ABC (ended 1983)



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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 Reiger 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 Reiger'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 The Museum of Broadcast Communicationsmoreless

    September 13, 2005 DVD Releases

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    • Hilarious!

      I thought Taxi was a very funny show. One of my favorite episodes was the one where Latka had an alter ego named Vic Ferrari, a smooth talking playboy. Even after all these years I remember that particular episode. I laughed my ass off. Anyway it was one of the best comedy shows of all time. I really enjoyed watching it.
    • Ok here we go

      This was definitely not one of my favorite TV Land Shows as I found that most of the shows were quite boring! Certainly not one of the best all time shows, as this was on of my least favorite show on cable. I have only seen about 7 or 8 shows but I could not watch more than 10 minutes of each one, trying to find something good about this show but what was the point of this show?!moreless
    • Classic

      One of the most influential shows of all time featuring an all star cast of Judd Hirsh, Tony Danza, Danny Devito, Christopher Lloyd and Andy Kaufman. The show about Taxi cab drivers from New York City is one of the best. It laid the ground work for many other shows in the future such as Cheers, Seinfeld and others. One of the most influential shows of all time featuring an all star cast of Judd Hirsh, Tony Danza, Danny Devito, Christopher Lloyd and Andy Kaufman. The show about Taxi cab drivers from New York City is one of the best. It laid the ground work for many other shows in the future such as Cheers, Seinfeld and others.moreless
    • Taxi is much better than a lot of things on TV.

      You see all these stupid programs on TV like prison break and then you see taxi. Its funny, has a great cast and good storylines. It should have run for a few more series. I especially love latka because he speaks really funny and says all these words that you can't understand.

      It's really different from a lot of things on tv nowadays because its all about friendship and trust in others. I know that soppy. That last paragraph is me trying to write a 100 words. Taxi is good and should be talked bad about. It's hilarious and addictive. LOLmoreless
    • anyone with any sense of comedy has to love this show.

      This definitely was an early 80's sitcom classic. I was young when this was on but I thought it was funny, and then when I got older, I got some of the other jokes that were more adult oriented that made the show even better. This was a show for everyone, as alot of shows in the 80's were. The acting and characters were pretty funny and interesting to watch. The writing was great, with the really funny jokes. They had some weird stories while they were driving their cabs. This show iwas hlarious they should bring it back for re-runs, I loved it.moreless

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    laugh track, Sitcoms, 70s, quirky characters, outrageous situations