On a day when the U.S. cable networks served up chats with and glimpses of the most dubious class of celebrities — the Kardashians, and the cast of Jersey Shore — it took former boxer turned sitcom star turned song-and-dance man turned high-school teacher, in the person of Tony Danza, to put this latest strain of stardom into perspective.
Danza, best known for his lengthy sitcom runs on Taxi (1978-83) and Who’s the Boss? (1984-92), is returning to prime time this fall in an A&E reality series called Teach, which follows him through a year in which he leaves his showbiz career behind and becomes a certified, full-time teacher at a Philadelphia high school.
When met with TV critics here during A&E’s portion of the U.S. networks’ summer press tour, he had lots to say about the difficult process of reaching and inspiring kids in the 21st-century educational environment. Given his Italian-American background, it was inevitable that Danza would be asked about the sudden celebrity of the twentysomething "Guidos" and "Guidettes" on the hyper-tacky MTV series Jersey Shore.
"I think shows like Jersey Shore make it harder on teachers in general," Danza offered. "Every day I tell kids, ‘Good behaviour will pay off. I promise. Good behaviour will pay off.’ And then they go home and watch that show and say, ‘Mr. Danza, you’re wrong. Bad behaviour pays off.’ That’s what really hurts us.
"And by the way, that’s where we get into the cultural end of this. What is our responsibility? We yell about bad schools and bad teachers and failing grades, and then we put on shows like that that give kids the wrong kind of role models, and then we’re surprised when they act out."
Later in the session, Danza felt compelled to return to the Jersey Shore issue, making it clear that it’s not just the antics of Snooki and The Situation and JWoww and their ilk that we should be distressed about.
"I hate to go back to Jersey Shore, but I can’t help it," he said. "I was in the gymnasium, working out right after I got back from school, and there was a discussion of Jersey Shore and I pointed out that it’s tough on teachers. ... And this very, very wealthy woman, wealthy beyond what we can imagine, said, ‘Oh, I despise those people on that show.’
"I had to point out to her, ‘How do you feel about the guys in suits you had dinner with last night who put that show on?’ I mean, because you can hate the kids, but it’s Viacom. It’s the big companies."