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The Equalizer (TV series)

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The Equalizer is an American crime drama television series, originally airing on CBS from fall 1985 until late-spring 1989. It starred Edward Woodward as a retired espionage/intelligence officer with a mysterious past, who uses the skills from his former career to exact vigilante justice on behalf of innocent people who are trapped in dangerous circumstances. The series combined elements of the spy film, private investigator/police procedural drama, and vigilante genres.

The Equalizer
The Equalizer.jpg
Created by Michael Sloan
Richard Lindheim
Starring Edward Woodward
Keith Szarabajka
Opening theme Stewart Copeland
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 4
No. of episodes 88 (list of episodes)
Running time 48 minutes
Original network CBS
Audio format Monaural
Original release September 18, 1985 – August 24, 1989


Series plot elementsEdit

The series featured English actor Edward Woodward as Robert McCall, a former covert operations officer of an unnamed US government intelligence organization, which was often referred to simply as "The Agency" or "The Company" (it is implied that it is the CIA), who tries to atone for his past by offering, usually free of charge, his services as a troubleshooter, a protector, and an investigator. People in need find him through a newspaper classified ad: "Got a problem? Odds against you? Call the Equalizer. 212 555 4200." When he begins this business in the pilot episode, it is revealed that the nickname "Equalizer" was bestowed on him by another operative by the name of "Brahms", played by Jerry Stiller.

Aided by a group of sometimes-mysterious contacts, some of whom date back to his spying days, McCall traverses the streets of New York City, delivering justice upon bullies, corrupt police and politicians, hoodlums, rapists, racists, murderers, kidnappers, drug dealers, and other "truly deserving" people.[1] His contacts are also prone to human foibles, ranging from egotism to domestic problems.[citation needed]

Many episodes focus on McCall interacting with "Control" (played by Robert Lansing), the unnamed head of the Manhattan office of the secret organization for which McCall used to work. As a general rule, however, the people answering the newspaper ad were unremarkable, average, and unknown.[citation needed]

McCall's car, weapons, and other gadgetry at times feature significantly as elements in the plot (see sections that follow).

Cast and charactersEdit


  • Edward Woodward as Robert McCall: A veteran operative of The Company who becomes disillusioned with sacrificing ordinary people for the perceived greater good. He quits and takes out a newspaper advert offering his services to those who need it as The Equalizer. McCall himself is divorced, a "lost dad" long estranged from his son, Scott (William Zabka). Scott comes back into his life as a young adult who is at first bitterly critical of his father's world, but then becomes drawn into that world to the dismay of both of his parents. McCall also lost a woman he was in love with, a fellow operative named Manon Brevard, and discovers that she had secretly given birth to his daughter Yvette.[2] McCall appears to be independently wealthy, as although he almost never takes payment for his work, he owns a high-end apartment, is always well dressed and drives a Jaguar car. He enjoys classical music (playing the piano himself), fine wine and dining and is occasionally seen dating and trying to live a "normal" life, only for work or his past to get in the way. His Father, William, was a British Army officer, killed in Egypt in 1952 when McCall was 19 and also an Army Officer. His Mother was American, a working class entertainer and his Father was disinherited by his family and shunned by his regiment for seen to be marrying beneath himself.[3] Woodward was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Actor in a Drama series four years in a row for his performance, but never won.
  • Keith Szarabajka as Mickey Kostmayer (Also starring, 56 episodes): A former Navy SEAL, who was in the brig for a crime he didn't commit until McCall cleared him and recommended he join The Company.[4] Often seen surveilling suspects or protecting witnesses. Always laconic, very little of his personal life is given away although he is seen to enjoy fishing in his free time. His brother is a priest, also in New York, and needs the help of McCall and Mickey in one episode.[5] Whilst McCall is almost always dressed in a suit, Mickey is usually seen in jeans and wearing a watch cap and army overcoat. A black Dodge van is his usual mode of transport.


