A MAN and woman on their first date have just been told that their cab ride was filmed for the HBO show “Taxicab Confessions.” “I’ve seen it,” the woman says, her face lighting up with recognition. “I love that show.” A beat. “Wait, we have not been on film. God, what if my mother sees it?” After all, her date had just been groping her and trying to persuade her to take him home. But after a moment’s hesitation they both sign the release to allow the scene to be broadcast.
Such shamelessness is the key to “Taxicab Confessions,” in which a cabdriver plays late-night confessor to a rogue’s gallery of freaks, one more chatty than the next in a real taxi loaded with hidden cameras and microphones. The 11th edition of the show, which will have its premiere on Saturday night, has always been part documentary, part reality television, with a healthy dose of peep show thrown into the mix. It started in New York in 1995 with three episodes filmed there, but then moved to Las Vegas for the next seven installments because HBO could not get a permit to film in New York. “I was crestfallen,” Sheila Nevins, the president of HBO Documentary, said about the exile.
The show has now returned to its home base. New York has changed, but one rule still holds: in contrast to those in much of the rest of the country, passengers in this city tend to ignore cabbies. Joe and Harry Gantz, the brothers who directed “Taxicab Confessions,” play on drivers’ invisibility and riders’ assumption of anonymity to upend the power dynamic between the two groups. “The fact that we have no partition and the fact that our cabdrivers are English-speaking and are interested in their passengers is not the norm anymore,” Joe Gantz said in a telephone interview from the brothers’ Los Angeles office. “Everybody pretty much talks, and everybody is pretty interesting.”
The Gantzes send out one cab a night. From a van driving behind, the brothers listen in and feed the drivers questions. Chris Moriarty, a special education teacher in Park Slope, Brooklyn, who drives a cab part time, was in the first three “Taxicab Confessions” and reprised his role in this installment. “We drove around for quite some time, every night, all night long for three months straight,” he said.
Mr. Gantz estimates that two-thirds of the riders eventually sign the release form. “I’m actually shocked when people don’t want to sign,” said Ms. Nevins, who has ridden in the production van on occasion.
Those who sign aren’t always pleased with their decision. Guinevere Turner, an actress and writer, appeared in the show’s first episode. Then 26 and just off her starring role in the indie film “Go Fish,” Ms. Turner – who was more than a little drunk and on her way home from a bar – propositioned the cabdriver, Cookie DeJesus. At the time, Ms. Turner said, “she didn’t look old enough to be my grandmother.” Months later, friends saw the show and told her about her part, at which point she “crumpled into a ball on the floor,” she said in a telephone interview. She couldn’t remember the details of the evening, but when she called the Gantzes, they sent her a copy of her signed release. “I probably talked to two lawyers, and they just thought it was funny,” Ms. Turner said. “It is entertaining, and I don’t literally look bad. So I let it go.”
Has it changed her behavior in taxis? “Up until that happened to me, I would always talk to cabdrivers,” she said. “They always have really good stories. But I don’t anymore.”