In the new Netflix dramedy, The Good Cop, Tony Danza plays a formerly dirty cop trying to reclaim a relationship with his straight-arrow detective son (Josh Groban). The show feels like a throwback, one part Castle and another part The Commish, relying on the chemistry of the two leads while working around occasionally absurd crimes that often seem to have a tie to Danza’s character. It’s an easy watch in a sea of heavier procedurals and a glove-tight fit for Danza, a TV icon thanks to Taxi and Who’s The Boss who picks his spots, touring his stage show and trying to produce a play while waiting for roles that sing to him.
In our talk with the affable and BS-free Danza, we touched on why this one carried a note, his initial apprehension (and ultimate delight) in working with Groban, taking a “real” job as a teacher for a while, playing against type while not caring about type, and why he doesn’t want to do more Who’s The Boss.
The Geoffrey Owens/Trader Joes thing is all over the news. You pressed pause on your acting career at one point and went off to teach for a while [documenting the process for an A&E series]. Were there any negative responses to that?
Well, to tell you the truth, I wasn’t working that much. [Laughs] It wasn’t like I was dropping out. But I got nothing but positives from that. You know, someone asked me because of the 40th anniversary of Taxi what my favorite… the thing that I’m most proud of, and I actually said Teach. Because that changed me in so many ways. You spend 181 days teaching high school at an inner-city school in Philadelphia, it changes your outlook.
I read that you’re still connected to the school with a talent show.
Teachers versus students talent show there. I try to stay connected to the school — it’s still important to me. There are over 4,000 kids in that school now. Can you imagine?
Have any of the students kept in touch with you?
Oh, yeah. Yeah, a lot of them. I just got invited to one of their weddings.
Oh, that’s awesome.
One of my favorite students. It’s amazing the effect as a teacher that you have on them. This was 10th grade, it was a very impressionable moment. I’d be surprised if they didn’t keep in touch with me.
Looking at some of the projects you’ve been involved with over the last few years, would it be fair to say that you’ve been a bit selective of late? What’s behind that?
Well you know, it’s all about the writing. You get stuff, they send you stuff, then you look at it and you go, “I don’t want to do that.” And now I’m at an age where I really don’t want to work unless I really want to work. You know? And so this came along and the writing was so good. I also get to shoot this in New York City. Using New York as a canvas. It was such a thrill — I slept in my own bed.
Andy Breckman, you know, when I saw his name I was excited about it because he wrote Monk and he wrote for David Letterman and Saturday Night Live. He’s a real commodity, a comedy commodity. You always wanna work with the good people is what I’m saying.
Absolutely, his resume is really impressive. I had thought the show would be a little more light going into it [because of that]. It took a little while for the lighter tone to come across but the bowling episode feels like a turning point. With streaming and getting them all at once, it’s nice to be able to take some time with a show as opposed to waiting a week and losing track of it.
How do you feel about streaming?
There is something romantic about waiting until next Tuesday to see the show. Listen, with this new paradigm… This is the 40th anniversary of Taxi. When I started on TV it was two networks and TV went off at midnight. When this show opens, it opens in 190 countries at once. So, I mean, this is all a new thing for me. Shooting the show was like shooting any show. But the delivery system is very different.
Was Josh Groban involved when you signed up for the show?
He actually came on afterward.
Any influence on the casting there? Any thoughts on that when he came aboard? He doesn’t have a ton of acting experience but he’s really good on the show.
He ends up being really terrific. I wrote him an email the second week saying how much I admire his work and his work ethic. I don’t presume to be the greatest judge, but I know I’m having a great time working with him. He’s terrific. I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t sure when I first heard [it was] Josh Groban. I really wasn’t… you know, I didn’t know. But we got together, we talked, and I’m so glad we worked it out because he’s really the surprise.
I don’t know if I told you, but I have a son, so I overlay my son and my relationship right on top of Josh and I. And he bought in. And so we have that going on. That’s one of my favorite parts of the show, the father-son relationship.
You’re playing a bit of a dirty cop with a bit of a past and you’re having some fun with it. Was getting the chance to play something a little different than what people think of as a Tony Danza role part of the appeal?
Yeah, but you know what, it’s not like so much that it’s different. It’s just about it being a good role. You know what I mean? You read it and you go, “Ah! That makes me laugh.”
You say it’s about a good role, that’s the most important thing, doesn’t matter if it’s a different kind of role. Has that always been the case or have you let go of worrying about people’s perception of what, as I said, defines a Tony Danza role? Do you care as much about typecasting at this point?
Well, I wish everybody would let it go. [Laughs] You know, I mean that’s what happens. You do a part that you’re remembered for, it’s hard to shift that. But it’s not something that I consider. Because I just strictly go by, “Wow, that’s a good part.”
And that’s always been the case?
Yeah. You know, I mean, there are other considerations. Sometimes your friends will ask you, or you know, something. But for the most part, if it’s on the page then I want to do it and see if I can bring it to life.
You were in MC Hammer’s “Too Legit To Quit” video. Do you have any memory of how that came together?
Oh, that! Yeah, yeah. I don’t even remember. I don’t even remember how that came about.
It was a long time ago and it was such a small thing. But I just had to ask.
You know what my uncle says? My 91-year-old uncle, he always says, “There’s a lot of water under the bridge — a lot of water under the bridge.” [Laughs] It’s something, boy, I’m telling you. You know, people say to me, “40 years ago, Taxi,” it’s amazing to sit here and think, “Oh, crap!” Not only is it that long ago, but I’m still around. And we’re still talking. You know what I mean? It blows your mind open.
It seems like every show from the ’80s and ’90s has been discussed as a possible reboot. There’s a scene with you singing with Bob Saget in The Good Cop and of course he came back with Fuller House. Would you go back to Who’s The Boss at any point or is it long past and you’re not really thinking about that?
You know, I like to look forward rather than backward. I also think we couldn’t do Who’s The Boss now because Kathy would be 90-years-old, and I wouldn’t want to do it without Katherine Helmond. I’m not sure there’s anything else to do there. I’m not sure what we would talk about. I’m just very happy that I’m doing a new show. Let’s just put it that way.
When I was researching this… I found myself up until two in the morning watching episode after episode of There’s… Johnny, which I hadn’t seen.
I enjoyed doing that show. I thought they did a great job of walking in and out of his [Johnny Carson’s] world. Don’t you love Jane Levy? Isn’t she great?
She’s fantastic in that. How much research went into playing Fred de Cordova?
I knew him.
Well, there you go.
I knew him! I guest-hosted The Tonight Show when Johnny wasn’t there. I did it. And so, I was on a lot, and I was with Freddy a lot and I was also with him socially. I knew him socially, and his wife Janet. I was traveling in those circles at the time. I was the youngest guy, but I was still traveling in those circles. So I got to know him, you know, so that, and then of course, I got the definitive books. He wrote one, the lawyer wrote one… I went through all that stuff. I had so much fun. I’m telling you, that’s the thing that really happens to you. You tour and you’re in this business long enough that you can feel a certain security, and you really do start to have a lot of fun playing the parts. And then acting becomes… it’s not a job, it’s a thrill.
That sounds like a nice place to be. That’s a just reward for a long career.
Hey, you know what, it takes a while to get there. [Laughs]
‘The Good Cop’ is available to stream on Netflix.