  • Robert Lansing as Control (29 episodes). A contemporary of McCall's in The Company who has risen to a senior rank, they are usually friendly although at times Control's focus on the mission causes friction with McCall's desire to avoid collateral damage. Although McCall does not always agree with Control's methods, he usually helps his old friend when younger and even more ruthless agents try to force him out. For his part Control allows McCall to utilize Company men like Mickey, Jimmy and Sterno provided they are not on assignment.
  • Mark Margolis as Jimmy (16 episodes). Another company veteran and an expert in surveillance. Usually brought in by McCall when high tech bugs or wiretaps are required. He is divorced and almost always has a story about his ex-wife to tell McCall.
  • William Zabka as Scott McCall (12 episodes). McCall's estranged son when the series begins, their growing relationship is one of the recurring themes throughout the series. Scott is an accomplished musician but is drawn more and more deeply in to his Father's world as the series progresses.
  • Chad Redding as Sgt. Alice Shepard (11 episodes). An NYPD detective who often assists McCall, recognizing that he can take action where she cannot.
  • Richard Jordan as Harley Gage (10 episodes). Another disillusioned Company veteran, Gage was brought in by Richard Dyson (Played by Robert Mitchum) to track down McCall when he goes missing in Mission McCall, and ends up staying on and helping people with McCall. This was done to lighten the load on Woodward after he suffered a heart attack,[6] although strangely Keith Szarabajka was rarely featured in episodes with Jordan.
  • Maureen Anderman as Pete O'Phelan (9 episodes). The widow of a former colleague of McCall's, and a former operative herself. She owns a bar that McCall and Mickey frequent, and also helps out with their missions from time to time.
  • Ron O'Neal as Lt. Isadore Smalls (7 episodes). An NYPD Detective who assists McCall.
  • Irving Metzman as Sterno (6 episodes). Another Company man, specializing in computers and finance. He is often seen eating, particularly fast food, which generally annoys McCall's more refined tastes.
  • Steven Williams as Lt. Jefferson Burnett (5 episodes). An NYPD detective in the first season, who is aware of McCall's past and is initially distrustful of him.

Notable guest starsEdit

The show had quite a number of notable guest stars, many of whom became major stars within a few years of their appearances. Eight-year-old Macaulay Culkin appeared in one episode as a kidnap victim. Nine-year-old Melissa Joan Hart appeared as a young girl whom McCall protected from her ex-con father. Christian Slater appeared as a high-school student in the episode "Joyride". Kevin Spacey played a corrupt police officer. Ed O'Neill played a doctor in the first season episode "The Children's Song". John Goodman played a single father who was tricked by co-worker Joe Morton into taking part in a robbery. Goodman's frequent co-star Steve Buscemi appeared in the same episode, which marks the first time the two were onscreen together.

Stewart Copeland, who composed the show's theme song and much of its music, made a cameo as a pickpocket. Vincent D'Onofrio appeared twice in the series, playing the arsonist son of a mobster in his first appearance, and a mentally-challenged man falsely accused of murder in his second. Adam Ant played a villain in an episode that also featured J.T. Walsh, David Alan Grier, Lori Petty and Luis Guzman. Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys made a rare acting appearance in an episode alongside Alex Winter. Bradley Whitford appeared as a brutal young thug whose terrorizing of a hitch-hiking young couple leads to a siege of the weaponless McCall and his son who are away on a father-son weekend. Melissa Sue Anderson played McCall's daughter (unbeknownst to herself) by an old girlfriend; in real life, Anderson was, and is the wife of series co-creator Michael Sloan. Frank Whaley, Sam Rockwell, and Jerry O'Connell appeared in the same episode as members of a teen robbery gang. Shelby Anderson lent her singing ability as a lounge singer in an episode that also involved her giant panda, ZhenZhen. Singer Vitamin C appeared in two episodes under her real name, Colleen Ann Fitzpatrick.

