Andy Kaufman asked the producers before he signed his contract to give guest appearances to Tony Clifton, who he claimed was a friend of his. They agreed to give Clifton a few guest appearances, and Kaufman signed the contract to play Latka. Tony Clifton showed up for the rehearsals late, very drunk, and with some scantily-clad women. The producers fired Tony on his third day. Clifton was in fact one of Kaufman's characters. To maintain the practical joke Kaufman always denied that Clifton was not a real, separate person. He was usually played by Kaufman in disguise, but Kaufman's friend Bob Zmuda sometimes played Clifton.
On The Howard Stern Show (1990), writer Sam Simon claimed that when Jeff Conaway was absent during the production of one episode, his dialogue was reassigned to the other cast members who delivered the jokes just as well or better, and the producers realized that Conaway was expendable. Conaway left during the 4th season.
Andy Kaufman's contract stipulated that he only had to be on the set two days a week, 14 episodes per season. Kaufman disliked sitcoms and originally turned down the part of Latka because he wanted to focus on his stand-up comedy career. But the producers liked him so much that a compromise was reached.
Andy Kaufman had invented the persona for his character in his comedy act prior to working on the show, including the famous line "tank-you-veddy-much". It was the show's writers that came up with the name of Latka Gravas. Kaufman created Latka's language, which he taught to Carol Kane for her role as Simka, by inviting her to dinner and refusing to let her speak English.
In the opening credits the cab is being driven across New York's Queensboro (59th Street) Bridge by Tony Danza. The buildings in the background keep reappearing in the same place. The segment was shot once in the middle of the 1.4-mile bridge and then repeated several times to run throughout the entire credits.
In 2013, on the NPR program "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!," Tony Danza said that when he auditioned for his role on Taxi, he read with Mandy Patinkin, who was auditioning for the role that ultimately went to Judd Hirsch.
The theme song's title, "Angela (Theme from 'Taxi')", was written/performed by Bob James and was from his 1978 album 'Touchdown'. The album's title track was the song James had actually written for the theme, but Taxi's producers liked the short cue Bob had recorded for one brief scene with Alex and a young woman, Angela, and used that instead.
In an episode during the first season, Danny DeVito's character plays violin in one scene. A photo taken during rehearsals of that episode ran in a tabloid magazine along with a story describing how De Vito is "giving up" acting to play violin. De Vito's relatives called him out of concern believing the story was true.
The producers originally wanted an African-American actor to play Bobby. Cleavon Little was a finalist for the part. Jeff Conaway was originally considered to play John but asked to audition for Bobby. Conaway was the only white actor who was considered for the role.
The series was inspired by a 1975 article in New York magazine titled "Night-Shifting for the Hip Fleet" by Mark Jacobson. James L. Brooks and David Davis read the article which was about several drivers who worked the night shift for a New York cab company.
Jeff Conaway was discovered passed out on one of his filming days by one of the producers. It was common knowledge in the Hollywood community that Conaway was addicted to drugs at this point. The producers wrote him out of the episode and divvied up his lines amongst the other cast members. When they saw that they didn't lose any laughs by not using him, they realized they didn't need him, so they fired him. Conaway later told a reporter that he quit the show because the producers "dishonored me," but this wasn't true.
Gloria Banta and Pat Nardo were writers and producers associated with "Taxi" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show"; they, or their names anyway, were the inspiration for Tony Banta and Elaine Nardo on "Taxi".
After James Burrows and James L Brooks, and their team of writers and producers worked on Mary Tyler Moore, Rhoda and Phyllis, they wanted to work on a "guy show", and this eventually led to creation of Taxi and eventually Cheers as well.
Conaway starred in Grease, the highest grossing film of 1978; this was the same year he starred as Bobby for the first season of Taxi. Conaway had also starred as Danny in the Broadway version of Grease. Ironically Taxi co-star Marilu Henner had also starred in Grease as Marty in the original Chicago cast at the Kingston Mines.
Jim Carrey made a movie about Andy Kaufman called Man in the Moon (1999). It reunited the entire original cast of Taxi, with Carrey playing Kauffman, and recreated the Kauffman-centric drama and craziness from the original show.
The producers decided to have "Tony Clifton" fired because he was being a disruptive element. (They fired Tony, they didn't fire Andy). Andy (dressed as Tony) went into one of the NBC studio auditoriums flanked by two very tall female escorts. One of the producers followed him in there to confront (and terminate) him. There was a big confrontation and argument on the stage with all of them. Various executives who heard what was going on came into the auditorium to sit and watch what was going. True to form for Andy Kauffman the whole thing degenerated into street theater, another elaborate publicity stunt.
In 1980, when Taxi was still on the air, Judd Hirsch would star in "Ordinary People". The Robert Redford helmed family melodrama swept the Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Hirsch didn't win any awards but his performance was highly regarded.