Danza Enters Talk Arena

On his new talk show, Tony Danza cooks lasagna with Simple Life's Paris Hilton and tours New York's Little Italy with Soprano
stars. Debuting today in more than 90% of U.S. markets, Danza is relying on his Taxi
and Who's the Boss?
fame and his Rolodex of celebrity friends to click with audiences.

"The only thing that makes any talk show different is personality," says Danza
executive producer John Redmann, who performed similar duties on the canceled The Wayne Brady Show. "Tony comes across as your dad, your brother or the guy down the street."

"If I have a good time," adds Danza, "then everyone else does, too."

To ensure it, his show offers two twists to separate it from the talk-show pack: First, he'll cook with stars, as well as interview them. Second, in the show's closing minutes, the former boxer will showcase his singing and dancing talents.

Given the genre's failure rate, the pressure is on Danza and Buena Vista Television, which is producing and distributing the show. Both acknowledge stiff competition from Ellen DeGeneres, Jane Pauley and talk diva Oprah Winfrey. That's why Buena Vista is banking on a conservative approach.

while other syndicators, such as Fox's Twentieth Television, develop and debut more syndicated series, Buena Vista creates only what it needs and can sell. It's a strategy unit President Janice Marinelli calls "targeted development." In this case, the company wanted a replacement for the canceled Wayne Brady Show
and a mate to complement Live With Regis and Kelly.
Danza filled the bill. "Tony is very relatable to the daytime audience," Marinelli says. "He's a guys' guy, and women love him, too." Former Apprentice
contestant Ereka Vetrini is the show's announcer and correspondent. She's there to inject some female pizzazz.

Danza will host five live shows each week from Good Morning America's
old studio in New York. Stations carrying the program, including ABC's owned-and-operated stations and the Gannett, Belo, Sinclair and Cox station groups. In New York and Philadelphia, he'll have the plum timeslot at 10 a.m., after Live With Regis and Kelly. But in Los Angeles, Danza
is pushed into a late-night slot because KABC didn't have any daytime openings.

In some cities, Danza
will go head-to-head against its main competitor, Ellen. In other markets, the two shows will be paired. Meredith Broadcasting's NBC affiliate WSMV Nashville, Tenn., will run Danza
at 11 a.m. after Ellen, and General Manager Steve Ramsey is expecting a strong response. "Tony has always been a wonderful personality. This allows him a new venue and a new style."

Shari Anne Brill, vice president and director of programming services for ad buyer Carat North America, is more cautious: "Huge successes in talk are rare. Danza has a nice folksy style, but I don't know how well he can improvise."

Danza began mulling a talk show in 1992, when he spent a week as guest host of ABC's late-night talk-fest Into the Night. Buena Vista courted him a few years later, but he worried such a move would ruin his acting prospects. "I had a hard enough time getting over this persona I had built up," he says. But after performing a live show the past few years, he reconsidered. "That differentiated me. In show business, you need some diversification. It is almost like investing."

Danza is learning his new craft on the fly. Live interviews are challenging, and he admits to studying other hosts, like Today's Matt Lauer, Tonight's Jay Leno, David Letterman and The Daily Show's Jon Stewart.

As he takes direction from producers and his floor manager, things get intense. During a test show last week, Danza whipped up a veal dish with Tony Tammero, executive chef at New York's posh Palm restaurant. Tammero noticed he was sweating. "No kidding," says Danza. "This is the ultimate multitask."