Other well-known stars at the time, as well as future stars, who appeared on the show included Robert Mitchum, Telly Savalas, Maureen Stapleton, E.G. Marshall, Laurence Fishburne, Lauren Tom, Patricia Clarkson, Jennifer Grey, Reginald VelJohnson, Quentin Crisp, Laurie Metcalf, Frances Fisher, Oliver Platt, Patricia Richardson, William H. Macy, Robin Curtis, Roma Maffia, Olympia Dukakis, Michael Moriarty, Chris Cooper, Michael Rooker, David Strathairn, Charles S. Dutton, Cynthia Nixon, Bruce Payne, Laura San Giacomo, Kasi Lemmons, Al Leong, Ving Rhames, Amanda Plummer, Daniel Davis, Jon Polito, Jasmine Guy, Mark Linn-Baker, Meat Loaf, Lori Loughlin, Michael Wincott, Tony Shalhoub, Anthony Zerbe, Michael Cerveris, and the singing duo of Ashford and Simpson.

The series also made good use of its New York City filming location/setting by employing actors who were appearing on Broadway in the late 1980s as guest stars. These included Terrence Mann, Frances Ruffelle, Kevin Conway, J. Smith-Cameron, Philip Bosco, Caitlin Clarke, Josef Sommer, Jim Dale, Christine Baranski and Anne Twomey.

Additionally, several former stage, and screen co-stars of Edward Woodward appeared on the show. These included Brian Bedford, Tammy Grimes (real-life mother of the aforementioned Ms. Plummer), Gwen Verdon, Sandy Dennis, Jenny Agutter, Shirley Knight and Sylvia Sidney. Harvard-educated Shakespearean theatre, Broadway stage, screen and film actor Richard Jordan appeared as the character Harley Gage in 10 episodes.

Woodward's second wife, Michele Dotrice, appeared as the central character in the season 2 episode, "Heartstrings". Her father, Roy Dotrice, also guest starred on the show in season 4's "Trial By Ordeal". Edward Woodward's son, actor Tim Woodward, appeared as McCall's father in a flashback scene in the episode "Prisoners of Conscience", also in season 4.


Apart from accomplishing the character's basic transport, and setting the tone of series through its contribution to McCall's style,[citation needed] the Equalizer television series was the first—and, as of December 2014, the only[citation needed]—American television series in which Jaguar Cars contracted with a television production company to feature its automobiles for promotional purposes; hence, the series required each season to have a current example of their line of vehicles.[citation needed] As such, in the pilot episode of the series McCall's primary car was a lacquer black 1985 Jaguar XJ6 Series III Vanden Plas with dove gray coloured leather interior,[7] which, with the first production episode of the first season, consistently became a standard 1986 Series III.[citation needed] For the second season, the car was replaced with a 1987 model with the same paint and the sable tan leather interior,[8] while in the third and fourth seasons the car was updated to Jaguar's replacement Series III models, the 1988 and 1989 XJ40s, respectively (with continuity in the paint and interior).[citation needed]

Weapons and gadgetryEdit

One of the notable weapons McCall uses is a ballistic knife that is capable of launching its blade. This is especially useful when he must surrender his gun to help a client or when his gun is lost in a fight. Other weapons range from pistols to machine guns. McCall's personal weapons cabinet is hidden behind the tool board on a false wall of his apartment's workshop/photography studio. He may be able to obtain more weapons through a variety of sources (pawn shops, gun shops, the Agency, or various contacts).[citation needed]

McCall's main weapon was a stainless steel Interarms/Ranger Walther PPK/S with rubberized Pachmayr grips in .380 ACP caliber, an overt link to the spy genre and Ian Fleming's James Bond. In some episodes, McCall used also a Desert Eagle pistol, as well as the venerable Colt M1911A1 pistol in .45 ACP. McCall was also seen using M1 Carbine and UZI-type weapons, such as the regular SMG and the pistol version. In three episodes, McCall was seen using an expensive Mauser 660 bolt-action rifle with a telescopic sight, for more accurate work.[citation needed]


