On this day in 1978, the award-winning television show Taxi aired its first episode. The much-loved pathos-filled comedy set in a New York full of misfits, dreamers, and malcontents largely took place in the garage of the fictional Sunshine Cab Company, shown to be at 534 Hudson Street, at the corner of Charles Street in Greenwich Village.
In the first episode, the central character Alex Reiger, played by Judd Hirsch, summed up the premise of the show when new cab driver Elaine Nardo, played by Marilu Henner, explains that although she has taken the job as a driver with the Sunshine Cab Company, she is not a cab driver, but really a receptionist at an art gallery. Alex responds describing the other ‘cab drivers’ in the company:
You see that guy over there? Now he’s an actor. The guy on the phone? He’s a prize fighter. This lady here? She’s a beautician. The guy behind her? He’s a writer. Me? I’m a cab driver. I’m the only cab driver in this place.
The other memorable characters included Tony Banta played by Tony Danza, the prizefighter with a losing record; Bobby Wheeler played by Jeff Conaway, the struggling actor; Louie De Palma played by Danny DeVito, the irascible and abusive dispatcher; Latka Gravas played by Andy Kaufman, the immigrant mechanic; and, my favorite, Reverend Jim “Iggy” Ignatowski played by Christopher Lloyd, the burnt out, aging hippie minister who originally started as a guest character and became a regular during Season 2.
Many of the episodes of this hilarious series began with the camera scanning No. 534 at Hudson and Charles Streets. This 1920’s purpose-built, two story garage was actually home to the Dover Garage, at a time when garages were a more common sight in this part of the Village. This building was replaced in 1998 by a six story brick condominium, a more common sight today. But in the late 1970s, both the garage and the oddball characters grappling with life’s absurdities and their own aspirations felt right at home in the West Village.
The show left the viewing public with more than a few memorable storylines. Who could forget such episodes as Jim taking his driver’s test, Latka and Simka’s (played by Carol Kane) wedding, the wrecking ball demolishing Jim’s apartment – with oblivious Jim continuing to eat his breakfast, or the sociopathic Louie meeting his girlfriend’s (played by DeVito’s real-life wife Rhea Pearlman) parents? Re-watching episodes of Taxi all these years later, I still find myself laughing hysterically, at a show which dealt intelligently with some very serious issues including gambling addiction, divorce, sexual harassment, bisexuality, immigration and racism.
Over the course of its five seasons (four with ABC and the last with NBC), the series won 18 Emmy awards including three for Best Comedy and four Golden Globes, three of which were for Best Television Comedy Series. It was also ranked 48th in TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time, as published in 2002. In 1997, two of the show’s episodes, “Latka the Playboy” and “Reverend Jim: A Space Odyssey” were respectively ranked #19 and #63 on TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.
As said in the show’s closing credits, Goodnight Mr. Walters.