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The Equalizer was an Americanmarker urban vigilante television series initially broadcast on CBS between 1985 and 1989.


The series stars Britishmarker actor Edward Woodward as Robert McCall, a former secret agent of an unnamed organization, which was often referred to simply as "The Agency" or "The Company", who tries to atone for past sins by offering, free of charge, his services as a troubleshooter (often literally), a protector, and an investigator. People in need find him through a newspaper ad: "Gotta problem? Odds against you? Call the Equalizer." In the pilot episode (as he "opens for business"), we discover that the nickname "Equalizer" was bestowed on him by another operative, played by comedian 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 Citymarker, visiting justice upon hoodlums, rapists, racists, murderers, kidnappers, drug dealers, and other truly deserving people. His contacts are also prone to human foibles, ranging from egotism to domestic problems.

McCall himself is divorced, a "lost dad" long estranged from his son, Scott (William Zabka from The Karate Kid). Scott comes back into his life as a young adult, at first bitterly judgmental of his father's world, but who becomes drawn into that world to the dismay of both of his parents. McCall also lost a woman he was in love with named Manon Brevard and discovers that she had secretly given birth to his daughter.

Many episodes focus on McCall performing assignments for "Control" (played by Robert Lansing), the unnamed head of the secret organization for which McCall used to work. In later episodes, Richard Jordan joined the cast as fellow "equalizer" Harley Gage, in order to reduce the workload on Edward Woodward, who suffered a heart attack during the series. Robert Mitchum also filled in for Woodward during that time. Most of the time, McCall was aided by Mickey Kostmayer (Keith Szarabajka), a much younger agent who was more or less permanently lent to him by Control. There were a large number of cameo and occasional appearances by other known stars including Mark Margolis (who played another friend of McCall's), but as a general rule the people answering the newspaper ad were unremarkable, average, and unknown.

McCall's primary car was a Satin Black 1984 Jaguar XJ6 Series III.

Notable guest stars

The show had quite a number of notable guest stars, many of whom would become 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. John Goodman played a single father who was tricked by co-worker Joe Morton into taking part in a robbery. Stewart Copeland, who composed the show's theme song, made a cameo as a pickpocket. Vincent D'Onofrio appeared twice in the series—the first time as an arsonist, and the second time as a mentally challenged young man. Adam Ant played a villain in an episode that also featured David Alan Grier, Lori Petty, and Luis Guzman. Bradley Whitford appeared as a young thug who harassed McCall and his son while they were on a fishing trip. Melissa Sue Anderson played McCall's daughter by an old girlfriend. Shelby Anderson lent her singing ability as a lounge singer in an episode that also involved her giant panda, ZhenZhen.

Other future stars who appeared on the show included Laurence Fishburne, Patricia Clarkson, Jennifer Grey, Laurie Metcalf, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Roma Maffia, Olympia Dukakis, Michael Moriarty, Chris Cooper, Michael Rooker, David Strathairn, Charles S. Dutton, Cynthia Nixon, Laura San Giacomo, Kasi Lemmons, Ving Rhames, Amanda Plummer, Jon Polito, Jasmine Guy, Mark Linn-Baker, Tony Shalhoub, and Stanley Tucci.

The series also made good use of its New York City 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, 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 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, was also a guest star on the show. Edward Woodward's son, actor Tim Woodward, appeared in one episode as McCall's father in a flashback scene.

Weapons and gadgetry

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 cache is hidden behind the tool board on a wall of his apartment's workshop. He may be able to obtain more weapons through a variety of sources (pawn shops, gun shops, the Agency, or various contacts).

One feature of "spy genre" shows that was blatantly missing was a reliance on unusual gadgetry, disguises, and similar diversions. In nearly every case, the hardware was off-the-shelf, commonly available on the open market. In this way, it was unlike most other spy series.

McCall's main weapon was a stainless steel Walther PPK/S with rubberized Pachmayr grips in .380 ACP caliber. In some episodes, McCall used also a Desert Eagle pistol, as well as the venerable Colt M1911-A1 pistol in .45 ACP. McCall was also seen using UZI-type weapons, such as the regular SMG and the pistol version.

Fast-paced action and violence

The series was criticized by some for its level of violence, although the character of McCall was made out to be sympathetic. On more than one occasion he expressed regret at having to kill villains in the series, and indeed the very first scene of the first episode depicts McCall trying to negotiate with a man; he nearly succeeds, but a trigger-happy cop opens fire, forcing McCall to kill the man himself to prevent him from knifing a bystander - McCall reacts in anger towards the cop afterwards. In this respect, combined with the fact that McCall still finds himself under the thumb of the organization he sought to leave, suggests that this series was also strongly influenced by Woodward's similarly themed series Callan, which ran from 1967 to 1972.

In 1987, writer David S. Jackson received an Edgar Award for his second-season script "The Cup".


The show's distinctive theme song became a hit for composer/performer Stewart Copeland, founder and drummer of the famous pop/rock New Wave band The Police. He was an appropriate choice, as both of his 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 Britishmarker military intelligence during that war.

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 can be found on Television's Greatest Hits Vol.7-Cable Ready CD.

Episode list

DVD release

On February 12, 2008, Universal Studios Home Entertainment released Season 1 of The Equalizer on DVD in Region 1 (US only). Universal Playback UK released season 1 on DVD in Region 2 on April 21, 2008.

Many fans have noted that the Region 1 version has had several of the originally used songs replaced. The Region 2 version, however, contains all of the original music uncut and intact.


  1. The Equalizer DVD news: Announcement for The Equalizer - Season 1 |

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