Tony Danza Explains Why He's Singing 'The Good Cop' Theme Song Instead of Co-Star Josh Groban
It may surprise you to hear that Tony Danza sings the theme song for his new Netflix series, The Good Cop, which co-stars Josh Groban.
It surprised Danza, too.
But the actor has a theory about how he got roped into it: In addition to playing Big Tony — a disgraced former NYPD cop whose son, TJ (Groban), is now the most by-the-book detective in Brooklyn — Danza is a producer on the hour-long comedy, which premieres Sept. 21. And he thought it was his behind-the-scenes role that led showrunner Andy Breckman (creator of Monk) to nonchalantly ask him to come to the recording session the day before it was scheduled.
“So I get up in the morning and obviously don't do anything that I normally would do if I was gonna sing. I get to this place, and he goes, ‘Listen to this song,’ and he played a melody on the piano for me. And then he goes, ‘Here, look, I wrote these words. … Okay, let’s do it,’” Danza says. “I go, ‘What are you talking about?’ Nobody said to me, ‘We want you to sing.’ I would have said, ‘By the way, we have Josh Groban! What are you talking about?’”
The fact that Danza has a touring cabaret show, Standards & Stories, probably didn’t hurt either. Danza put down the track that day in the studio, but he insisted on getting another crack at it later with the band he works with for his live show.
Get your first listen of the theme song in our debut of the series’ opening credits sequence, above. Below, Danza tells Billboard about working with Groban, introducing his mother to Frank Sinatra, and that time he had to tap-dance right after Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Jr. on national TV.
When did you first know you and Josh Groban would have such good chemistry?
Well, I had been cast, and Andy called me up and says, "Listen, Josh Groban wants to do the show." I go, “Josh Groban? Does he act? I don't know.” Andy sent me some stuff, and I don’t know if he’s Laurence Olivier, but he certainly commits. He's very earnest. I’m with Andy -- if I sign on with you, I'm with you. I want to do every syllable of the words, and I want to support his vision. I call up my friend, who’s a big TV producer, and I go, “What do you think about Josh Groban?” He goes, “Tony, it's either inspired or a f---ing disaster." [Laughs]
Two weeks into the show, I wrote Josh an email. I said, "Josh, I want to tell you how impressed I am with your work and your work ethic. I don't presume to be the greatest judge, but I'm telling you, I'm having a great time working with you.” Josh turned out to be the most regular guy. And he's a bit of a clown, he likes to do jokes, and he plays the piano. It's really kind of sickening after a while. [Laughs]
Your character is dark and funny. It seems like a great role to have at this time in your career.
I haven't had this much fun acting since Who’s the Boss?, the truth of the matter is. I'm telling you, I'm studying lines, working on my script, and I would call Andy and say, "Andy, thanks for these lines. I can't wait to say them tomorrow." Plus Netflix gives you a lot of support, so the sets, the locations -- everything was first class. I just felt like a gift. What a gift. This year is the 40th anniversary of Taxi, so for me to be in a new show 40 years later is pretty good.
The Good Cop shot in New York. What were fans’ responses to seeing you guys on the street?
Mostly they'd be like, [whispers] "Is Josh Groban here?" [Laughs] And I'd totally give him up right away. "Yeah, he's right over there." We're a big operation. We land in Long Island City, and we take over this whole intersection. For some reason, there's this giant construction site. And I was thinking, "Who picked this location with giant back hoes, dump trucks, guys standing around doing nothing?" I thought they were working for the city. So I walk over to talk to them, and it turns out they were atmosphere, they were extras. It was like, what a jerk I am.
You mentioned it’s been 40 years since Taxi premiered. Is there a new challenge this show presented that maybe you hadn’t experienced before?
I think one of the things I got to do here was not get in my own way. Somebody once told me there’s a book Zen in the Art of Archery, and in it [the author Eugen Herrigel] said there's two selfs: There's the self that does it, and the self that says, "How did I look?" [Laughs] And so what happens is, as you get older and better and just more experienced at acting, you're able to not get in your own way. And it may not work -- some of the choices could be crazy when you’re not in your own way -- but I was totally never in my own way in this show, and that's why I think it was so much fun to do.
Without spoiling too much, there’s an episode in which we get to see you sing. Bob Saget guest stars in it. How would you tease that particular hour?
Andy writes these great mysteries, and I love the names of the episodes: "Who is the Ugly German Lady?" "Who Killed the Guy on the Ski Lift?" And this one was, "Did the TV Star Do It?" Saget plays a late-night host like Jimmy Fallon, Johnny Carson. And of course, Josh is after him to nail him for the murder, and I just want to be on his show. So in order to smoke-screen Josh, he makes me part of the show. I become the announcer, I'm dancing, I'm singing -- forget about it, you know. But it's all an attempt to muddy the waters so he doesn't get caught. And Josh goes, "Great." I am frustrating to him at times.
That’s a nice segue to Standards & Stories. Which part of the show do you look forward to most each time you get on stage?
The thing that most excites me is singing the songs. I'm so in love with the American songbook. Don't get me wrong, I'm not presuming to be like anybody else, but there's a part of me as I'm going up there that’s like, "Let's go be Frank Sinatra." And so for that 75 minutes, as I'm singing and dancing and playing my ukulele… I tell this story: [Songwriter] Sammy Cahn ended up becoming a really good friend of mine, and he took me under his wing and introduced me to everybody in old Hollywood and gave me a little bit of legitimacy. I used to sit next to him on the piano and sing with him at his house at dinner parties. And his influence was tremendous. I lot of times I think it's the words. Some of Sammy’s words were, “This is my first affair, so please be kind/ Handle my heart with care, please be kind/ This is all so grand, my dreams are on parade” — wait a minute. Come on. [Laughs] Just the image of your dreams being on parade, I get that. So I get a thrill out of that.
