The Equalizer

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 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.

The Equalizer
Created byMichael Sloan
Richard Lindheim
StarringEdward Woodward
Keith Szarabajka
Opening themeStewart Copeland
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons4
No. of episodes88 (list of episodes)
Running time48 minutes
Production company(s)Universal Television
Original networkCBS
Audio formatMonaural
Original releaseSeptember 18, 1985 
August 24, 1989

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


  • 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.[7] 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 XJ6 car (registered 5809-AUG). 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; he was 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.[8] McCall had a strained relationship with his father whom he blamed for remaining overseas and leaving him at boarding school whilst his mother was dying. He was also guilt-ridden at his various actions during the Cold War, notably helping to establish the dictatorship in Chile and working with South Africa's Apartheid regime in Angola. 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.[9] Often seen surveilling suspects or protecting witnesses. Always laconic, he is from Houston, Texas of Polish/American origin and served in Cambodia during the Vietnam War, claiming to have stayed awake during one mission for 96 hours straight. He is seen to enjoy fishing in his free time, is a fan of the Knicks basketball team and bubble-gum and builds models out of matchsticks. His brother is a priest, also in the city, and needs the help of McCall and Mickey in one episode.[10] While 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; he and McCall 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. Known for his trademark bowties.
  • 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. Abandoned by his father at age 6 Jimmy is part of the Big Brother project, mentoring troubled kids.
  • 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. Scott also knows of the kinship between himself, Yvette, and their father...although McCall has sworn him to secrecy.
  • 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,[11] 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.
  • Ray Baker as Dana, an agent of The Company who occasionally aids McCall in his investigations. Jovial, generous and good hearted he is nonetheless an expert in the seedier side of New York life with an comprehensive knowledge of the city's sex industry.

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, 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’.

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

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".

Home media

On February 12, 2008, Universal Studios Home Entertainment released Season 1 of The Equalizer on DVD-Video in Region 1 (US only).[13]

On May 15, 2013, it was announced that Visual Entertainment had acquired the rights to the series in Region 1.[14] They subsequently released season 2 on DVD on August 26, 2014.[15][16] 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.[17] 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.[17]

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.[18] On May 27, 2013, Fabulous Films released The Equalizer: The Complete Collection on DVD.[19] 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.[20]

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 adaptations

A film starring Denzel Washington in the title role, very loosely based upon the series, was released in September 2014. A sequel film, The Equalizer 2, 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.


On November 2019, CBS announced that a reboot is in development with Queen Latifah in the lead role. Andrew Marlowe and Terri Miller will serve as showrunners with Latifah herself as an executive producer.[21]


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.


The Equalizer was spoofed by the short-lived Saturday morning TV series Flip! with a series of short films titled The Get-Even Guy. These starred a teenage boy in a trench coat who sported obviously-dyed hair and an affected UK accent. He would regularly come to the aid of peers who were being treated in an unfair manner by various authority figures, including a middle-school gym-teacher and a video store-clerk.

The Get-Even Guy never used a real weapon or seriously injured anyone, but rather used whatever was on hand to humiliate his adversary...such as ordinary athletic equipment, or an ordinary VHS cassette (the tape from which was used to entangle the dastardly clerk).

See also

  • Callan – a TV spy series in which Woodward played a character similar to that of The Equalizer's Robert McCall.
  • Man in a Suitcase – another television series about an ex-spy
  • 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 to The Equalizer, including the New York setting and a recurring character simply known as Control.
  • T.H.E. Cat – a forerunner of the "expert(s) help(s) people in trouble" genre
  • Burn Notice – The series focuses on a burned American spy named Michael Westen. Each episode juggles two narratives: the overall series dealing with why he was burned, and individual episodes focusing on the cases he works for clients.
  • Vengeance Unlimited – A mysterious stranger helps people in trouble and serves justice on those who are ignored by the law. His fee is $1,000,000 or a promise to do a favor at some time in the future – whatever, whenever, wherever and for however long he needed you – then your debt would be paid in full.
  • Stingray – A man named Ray helps those in trouble. All that is known about him is that he advertises surreptitiously in newspapers, ostensibly offering a "'65 black Stingray, for Barter Only To Right Party" and including a telephone number (555-7687). Those wishing to enlist his services, presumably having learned the ad’s real meaning by word of mouth, can call him for help. It is not clear if "Ray" is even his real name, or simply a nickname he has taken on based on the car he drives, the same one described in the advertisement.
  • Cobra – An undercover anti-crime agency that provides justice for victims who haven't benefited from the system.
  • Sable – A former Olympian wanted for murder masquerades as a successful author while offering his freelance services to help those with insurmountable problems.


  1. Bruce Weber (November 17, 2009). "Edward Woodward, Star of Spy Series, Dies at 79". New York Times. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  2. "The Equalizer -". Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  3. Dennis McLellan (November 17, 2009). "OBITUARIES : EDWARD WOODWARD, 1930 - 2009 : British actor starred in TV's 'Equalizer'". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  4. Caroline Rees (June 20, 2013). "The Equalizer: box set review". The Guardian US Edition. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  5. Adam Bernstein Washington Post Staff Writer (November 17, 2009). "Edward Woodward, 79, dies; British actor, spy in 'Equalizer'". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  6. getTV Staff. "10 Surprising Facts About THE EQUALIZER". getTV. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  7. "Memories of Manon", Season 3, Episode 16
  8. "Prisoners of Conscience", Season 4, Episode 17
  9. "Splinters", Season 4, Episode 6
  10. "The Cup", Season 2, Episode 10
  11. "Review/Television; Family Life in a Welfare Hotel on 'The Equalizer'. The New York Times, By John J. O'Connor March 16, 1988
  12. Galbraith, Stuart (May 23, 2017). "The Equalizer: The Complete Collection (plus CI5: The New Professionals - The Complete Series & A Congregation of Ghosts)". DVDTalk.
  13. "The Equalizer – Got a problem? Odds against you? Call for Box Art!". Archived from the original on February 19, 2015. Retrieved December 31, 2014.
  14. "The Equalizer DVD news: DVD Plans for The Equalizer". Archived from the original on June 7, 2013. Retrieved June 1, 2013.
  15. "The Equalizer DVD news: Release Date for The Equalizer – The Complete Season 2". Archived from the original on February 19, 2015. Retrieved December 31, 2014.
  16. "The Equalizer DVD news: Box Art for The Equalizer – The Complete Season 2". Archived from the original on December 29, 2014. Retrieved December 31, 2014.
  17. "The Equalizer DVD Complete Collection Limited Edition". Visual Entertainment, Inc. Archived from the original on December 22, 2014. Retrieved December 31, 2014.
  18. "Fabulous Films". Fabulous Films. Retrieved June 1, 2013.
  19. "Fabulous Films". Retrieved December 31, 2014.
  20. "Search – Umbrella Entertainment". Archived from the original on October 29, 2014. Retrieved March 21, 2013.
  21. Sneider, Jeff (November 4, 2019). "'The Equalizer' TV Series Starring Queen Latifah in the Works at CBS". Collider.
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