Believe it or not, the reason Tony Danza’s character in the new Netflix detective dramedy “The Good Cop” is named Tony isn’t because of him. As the veteran star told IndieWire, the scripts for the series by “Monk” creator Andy Breckman had already referred to the character as Tony Senior (or “Big Tony”) even before he signed on — because Danza wasn’t part of the original pitch.
“[Breckman] pitched the show with somebody else in the lead… I think the other actor was named Tony,” Danza said. “If you put this together, it’s pretty easy to figure out who it is… Talk about a guy that’s hitting on all cylinders. He won the Tony. He won an Emmy. He’s part of an Emmy award-winning show Monday night.”
It’s not hard to guess that Danza is referring here to Tony Shalhoub, who won three Emmys for his portrayal of Adrian Monk on “Monk,” and currently stars on Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” But it’s hard to imagine anyone besides Danza in the role of Tony Sr., a disgraced former cop living with his son Tony Jr. (Josh Groban), who also happens to be a cop.
This is true to the point where Breckman, in an statement to IndieWire, commented on this accordingly: “Tony Shalhoub is a pal, and I talk to him about every script I’m working on. In this case, however, he was never considered for the part,” he said. “He was already committed to another project. Tony Danza was the first — and only — actor the part of Big Tony was offered to. And, Josh Groban was the first — and only — actor the part of Tony Junior was offered to. Success in TV is 95 percent casting. On ‘The Good Cop,’ the TV Gods were definitely in our corner!”
Michele K Short/Netflix
However the character of Big Tony got his name, Danza is used to playing characters named Tony, going all the way back to the classic 1978-1983 sitcom “Taxi.” “The part was written for an Irish heavyweight named Phil Ryan. And I went and read for the part, and I got the part and they made it Phil Banta, an Italian middleweight,” he said.
“And then they changed it to Tony Banta. And of course I made up a joke which has now become legend: When the producer came down, put his arm around me and said, ‘Hey, we’re gonna change the name of the character from Phil Banta to Tony Banta,’ and I was so naïve, I was like ‘Wow, they’re doing that for me,’ and then I realized it was a reflection on my acting ability. They were afraid I wouldn’t answer to Phil. That’s become sort of an urban legend. It’s weird, it was just a stupid joke that I made up.”
Following “Taxi,” though, Danza noted that when “Who’s the Boss?” creators Marty Cohan and Blake Hunter wrote the show for him, “they used the name Tony and it stayed Tony… Writers, they just write and then it can change. But, I don’t know, ya know? You know what I say? I always say, we tried Dennis, it didn’t work.”
For Danza, what really mattered wasn’t the character name, but the writing itself. “It’s always about the writing. And this was such a good script,” he said of “The Good Cop.” “I have this little stupid idiosyncratic [thing] — I read to the first joke. If it makes me laugh. then I’m really excited about reading for the rest of it. We laughed, so that’s basically … It’s a no-brainer.”
Danza remained impressed by the writing throughout production: “A lot of times actors find a little bit, they make it fit in their mouth a little bit better,” he said. “You know, put it in their own words. I’m telling ya, I don’t wanna change a syllable. Andy said to me one day, ‘The scenes are like songs,’ and that ‘if you change a word it’s like changing a note.’ And I really feel that way about the way he writes. And so I’m here to service whatever he comes up with.”
Michele K Short/Netflix
That said, the show’s tone — which may include jokes, but also functions as a crime procedural — wasn’t the easiest thing to nail down for him. “That’s what’s so interesting about this show, and what makes acting in it a little difficult, is that you’re trying to do jokes around a homicide,” Danza said. “And so there’s a thin line to walk to not be too good and yet to be the lighthearted show that we’re trying to do.”
In addition, the show features a strong family component. “I also think that the father/son dynamic is really interesting,” Danza said. “I love being a father and I love playing a father. And Josh is easy to be a father to. He jumps in with both feet. I actually based our relationship on my relationship with my son, my older son…. I think it’s a really an important part of the show. I mean, sure, the police work, sure, the comedy. I think that father/son dynamic is really really important.”
Danza wasn’t shy about expressing his affection for Groban, whom he first met over 10 years ago, back when he had a talk show. He asked Groban to be a guest on “The Tony Danza Show” then, but it didn’t happen, something that Danza remembered when they were reunited for “The Good Cop.”
But while Danza planned to give Groban some crap for bailing on his show, it was Groban who brought it up at their first lunch together. “At the end of the lunch he turned around and said, ‘Hey, by the way, I know I was supposed to do your show and I’m sorry it didn’t work out,’ and I thought to myself, how cool is that, that he brought it up? He’s that kind of guy. What do they call it? A mensch.”
Added Danza, “By the way, I’m in love with him. I really am in love with him. I’m not kidding, he’s really something. He’s wonderful.”
Michele K Short/Netflix
One interesting quirk of “The Good Cop”: While Groban may have first found fame as a professional singer, in “The Good Cop” his character never sings, while Danza’s character does on multiple occasions. “I’m on the show with Josh Groban, he’s fighting and I’m singing,” Danza said. “It’s really interesting.”
Danza is no slouch vocally, of course — he’s performed in several Broadway shows and also tours with a band — plus, while it’s not heard before every episode, Danza sings “The Good Cop’s” theme song. The music was written by Pat Irwin from the B-52s, with lyrics by Breckman, and Danza said was quasi-tricked into performing it.
“I’m a producer on the show, too. So Andy Breckman says to me, ‘We’re gonna have a recording session at 10:00 or 11:00 on Saturday. I’d love you to come.’ I said, ‘Oh, great. I can be there.’ I’m gonna be there, and I’m thinking, in my producer role, I’m gonna see what’s happening with the theme song,” he said.
“I get to the studio in Brooklyn, there’s a bunch of people there. And Andy says, ‘Here. Play the melody for him.’ So they play this little melody, da-da-da-da-da-da-daaa, ya know. I say, ‘Oh, that sounds good.’ Andy says, ‘Yeah, here’s some words that I wrote.’ So I look at the words, ‘Oh, pretty good.’ He said, ‘Okay, you wanna try it?’ I said, “What are you talkin about? First of all it’s 10:00 in the morning, I don’t wanna sing at 10:00 in the morning. Second of all, you didn’t say anything about singing, you said come!”
But after they sprung the request on him, Danza was able to record it with the band he uses for his live act, and “I felt comfortable with them. And it came out pretty good, I think.”
When it comes to starring in a streaming show, Danza admitted that “I’m sort of an old fashioned guy. I kinda miss appointment TV. We work five months and then somebody can watch it in half a day. In 10 hours. In less than 10 hours. So it’s kinda strange.”
But, he said, “I’m getting used to that… nothing different about shooting the show. It’s just about the way they distribute it. On Friday, this show will open in 190 countries at the same time. That’s tough to get your mind around, I think. Ya know?”
“The Good Cop” Season 1 premieres Friday, September 21 on Netflix.