The show's theme song was created by composer/performer Stewart Copeland, both of whose parents had intelligence connections: his father, Miles Copeland, Jr. was one of the founding members of the Office of Strategic Services, the World War II predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency, while his mother, Lorraine Copeland, worked with British military intelligence during that war.[citation needed]

In 1988, I.R.S. Records released the Stewart Copeland album The Equalizer & Other Cliff Hangers, which featured some of Copeland's Equalizer score. The fourth track, "The Equalizer Busy Equalizing," is an extended version of the show's main theme.

The original theme (in stereo but w/o the TV version's sound effects) can be found on Television's Greatest Hits Vol.7-Cable Ready CD. The original theme in stereo with sound effects can be found on "The Equalizer Season One" DVD set (published by Universal Studios—see DVD releases below). Although the season one episodes were originally broadcast in monaural and are encoded in mono for this DVD release, Universal took the stereo theme from the "Cable Ready" CD (the only known stereo version of the original theme as it was broadcast) and added very similar-sounding effects back into the mix before encoding it on each episode in this set.

Six episodes in the 1988 season were scored by Joseph Conlan.

Episode listEdit

The show ran for four seasons of 22 episodes each. It was initially renewed for a fifth season (causing Keith Szarabajka to turn down a role on Midnight Caller). However the show was later cancelled due to a row between CBS and Universal Studios over the renewal of Murder, She Wrote.[9]

In The Story of The Equalizer, created for the DVD box set, Executive Producer Coleman Luck also stated that Universal requested a script for a crossover episode with Magnum, PI despite the objections of the crew due to the vastly different tones of the two shows. Ultimately the crossover did not happen and the episode was re-written as "Beyond Control".

DVD releasesEdit

On February 12, 2008, Universal Studios Home Entertainment released Season 1 of The Equalizer on DVD in Region 1 (US only).[10]

On May 15, 2013, it was announced that Visual Entertainment had acquired the rights to the series in Region 1.[11] They subsequently released season 2 on DVD on August 26, 2014.[12][13] Season 3 was released on October 25, 2014, followed by season 4 on November 24, 2014.

Visual Entertainment also released a limited edition complete series set on DVD on August 19, 2014.[14] The Equalizer Complete Collection Limited Edition set contains all 88 episodes plus 12 hours of bonus content including CI5: The New Professionals; the last film ever done by Edward Woodward, A Congregation of Ghosts; and The Story of The Equalizer featuring interviews with cast and crew.[14]

In Region 2, Universal Playback UK released season 1 on DVD on April 21, 2008. In late 2011, Fabulous Films announced that they had acquired the rights to the series. They have subsequently released seasons 2–4.[15] On May 27, 2013, Fabulous Films released The Equalizer: The Complete Collection on DVD.[16] This 24-disc box set contains all 88 episodes of the series as well as bonus content including an all-new documentary featuring interviews with cast and crew.

Many fans have noted that the Region 1 version has had several of the originally used songs replaced. In actual fact nearly 50 per cent of all music apart from the theme, and scoring by Stewart Copeland has been replaced by "covers" due to expired music licensing agreements, and the costs which would be incurred in the USA to have the licensing renewed. In contrast, the Region 2 version contains all of the original music intact.

In Region 4, Umbrella Entertainment has released all four seasons on DVD in Australia.[17]

DVD Name Ep# Release dates
Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
The First Season 22 February 12, 2008 April 21, 2008 March 9, 2011
The Second Season 22 August 26, 2014 March 26, 2012 April 4, 2012
The Third Season 22 October 25, 2014 October 1, 2012 August 1, 2012
The Fourth Season 22 November 24, 2014 October 29, 2012 November 7, 2012

Film adaptationEdit

A film starring Denzel Washington in the title role, very loosely based upon the series, was released in September 2014.

