Unlike many sitcoms of its era, Taxi focused on a group of blue-collar workers who, despite having aspirations of bigger and better careers, were never really destined to be anything other than what they were: cab drivers. The series won 18 Emmy Awards during its five-year run and will always be remembered not only for its clever writing but also for some truly quirky characters and sometimes bittersweet plotlines.
1. THE SERIES WAS INSPIRED BY A MAGAZINE ARTICLE.
When The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended its successful seven-season run, co-creator James L. Brooks formed a new production company, the John Charles Walters Company, with David Davis, Ed. Weinberger, and Stan Daniels, all writer/producers whom he had worked with on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Brooks got the idea to create an ensemble show set at a New York cab company after reading “Night Shifting for the Hip Fleet,” an article about a Greenwich Village taxi garage that ran in New York magazine in 1975.
2. TONY DANZA WAS “DISCOVERED” IN THE BOXING RING.
In the mid-1970s “Tough” Tony Danza was a professional boxer who trained at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. Gleason’s was home to many famous fighters, and the go-to place for filmmakers and authors who were researching the sport. That was how producers Larry Gordon and Joel Silver happened to be ringside one night when Danza knocked out Billy Perez and they invited him to audition for Walter Hill’s The Warriors, which they were producing. He was just about ready to ink a deal with them, too, when James L. Brooks called and asked him to read for the part of a boxer on his upcoming sitcom, Taxi.
3. “TONY BANTA” STARTED OUT AS “PHIL RYAN.”
The original character Brooks had in mind was an Irish heavyweight named Phil Ryan, but he liked Danza’s audition enough to tailor the part to suit him. So Phil Ryan became Phil Banta, an Italian middleweight. Danza was impressed when three days into rehearsal he got the news that his character’s name had been changed to “Tony” Banta. “They must really like me,” he beamed at the time. That little ego boost didn’t last long; producer Ed. Weinberger revealed to Danza that they’d changed the name because they had a feeling that he wouldn’t remember to answer to “Phil.”
4. THE PRODUCERS WANTED JUDD HIRSCH, BUT HIRSCH DIDN’T WANT A SERIES.
Judd Hirsch was primarily a stage actor who had done a few films. In 1977 he guest starred on two episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show spin-off Rhoda, and decided that he didn’t enjoy working on television. His agent contacted him shortly after his appearance, however, and informed him that the Taxi producers really wanted him for the role of Alex Reiger on their new show.
Hirsch read the pilot script and worried that the show would probably last at least three seasons and he didn’t want to be committed that long; he wanted to be free to do plays and perhaps films. He instructed his agent to make the producers an offer they wouldn’t accept … but to his surprise, they accepted it! They also put his name over the title of the show, which surprised him and also worried him that it would cause resentment from his castmates on the set.
5. MANDY PATINKIN AUDITIONED FOR THE ROLE OF ALEX.
While Judd Hirsch was still undecided, Broadway and film star Mandy Patinkin was a contender for the role of Alex Rieger; in fact, when Tony Danza auditioned, he read with Patinkin, not Hirsch. Patinkin later showed up in a memorable guest spot in the episode “Memories of Cab 804.”