Screenshot: Taxicab Confessions (YouTube)

For a generation of teens, HBO’s Taxicab Confessions was a notoriously frustrating watch. Everything around the promotion of the show seemed to promise an abundance of scandalous sexual content, but inevitably you’d find yourself up well past your bedtime watching an alcoholic father confess his greatest regrets in the back of a New York City cab. The content was revealing, just not in the way you’d hoped. But, according to a recent oral history of the show featured in MEL, the initial idea behind Taxicab Confessions was more rooted in these rare, heartfelt moments than the more tawdry encounters the show would become synonymous with in later seasons.

“In the early 1990s, it seemed like everybody needed to get something off their chest due to a combination of the decline of religion and isolation, especially in places like New York,” co-creator Harry Ganz tells MEL, adding that, although they were being driven around by complete strangers, people seemed to see the inside of a cab as a safe space to unload their worries. The show also made a special point of shooting late at night in areas that were considered more seedy, not just because it would lead to the occasional drunk or drug addict but because they wanted to give a voice to the dispossessed and often unseen citizens of New York.

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“The emotional rides were the ones that sunk in deep with me because it was humankind on display. Like a person on the way to the hospital or on their way to pick someone up from jail,” says production assistant Felicia Caplan.

That’s not to say there weren’t explicitly salacious moments on the show. One of the best-remembered clips from the first season features screenwriter Guinevere Turner attempting to pick up her married, female cab driver. Spoiler: She does not succeed, but it’s still good fun. Clips like this increased the popularity of the show and, after the production moved to Las Vegas, sexual taboos became their bread and butter.

“I knew when we went to Las Vegas it wasn’t going to be any good,” says former HBO exec Sheila Nevins. “The prostitutes were kind of interesting, but the problem was that everybody was either a hooker, gambler, or drunk. It didn’t have the variety of people that Taxicab in New York had.”

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Ultimately, producers realized that the magic of Taxicab Confessions was gone. Things have changed since the early 1990s, both in terms of social dynamics and technology. Disenfranchised people no longer feel the need to confess to cab drivers. Hell, people rarely even take cabs anymore. But Harry Gantz and his brother Joe still think there might be some good the show could do. “Taxicab Confessions always helped you see the humanity in people who were different from you,” Harry says. “We could use a good dose of that now.”

You can read the full oral history here.

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