In other mediaEdit

  • The short-lived Saturday morning TV series Flip! featured The Get-Even Guy, a series of short films which spoofed The Equalizer. Each film starred a teenage boy sporting a trench coat, obviously dyed hair, and an affected British accent; he would lend an assist to hapless youngsters who were being treated less than fairly by various adults...including a high-school gym-class teacher and a video store-clerk. The Get-Even Guy never used a real weapon or seriously injured anyone, but rather employed whatever was at hand to humiliate his adversary...such as an ordinary videocassette, the tape from which was used to hopelessly entangle the dastardly clerk.
  • The 2013 movie The Wolf of Wall Street shows opening credits for The Equalizer and a scene with Steve Buscemi in a flashback scene where Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) calls his father Mad Max (Rob Reiner), inviting him to his company. Mad Max gets angry because he was a hardcore fan of the show.

See alsoEdit

  • The A-Team—a television show in which a team composed of former military personnel helps those in need.
  • Burn Notice—another television show in which an ex-spy helps those in need.
  • Callan—an earlier TV spy series in which Woodward played a character similar to that of Robert McCall.
  • Leverage—a television show in which a small group of odd characters with special skills help people in need against corporations, etc.
  • Person of Interest—a television show in which an ex–Special Forces soldier and a billionaire attempt to stop crimes before they happen. Shares many similarities including the New York setting and a recurring character simply known as Control.
  • The Pretender—a genius named Jarod, who was abducted at an early age, escapes his abductors and, while trying to find his past and his parents, targets criminals who have gone unpunished or undetected by the law.
  • Stingray—a contemporaneous TV drama also featuring a mysterious character who helps people in distress and advertises in newspapers.
  • T.H.E. Cat—a forerunner of the genre
  • Vengeance Unlimited—about a mysterious stranger driven by an unknown tragedy in his past to serve justice to those who had been ignored by the law.


  1. ^ "The Equalizer review – Denzel Washington: ordinary guy, cool killer". The Guardian, Paul MacInnes, 9 September 2014.
  2. ^ "Memories of Manon", Season 3, Episode 16
  3. ^ "Prisoners of Conscience", Season 4, Episode 17
  4. ^ "Splinters", Season 4, Episode 6
  5. ^ "The Cup", Season 2, Episode 10
  6. ^ "Review/Television; Family Life in a Welfare Hotel on 'The Equalizer'". The New York Times, By John J. O'Connor March 16, 1988
  7. ^ In two extremely brief closeup shots, a sable tan interior of a standard Series III XJ6 is shown instead.[citation needed]
  8. ^ The 1987 model is distinguished by the addition of a third brake light situated immediately behind the center bottom area of the rear window glass.[citation needed]
  9. ^ Galbraith, Stuart (23 May 2017). "The Equalizer: The Complete Collection (plus CI5: The New Professionals - The Complete Series & A Congregation of Ghosts)". DVDTalk. 
  10. ^ "The Equalizer – Got a problem? Odds against you? Call for Box Art!". Retrieved December 31, 2014. 
  11. ^ "The Equalizer DVD news: DVD Plans for The Equalizer". Retrieved June 1, 2013. 
  12. ^ "The Equalizer DVD news: Release Date for The Equalizer – The Complete Season 2". Retrieved December 31, 2014. 
  13. ^ "The Equalizer DVD news: Box Art for The Equalizer – The Complete Season 2". Retrieved December 31, 2014. 
  14. ^ a b "The Equalizer DVD Complete Collection Limited Edition". Visual Entertainment, Inc. Retrieved December 31, 2014. 
  15. ^ "Fabulous Films". Fabulous Films. Retrieved June 1, 2013. 
  16. ^ "Fabulous Films". Retrieved December 31, 2014. 
  17. ^ "Search – Umbrella Entertainment". Retrieved March 21, 2013. 

External linksEdit