THE SHOW "Teach: Tony Danza"

WHEN | WHERE Friday night at 10 on A&E

REASON TO WATCH Tony D heads back to school . . . this time, as a teacher.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Philadelphia's Northeast High has been in the business of teaching kids since 1890, but never has the school had a teacher quite like this. Star of "Taxi" and "Who's the Boss?" Former professional boxer. Max Bialystock (Broadway's "The Producers"). And, just to pop in the local angle: graduate of Malverne High, class of '69.

From August 2009 though June 2010, Danza taught high-school English to 26 students in back-to-back 45-minute periods. He did much else, too - helped the football team, mounted a musical revue, entitled "ExtravaDanza" (what else?), tried to get troubled kids on the straight and narrow. But mostly he grinded out the lessons. He's an emotional guy - the tears do flow - but a compassionate one, too. Think Pete Dixon-meets-Gabe Kotter-meets-Tony Danza.

MY SAY After a long and successful career in TV, movies and stage, Danza apparently had nothing left to prove - but this. He claims here that he had always wanted to be a high-school teacher, and this is his midlife chance. The kids, as kids are wont, are dismissive and skeptical, even blunt. "He talks a lot," says one critic. None are star-struck. The new teacher does tend to be inept and the kids smell an easy mark: It's as if Vinny Barbarino came back late in life as a teacher, and karma can be cruel. But then, something happens. He gets his legs. He figures out lesson plans. The kids respond. The rhythm of the year is set.

A&E and Danza initially tried to get a Yonkers school, but the board rejected the request. Philly agreed, saying in a statement at the outset, "This important project will help illuminate the joy, rewards and challenges of one of the most gratifying professions available." Mission accomplished? Absolutely.

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BOTTOM LINE This teacher can be loquacious - oh yeah - but he's got a big heart, too. Danza, Northeast and A&E deserve credit for this series.

GRADE A-