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The NBA on TNT recently introduced a series of new commercials for the 2009-10 NBA season. The commercials star Rainn Wilson, famous for his role as Dwight Schrute on The Office, alongside NBA stars Gilbert Arenas, Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, and Derrick Rose. In the commercials, Arenas, Williams, Howard, and Rose, play the foil to Wilson’s somewhat naive, but completely annoying, cab driver.
The commercials earned generally negative reviews, but have recently come under fire for something a bit more troubling than simply being unfunny. Donal Logue, a working actor perhaps most famous for his role in the short-lived Fox series Grounded for Life, recently attacked the commercials as a rip-off of his character, “Jimmy the Cab Driver.”
Logue appeared as “Jimmy the Cab Driver” in a series of commercials for MTV in the late 90s. Judge for yourself, but from the striking physical similarities (including mustache, mullet, glasses, and indeterminate accent) to the similar structure (unwitting passenger is forced to listen to the eccentric ramblings of a cab driver), it appears Logue may be on to something.
TNT and Wilson have both publicly addressed the creation of Wilson’s NBA cab driver character. TNT would have you believe the idea came from the HBO series Taxicab Confessions.
Wilson, perhaps attempting to set up a scenes a faire defense or perhaps arguing his character is simply a derivative work, recently described the creation of his character, saying “They [NBA] had this crazy cab driver and I’ve kind of seen that character before.” Wilson went on to say:
I was very excited because the night before we shot, I was like ‘You know what? I need a mullet. I need a mustache.’ And he [cab driver] is my ode to all of my crazy cousins and relatives in Wisconsin and Minnesota. I love you guys.
Logue is not buying either explanation. The only apparent connection between Taxicab Confessions and the NBA commercials is that both take place in a taxi. As Logue points out, Taxicab Confessions focused on the outrageousness of the passengers’ confessions to an anonymous cab driver, while the NBA on TNT commercials focus on the outrageousness of Wilson’s cab driver himself.
As for Wilson’s explanation, Logue says:
He [Wilson] made it seem like there was a vague army of similar characters that came before him, all fairly indistinguishable . . . but since he wanted a mustache (I had one too), a mullet (over the course of some spots Jimmy had one) and for his character to be from Wisconsin, he was TOTALLY different.
Neither the NBA nor TNT has responded directly to Logue’s recent blog post, and TNT has yet to pull the commercials.
– Michael Quinlan