The Equalizer

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The Equalizer
The Equalizer.jpg
Created by
  • Michael Sloan
  • Richard Lindheim
Opening theme Stewart Copeland
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons4
No. of episodes88 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s)
  • James Duff McAdams
  • Michael Sloan
  • Dan Lieberstein
  • Marc Laub
  • Stuart Cohen
  • Alan Barnette
  • Mark Sobel
  • Edward Adler
  • Alan Metzger
  • Joe Boston
Running time48 minutes
Production company(s) Universal Television
Distributor NBCUniversal Television Distribution
Original network CBS
Audio format Monaural
Original releaseSeptember 18, 1985 (1985-09-18) 
August 24, 1989 (1989-08-24)
Followed by The Equalizer (2014)
Related shows The Equalizer (2020)

The Equalizer is an American crime drama television series, originally airing on CBS from September 18, 1985 to August 24, 1989. It starred Edward Woodward as a retired intelligence agent with a mysterious past, who uses the skills from his former career to exact justice on behalf of innocent people who are trapped in dangerous circumstances. The series combined elements of the spy, private investigator/police procedural, and vigilante genres.


Series plot elements

The series starred British 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", who tried to atone for his past by offering, usually free of charge, his services as a troubleshooter, a protector, and an investigator. [1] [2]

People in need found him through a newspaper classified ad: "Got a problem? Odds against you? Call the Equalizer: 212 555 4200." [2] [3] [4] When he began this business in the pilot episode, it was revealed the nickname "Equalizer" was bestowed on him by an operative named "Brahms", played by Jerry Stiller. [2]

Aided by a group of sometimes-mysterious contacts, some of whom dated back to his spying days, McCall traversed the streets of New York City, delivered justice upon bullies, corrupt police and politicians, hoodlums, mobsters, rapists, racists, murderers, kidnappers, drug dealers, and other "truly deserving" people. "Please do not do anything you will never live to regret," he tells one villain. [5]

His contacts were also prone to human foibles, that ranged from egoism to domestic problems. [4]

Many episodes focused on McCall interacting with "Control" (played by Robert Lansing), the unnamed head of the Manhattan office of the secret organization which McCall used to work for. [2] As a general rule, however, the people answering the newspaper ad were unremarkable, average, and unknown. [6] [5]

McCall's car, weapons, and other gadgetry at times featured significantly as elements in the plot. [4]

Cast and characters



Notable guest stars

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 on screen 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, Jane Kaczmarek, 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, Giancarlo Esposito 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.


The show's theme music was created by composer/performer Stewart Copeland. The track is called ‘Busy Equalizing’. An extended version appears on his album The Equalizer and Other Cliff Hangers.

Six episodes in the 1988 season were scored by Joseph Conlan and the final season was scored by Cameron Allan.

Episode list

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 canceled due to a row between CBS and Universal Studios over the renewal of Murder, She Wrote . [12]

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, P.I. 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".


After the broadcast of the first episode in September 1985, the show received mixed reviews. Critic Tom Shales wrote in The Washington Post that "to judge from this very attractively atmospheric premiere [the show] could become a welcome guest in many an American home". [13] However, for People, Jeff Jarvis wrote "The plot’s confusing and the show’s as erratic as a pacemaker on low batteries". [14]

Home media

On February 12, 2008, Universal Studios released Season 1 of The Equalizer on DVD-Video in Region 1 (US only). [15]

On May 15, 2013, it was announced that Visual Entertainment had acquired the rights to the series in Region 1. [16] They subsequently released season 2 on DVD on August 26, 2014. [17] [18] 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. [19] 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. [19]

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. [20] On May 27, 2013, Fabulous Films released The Equalizer: The Complete Collection on DVD. [21] 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 US 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. [22]

DVD NameEp#Release dates
Region 1Region 2Region 4
The First Season22February 12, 2008April 21, 2008March 9, 2011
The Second Season22August 26, 2014March 26, 2012April 4, 2012
The Third Season22October 25, 2014October 1, 2012August 1, 2012
The Fourth Season22November 24, 2014October 29, 2012November 7, 2012



A film starring Denzel Washington in the title role, very loosely based upon the series, was released in September 2014. It was followed by a sequel, The Equalizer 2 , which was released on July 20, 2018. Melissa Leo, who was a guest star in "The Defector," the third episode of the TV series, appears in both movies.

2020 television series

In November 2019, CBS announced that a reboot is in development with Queen Latifah in the lead role as Robyn McCall. Andrew Marlowe and Terri Miller will serve as showrunners with Latifah herself as an executive producer. [23] On January 27, 2020, CBS issued a pilot order for the new version. [24]

The series was among the 14 pilots ordered by CBS in February 2020 and was fast tracked to series the following March, as they are unable to film their pilots where Universal Television was shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. [25]

On May 8, 2020, CBS picked up the series [26] and they added Chris Noth as William Bishop, a quirky ex-CIA director who is the opposite of Latifah. [27]


A collection of novels featuring Robert McCall have been written by the original co-creator Michael Sloan. The first is simply entitled The Equalizer published in 2014, followed by Killed in Action: An Equalizer Novel, which was released in 2018. The novels are a modern reimagining of the original series and focus on McCall leaving The company and eventually becoming a private investigator in New York. It also features a number of original recurring characters from the television series such as Mickey Kostmayer, Control and Scott McCall. A third novel, Requiem: An Equalizer Novel is currently in the works.

See also

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