't reprise their roles were Danny DeVito, who produced and co-starred in the film as Kaufman's manager George Shapiro, and Tony Danza. Kaufman had never gotten along with Danza during the taping of the original Taxi series, and because of this, Danza felt it would be hypocritical to appear in the film.
Several of the surviving cast members (along with surviving cast members from other Judd Hirsch and Bob Newhart vehicles) reunited in different roles for an episode of the Judd Hirsch/Bob Newhart series George & Leo.
In January 2009, Danny DeVito made mention of wanting to make a Taxi reunion movie.
All five seasons of Taxi have been released from Paramount Home Entertainment. The first three seasons of Taxi were released on DVD in Region 1 between 2004 and 2005. It took almost four years until Paramount released The Fourth Season on September 22, 2009, and The (Fifth &) Final Season on December 22, 2009 (the last two seasons were released in conjunction with CBS Home Entertainment). As of October 2014, all seasons have been released in Region 2 [Germany].
On November 11, 2014, CBS Home Entertainment will release Taxi- The Complete Series on DVD in Region 1. The 17-disc set features all 114 episodes of the series together in one collection for the very first time.
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 0-8065-1801-4. SBN-13: 978-0806518015.