“You see that guy over there? Now, he’s an actor. The guy on the phone? He’s a prizefighter. The lady over here? She’s a beautician. The man behind her? He’s a writer. Me? I’m a cabdriver. I’m the only cabdriver in this place.”
Welcome to The Sunshine Cab Company, where the career aspirations of the taxi-driving employees sit as idle as a yellow cab parked along a deserted curb, just hoping to be noticed. And through their trials and tribulations, their triumphs, and more often, their failures, this collection of cab drivers delivered some of the most memorable and uproarious moments in the history of television sitcoms.
Debuting on ABC in 1978, Taxi was the creation of James L. Brooks (from The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Simpsons fame) and Stan and David Daniels, who got the idea for the show from a non-fiction article in New York magazine about the lives of various NYC cab drivers. They assembled an ensemble cast of epic proportions that included Judd Hirsch, Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Tony Danza, Marilu Henner, Jeff Conaway, Andy Kaufman and Carol Kane and placed them in some of the craziest, and equally thought-provoking, situations that television audiences had ever witnessed.
Alex Reager (Hirsch), the only real cab driver in the mix, was everyone’s confidant at the Sunshine Cab Company. A reserved and intelligent soul, the divorced father was better at giving advice than taking it. Serving as his complete opposite was supervisor Louie DePalma (DeVito), perhaps the most immoral, loud-mouthed and despised boss that has ever lived. Louie’s seeming purpose in life was to attack everyone within earshot and remind each on a daily basis of how worthless their lives were. He had plenty of targets to fire his verbal arsenal upon – from Elaine, the dancer (Henner) to Tony, the boxer (Danza). From Jeff, the actor (Conaway) to recent immigrant Latka Gravis (Kaufman). Perhaps the strangest inhabitant of the garage, however, was the severely drug-addled, but immensely lovable Reverend Jim (Lloyd) who was in a world of his own. In later seasons, Latka found the love of his life, a charming fellow immigrant named Simka (Kane), who shared Latka’s native language as well as an assortment of strange quirks from the old country.
There is a nearly endless supply of magical comical moments from the series, but a few stand-out above the rest. One of the most memorable (and one that got one of the biggest laughs ever on television) was when Reverend Jim went to get his driver’s license.
Other memorable occasions found Latka marketing his own brand of cookies “just like de Famous Amos.” They were surprisingly popular, mainly because their secret ingredient was cocaine. Latka and Simka’s bizarre marriage also provided plenty of comedy gold, as did the episode where a psychic Jim predicted the outrageous circumstances that would surround Alex’s pending demise. Other episodes were more touching, such as when Jim accidentally destroys Louie’s apartment, thanks to an accidental fire and when Alex was reunited with his estranged young daughter.
Always funny, often poignant, Taxi was a ratings success in its first two years, owed in part to the exposure it got in a timeslot that had it following Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley and Three’s Company. When it was moved from that dream slot into other more competitive slots, its ratings started to fall. After four seasons, Taxi was cancelled by ABC – and almost immediately picked up by NBC for its fifth and final season. The network placed it right behind their own hit series, Cheers, but that wasn’t enough to save the show. Still, while it may have been under-appreciated by the networks, it found plenty of industry recognition, winning 18 of the 31 Emmy Awards it was nominated for, as well as winning 4 of 25 Golden Globe nominations.
Over the decades, Taxi has won over plenty of new converts, thanks to years of syndication. With it’s stellar writing and an ensemble cast overflowing with on-screen chemistry, the series will not soon be forgotten by its millions of fans. If you spent your share of time watching the antics take place at the Sunshine Cab Company, maybe even have a favorite episode to share, we welcome all your thoughts in our comments section, as we tip our hats to a true classic.