Sep 22, 2012

Taxi and Tony Danza

Everything WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-82) did wrong, Taxi (1978-83) did right.  It was a hip, urban workplace series, like WKRP, except that it followed the adventures of the employees at the Sunshine Cab Company in New York.

Alex (Judd Hirsch) was the only professional cabbie; the others were just driving a cab until their Big Dreams came true: Elaine (Marilu Henner), art; Tony (Tony Danza), boxing; and Bobby (Jeff Conaway), acting.  To round out the ensemble were smarmy Louie DePalma (Danny DeVito), the dispatcher, and innocent Latka Gravas (Andy Kaufman), the mechanic.

What did they do right?

1. Beefcake.  A cab company doesn't lend itself to shirtless shots, but the producers always found some way to get Tony's clothes off  -- usually at the gym or a boxing match during his off hours.

During the early 1980s, his shirtless shots became a mainstay of the teen magazines.  He also appeared in the gay magazine In Touch, though the famous nude shot is probably a fake.

2. Bonding.  Tony and Bobby became so inseparable that even teenagers in the Midwest, barely aware that gay people existed, noticed their subtext.

3. Not much homophobia.

When Elaine is stiffed by a fare, she threatens to retaliate by accusing him of attempted rape, until he announces that he's the president of the Gay Alliance.

A 1980 episode called "Elaine's Strange Triangle" sounds like it will be homophobic, but when Elaine's boyfriend gets a crush on Tony, Tony handles the "problem" with tact, nonchalance, and an utter lack of homophobic panic.  Meanwhile, Alex goes to a gay bar, and ends up teaching all of the gay men how to dance.

4. A mostly gay-friendly cast.  In spite of his pro-gay character, and his gay tv son (Danny Pintauro from Who's the Boss), Tony Danza has become quite homophobic.  Jeff Conaway and Andy Kaufman died without revealing their attitudes toward gay people publicly. But today Judd Hirsch has made pro-gay statements, and both Marilu Henner and Danny DeVito are supporters of marriage equality.

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