And there are a myriad of stories -- my mother and her love for this kind of music and her influence on me. The one thing that kills me about doing this act, that just breaks my heart, is that she didn't see it. She died young, so she saw some of my career, but she didn't see a lot of it. And she didn’t see any of this, and it’s the one thing that I know she would be most proud of. They brought me back in New York three times with this act, could you believe? That's unheard of. The act was killin’, so they kept bringing me back.
I’ve seen a teaser for the act, and in it, you mention that anytime your mother felt you were getting a big head, she’d tell you that you’d be a star when you introduced her to Frank Sinatra. Did that moment happen when he guested on Who’s the Boss?
It was one of the greatest things I did in my whole entire life. You gotta remember, she was a bobbysoxer. She’d be at the Paramount Hotel in her socks yelling with the other girls, “Frankie!” So she was totally devoted to him. This is a story I tell in the show: When I was a kid, she'd make me clean the house with her on Saturday mornings. She wouldn't let me go out and play. And when she wasn't saying, “Don’t surface clean,” she was making me listen to Frank Sinatra records. And every once in a while, she'd stop me and say, "Stop, wait, wait, wait, listen to the way he sings this part." And I'd sit there and listen, but I'd watch her. And she would be so moved. And you know when you're 9 years old and you see your mother act like that, it freaks you out.
So this is what happened: We shot Who’s the Boss? on a Friday night, but Sinatra was just in the tag. They called and said he couldn't be there Friday night but he’d come Saturday, so we reconvened on Saturday. I flew my mother in, and my daughter was a couple years old maybe -- she's 31 now -- so she was there. We get a call from the gate, “He’s here! He’s here!” When you walk into the building, if you made an immediate right turn, you went into my dressing room. You had to walk down the hall and make a left turn, and there was makeup.
The minute he came in, he was going right to makeup, but immediately he made the right turn into my room. And my mother was sitting there. [Laughs] And she was drinking a cup of coffee. I’ll never forget this: She had a Styrofoam cup of coffee, and he walked in. She hadn't heard the phone call. So Frank Sinatra just appeared. She. Was. Catatonic. She couldn’t move. He tried to talk to her. And I'm not kidding you, she just sat there, two hands holding the Styrofoam cup. And then Sinatra saw the baby, and he picked up the baby, and he said, "Is this your granddaughter?" And nothing. NOTH-ING. He says, "Okay, I'm gonna go to makeup." He walks out of the room, and she lets out a shriek and throws the coffee up in the air. I never tell that story. My punchline is it’s the one time in my mother’s whole entire life when she was unable to speak. Because that's what it was.
Speaking of the Rat Pack, I saw a clip on YouTube of you tap-dancing to “The Candy Man” on the 1990 TV special celebrating Sammy Davis Jr.’s 60th anniversary in show business. You not only got to perform for Sammy, but then you got to introduce Dean Martin. What do you remember about that night?
One of the craziest nights of my life. I'll tell you what I remember. So George Schlatter produced that special. He says, “I want you to be on the show.” Sammy was a dear friend of mine. I got to know all those guys, I was really lucky. They were still runnin’ around, and I got to hang out with them. It was wonderful. I’m gonna dance “The Candy Man,” so I practiced and practiced. I'm nervous beyond belief. This is when I was getting in my own way. [Laughs] I didn’t think I was any good at this: I was tap-dancing, but I was an actor; I wasn't a performer.
So we're in the Shrine Auditorium, and everybody who's anybody is there. You sit in the audience until they call you onstage to do your number. All of a sudden, the production assistant comes over and says, "You're on after this next number." I said, "Okay, good, I'll be ready." Just then, they introduce Gregory Hines. No, wait! Before they introduced him, the crew guys start bringing out what looks like some kind of platform. It turns out to be a special floor for tap-dancing that he had used in the movie Tap. They're bringing out a floor, and I'm like, "I wonder who's up next." They introduce Gregory Hines, and what does he do — Gregory brings up Sammy. And they start to tap-dance.
The production assistant comes back and says, "Okay, come on." I go, "I can't be on after those guys! You can't make me dance after those guys, are you crazy? I can't do it!"
"You gotta go. You gotta go."
I tell the guy, “I’ll be right with you.” I said to my wife, "I need a line! What could I say? What do I do?" And I did like three or four lines with her, and each one she went, “Nah, no good. No good.” And my wife is a bit like my agent in that when you tell them a joke, they don't laugh, they say, "Oh, that's funny."
I said to her, “How about this?” She says, "I think that's funny." So I go up, and I was so freaked out after watching them dance. They're virtuoso beyond anything I could even aspire to. So I say, "I love Sammy, and I really wanted to do this, and then Gregory Hines and you got up and danced, and now I'm not so sure I really wanna do this anymore." I said, “Ah, what the hell. I'm a white guy." [Laughs] It was a predominantly African-American audience. And then the crowning moment is to introduce the great Dean Martin, who was also another friend of mine. Dean was maybe the sweetest guy ever. Dean, Sammy — sweethearts. They would do anything for you. Go out of their way.