Say Goodbye To Bobby Wheeler and Hello To TAXI Season 4

Well, it’s about damn time: Taxi, Season 4 will be released on DVD, four years after the release of season 3.

This will mean that all the ABC years will be available on DVD, and hopefully will lead to the release of the fifth and last season, when the show moved to NBC. Brief historical run-down: Taxi was created for ABC after Paramount lured away a whole bunch of MTM’s best people; ABC was looking for something classier and older-skewing than the rest of their lineup. The show was everything they could have hoped for in terms of quality, winning three straight Emmys for best comedy, but it tanked in the ratings as soon as it was no longer following Three’s Company. When ABC dropped it, the producers had two offers: NBC, under former MTM head Grant Tinker, wanted it as a time-slot companion for Cheers, while the then-new HBO wanted to do an even more adult version. The producers went with NBC, but the ratings were terrible and the quality was lower (because most of their best people were off doing Cheers). It was canceled for good after that.

Anyway, the fourth season is a great season and will be most welcome on DVD; I expect some music changes (there was one episode that prominently featured a Billy Joel song), but it will still be worth it to get un-cut versions of many other great episodes.

James L. Brooks has actually said several times that Taxi is his favorite among his own shows — not Mary Tyler Moore, not The Simpsons, but Taxi, because it incorporated so many different styles of comedy and got away with so much weirdness. It was also, of course, a famous case of a show that turned out high-quality work even though — or perhaps because — it was a complete mess behind the scenes; drugs, cast battles, many different writers and producers jockeying for power, and the famous incident where Andy Kaufman insisted that they write a part for his alter-ego Tony Clifton (Kaufman was good to work with, but Clifton was fired during shooting).

I will add that Taxi was a type of sitcom you don’t frequently see today, one that would do different episodes in distinctly different styles. The normal practice for a sitcom is to establish a uniform storytelling style that is applied to every show, except for gimmick episodes (like Two and a Half Men‘s CSI episode). But depending on who the episode was about, Taxi could be a farce, a fantasy, a social-issue comedy, a dark comedy about unfulfilled dreams, a relationship comedy. Today you have a lot of one-hour dramas that do different types of episodes and stories, but few sitcoms — particularly four-camera, live-audience sitcoms — that regularly change styles like Taxi, WKRP, or The Simpsons in the Oakley-Weinstein years. Which is just another indication of the fact that sitcoms used to be where the variety and character development was in TV, and now it’s one-hour drama.

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