September 11, 2004
Tony Danza is proudly giving a tour.
Here’s the kitchen. The piano. The performance area. The studio audience? Nice and up close. Those big doors over there? They open right onto New York’s West 67th Street.
Bright and cheery in blond wood with aqua accents, this will be Danza’s new home, live, five days a week: The set for ‘‘The Tony Danza Show,’’ a syndicated hour premiering Monday.
Visited by a reporter last month, Danza reels off some of what his show will have to offer.
He’ll have a sidekick: Ereka Vetrini, a contestant on ‘‘The Apprentice’’ last winter.
There’ll be cooking — he’s Italian and he loves to cook — and the occasional fitness segment, something vital to this former pro boxer. ‘‘I have never been on camera in 26 years without working out first,’’ says Danza, who in middle age retains a boyish glow and still looks like he could go 15 rounds.
There’ll be music. And, this being a talk show, there’ll be conversation. And not just with stars, but also noncelebrity types — hometown heroes ‘‘with a great story to tell,’’ says Danza.
He takes a seat in one of two wing chairs (no couch here) and offers the reporter the other.
‘‘I want to use New York as a character on the show,’’ says Danza, who in recent weeks has been all over his hometown taping features. ‘‘I want to show the whole country New York City the way I see it.’’
Then he points to the expansive rear-lit mural behind him. It looks like a window view across the East River, complete with a certain bridge.
‘‘You got to have the Brooklyn Bridge!’’ crows Danza. ‘‘How did I get here?!’’
Born in a working-class Brooklyn neighborhood 53 years ago, he has traveled a circuitous route to get here: A talk show airing from Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
His early boxing career led to his casting as lovable but dim-witted Tony Banta, the boxer-cabbie on ‘‘Taxi.’’ He starred on ‘‘Who’s the Boss?’’ for eight more years. He switched from sitcoms to episodic drama with ‘‘Family Law.’’
He starred on Broadway in revivals of ‘‘A View from the Bridge’’ and, with Kevin Spacey, ‘‘The Iceman Cometh.’’ He made several films.
Then, after his recovery from the skiing accident that broke his back a decade ago, he fulfilled a long-held dream of remaking himself into a song-and-dance man, and toured with a cabaret act. ‘‘I played everything from county fairs to Carnegie Hall. Just me and a quartet. I even ironed my own shirts!’’
So with that robustly checkered show-biz past, was it inevitable that Danza would finally land a talk show?
Not necessarily, he says. Although a self-described ‘‘talk-show junkie’’ who eagerly accepted invitations as both guest and substitute host on numerous talk shows (he sat in several times for Johnny Carson on ‘‘The Tonight Show’’), Danza said no a while back when asked to start one of his own.
‘‘One of my problems as an actor is that I have a very recognizable persona,’’ he explains. ‘‘You play Tony in every show, and then you’re just Tony, and it’s hard for a director to think that you can get beyond that in a movie. I thought if I was to do a talk show it would be the last nail in the coffin as far as my acting career goes, because it would just reinforce that ’Tony persona.’ ’’
Then he got another talkshow bid.
‘‘I’m a big believer in dreams,’’ Danza says, ‘‘but I also know I could wait another 25 years for the part that hasn’t come yet. Or I could take a shot, especially since they said they’d let me do the talk show live in New York. I figured, if I was ever gonna do it, this seemed like the time.
‘‘A talk show,’’ he adds, ‘‘is an offshoot of my stage act: I can tell a joke, I can dance, I can put over a song. And I can talk about what’s going on.’’
Something going on: A fax he got from his 11-year-old daughter, Emily, still back in Los Angeles with Tracy, his wife of 18 years, and his daughter Katie, who will finish high school there this year.
‘‘Emily used to bite her nails,’’ he says, then reads her fax: ‘‘Look! Now they’re long,’’ which detailed drawings of her healthy fingernails illustrate.
‘‘I’d like to share this tomorrow,’’ Danza chuckles, meaning the test show he’ll tape then.
Thinking about his kids, whom he misses, he also thinks of his parents. He misses them too.
His father was a sanitation worker, his mother a bookkeeper.
‘‘She used to say, ‘Every kid should have someone who’s irrationally committed to their future,’ ’’ he fondly recalls. ‘‘And that’s what she was: She was always telling me, ‘You can do it!’ So, to be here doing this . . . If they were still around . . .’’
His eyes glisten, but he’s wearing a big grin.
‘‘I remember my father saying to me, ‘If you got the goods, you’ll be OK.’ I’ve got the goods here, I think. This could be the perfect job for me. I’m just gonna try not to mess it up.’’
‘‘The Tony Danza Show’’ airs noon weekdays on KTVK (Channel 3).