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...