If TV executives have learned one thing (and it’s far from certain), it’s not to piss off Danny DeVito.
The TV veteran was never afraid to bite the hands that carefully fed him during his stint on classic series such as Philadelphia is always sunny or Taxi. Short but talkative DeVito has made a career of playing short-tempered, irresponsible loudmouths, reflecting the acclaimed actor and director’s willingness to take a sarcastic stand for something he believes in.
Just ask ABC, who ended up in DeVito’s crosshairs during his Season 7 hosting stint on Saturday Night Live. DeVito, then famous for playing unscrupulous taxi dispatcher Louie DePalma on ABC Taxihad been booked to host the May 15, 1982 episode of SNLwhich fell 11 days after Taxi Creator and fellow TV legend James L. Brooks was told by Anthony D. Thomopoulos, president of ABC Entertainment, that the ratings were disputed TaxiThe fourth season which has just ended will be the last.
DeVito asked SNL producer Dick Ebersol if he could use his monologue to do a little Louie-style breakdown. Ebersol, to his credit, not only allowed this, but went the extra mile by skewering rival ABC for canceling one of the best and smartest sitcoms in TV history – including airing a filmed sketch so literally explosive that it was edited from the Peacock version of the episode available now.
Watch Danny DeVito in a 1982 episode of “Saturday Night Live”
Beginning his monologue, DeVito receives a shower of boos as he announces Taxi‘s cancellation, putting a biting emphasis on the network that had done the deed. “It’s the American Broadcasting Company,” DeVito pointed out to a new wave of sympathetic hostility in New York. “A…B…C.” DeVito then produced a letter he said was written to him by his Italian immigrant mother, reading, in part, “You’ve been defiled by men so superficial they don’t know how far their actions have taken them,” with Ms. DeVito allegedly concluding, “God forgive them, but of course we understand if he doesn’t.”
But DeVito had an even bigger surprise for the SNL audience, as, lamenting that the cast and crew were deprived of a proper “final arc” while filming what turned out to be their final episode, DeVito welcomed all his Taxi costars alongside him in Studio 8H. One by one, DeVito took out Andy Kaufman, Christopher Lloyd, Marilu Henner, Tony Danza and Judd Hirsch to rapturous applause and a standing ovation from the crowd. (Longtime regular Jeff Conaway was not present, having been fired from the show in response to substance abuse issues that would plague him until his death in 2011.) Saturday Night Live the provocative Kaufman, it should be noted, sports the neck brace he wore after his recent wrestling match against Jerry “The King” Lawler, an infamous stunt played out throughout the night’s episode.
It’s playful (Hirsch sweeps DeVito into a hug at the end), with just the right edge of “fuck you” to ABC. But that was nothing compared to the first sketch following the monologue, a filmed piece set to Taxi’s melancholy instrumental theme song (“Angela” by Bob James), which sees DeVito’s DePalma ride in a taxi to the ABC building – and detonate it via a remote control detonator.
A joke about someone destroying a very real New York City skyscraper doesn’t play into a post-9/11 TV landscape, so DeVito’s 51-minute Peacock version of the episode omits the sketch. (Two performances by the band Sparks were also cut, due to music licensing issues.) Still, with DeVito striking a victory pose to the sound of ABC headquarters crumbling to dust, the destruction seems at least in keeping with the MO. by Louie DePalma.
ABC had one more shot coming up: During goodnights, DePalma brings out his real mom, Julia. An Italian immigrant, Mrs. DeVito, shorter than Danny and defiantly smoking a cigarette, is asked if she has another message for the people who put her son out of work. Indeed she does, as Mrs. DeVito spews out a series of Italian curses (the words “ciucca” and “stupid” are there for sure), while the mixed and assembled Taxi and Saturday Night Live the cast members cheer with joy. Fellow Italian Danza even puts her hand over her mouth in shock before leaning in for a kiss.
Watch a 1982 promo for Danny DeVito’s “Saturday Night Live” appearance
ABC had no idea that his public humiliation was just beginning. After the DeVito episode, NBC would resume Taxi for its fifth and final season in 1983. Even then, however, the blue-collar taxi drivers of the Sunshine Cab Company couldn’t catch a break. While the fifth season order put the series above the 100 episode mark that was then needed for the show to sell into syndication, NBC also canceled the series at the end of that season.
Perhaps drawing inspiration from DeVito’s gleefully wicked example, Hirsch, after winning his second Emmy as TaxiLongest-suffering pilot Alex Reiger mocked NBC President Grant Tinker, who was seated in the Emmy audience. (In addition to Hirsch, Taxi teammates Lloyd and Carole Kane also won Emmys at home on the night.) “We’re ready, Grant, we’re ready, anytime you want to hand us over,” Hirsch quipped, proving, as DeVito put it. done before him, that you don’t even pass a fictional taxi driver from New York, then I give him a live mic.