The Eighties Club
The Politics and Pop Culture of the 1980s
Featured Series (E)
 The Equalizer
(CBS, 1985-1989)

Robert McCall
Edward Woodward

Robert Lansing

Mickey Kostmayer
Keith Szarabajka

Scott McCall
William Zabka

Sgt. Alice Shepherd
Chad Redding

Lt. Isadore Smalls
Ron O'Neal

In 1980 two guys by the name of Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim hatched an idea for a television drama called The Equalizer.  When they pitched the idea to CBS, the network discussed James Coburn for the lead role of Robert McCall. But Sloan insisted on a British actor, Edward Woodward.  Having grown up in England, Sloan was familiar with Woodward's work in the long-running British spy series, Callan.  CBS had grave doubts about casting Woodward in the lead. There was no question that he was a talented actor, but he was virtually unknown to American audiences.  Woodward did a film test, and the people at CBS were instantly won over.

Robert McCall is an ex-secret agent who tries to atone for all the things he's done in the past by retiring from "The Company" and helping people who for one reason or another can't get help anywhere else.  Occasionally he employs the services of other Company employees, and remains a close friend to Control (Robert Lansing), who runs the Company's operations.  For the most part the NYPD tolerates his activities, since he can accomplish things the rules prevent them from doing.  In addition, McCall must try to establish a relationship with his son Scott, whom he has not had much to do with for many years.

In the 1980s there were several dramatic series whose main characters were over 50 -- Matlock and Murder, She Wrote come immediately to mind.  However, there was initially some question whether American viewers would accept a rather stout, older gentleman with a British accent in an action role.  It is a credit to Woodward's acting talents that McCall came across as a man to be reckoned with.

The pilot episode aired on September 18, 1985.  Universal Studios brought some of writers/producers from the hit show Miami Vice to work on the series, but The Equalizer was not an overnight sensation.  CBS moved the series from Wednesday to Tuesday and promoted it  heavily on Entertainment Tonight.  The series barely made the cut for a second season.  

In its second season The Equalizer began to get good rating numbers.  In addition to Woodward's talent (he would be nominated for an Emmy as Outstanding Actor in a Drama), the series had several things going for it.  For one thing, it was filmed on location in New York City, giving the show a gritty, realistic look in sharp contrast to the scenery of Magnum P.I. and Miami Vice.  In addition, it had consistently good scripts that dealt with issues of contemporary concern, such as terrorism, gun control and homelessness.  And finally, it had a distinctive soundtrack by Stewart Copeland, formerly of The Police.

During the summer hiatus following the second season, Woodward returned to England to star in the telefilm Codename:Kyril and suffered two heart attacks.  When it was determined that he could return to the series, CBS and Universal attempted to lighten his load by introducing a sidekick named Harley Gage (Richard Jordan.)  But The Equalizer suffered because of Woodward's diminished role, and the show's fans never really accepted the rather unappealing Gage character.  Strong scripts and great guest appearances by the likes of Robert Mitchum, Telly Savalas and Anthony Zerbe sustained the series, however, and it was renewed for a fourth season.

In its fourth season, The Equalizer lost its established time-slot to a CBS pet project called Wiseguy, and was frequently preempted by the network.  The last original episode aired on August 24, 1989.  Since then, The Equalizer has been seen in syndication on USA and A&E.

Series Highlights
Lady Cop (10/16/85)
 A dedicated policewoman finds herself in the midst of a clique of corrupt cops.
Back Home (12/18/85)
 A slum lord is trying to force his tenants out onto the street, so they turn to
McCall for help.
Breakpoint (3/5/86)  
McCall is among the hostages taken when terrorists crash a wedding reception.
Nocturne (10/15/86)  
A blind woman asks McCall for help when the man who raped her eight years earlier begins stalking her again.
Joyride (10/29/86)  
Christian Slater stars as one of two high school kids who steal a hearse only to find the coffin within contains a shipment of cocaine.
Nightscape (11/12/86)  
A woman wants McCall to stop her husband from killing the thugs who raped her on the subway.
Counterfire (11/19/86)  
Mobsters frame McCall for murder to discredit his testimony against them.
Memories of Manon (2/4/87 and 2/11/87)
  A young woman McCall discovers is his daughter asks him to help the man she believes is her father.
A Place To Stay (2/25/87)  
A teenage girl fleeing an abusive father falls prey to pornographers.
Coal Black Soul (5/6/87)  
A serial killer begs McCall to stop him before he kills again.
Sea of Fire (11/2/88)
 McCall takes on a gang terrorizing a school in the Bronx.