The Equalizer
Created by
  • Michael Sloan
  • Richard Lindheim
Opening themeStewart Copeland
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons4
No. of episodes88 (list of episodes)
Executive producers
  • James Duff McAdams
  • Michael Sloan
  • Dan Lieberstein
  • Marc Laub
  • Stuart Cohen
  • Alan Barnette
  • Mark Sobel
  • Edward Adler
  • Alan Metzger
  • Joe Boston
Running time46-48 minutes
Production companyUniversal Television
Original release
ReleaseSeptember 18, 1985 (1985-09-18) –
August 24, 1989 (1989-08-24)
The Equalizer (re-imagined series)

The Equalizer is an American spy thriller television series, originally airing on CBS from September 18, 1985, to August 24, 1989; which was co-created by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim. It starred Edward Woodward as Robert McCall, 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 find themselves in dangerous circumstances, while sometimes also dealing with people from his past in covert operations who want to pull him back in or settle old scores. The show has inspired two further works, including three feature films and a re-imagined series.

Series plot elements

The series stars 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 tries 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 the business in the pilot episode, the nickname "Equalizer" was revealed as bestowed on him by an operative named "Brahms", played by Jerry Stiller.[2]

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 officials 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 for which McCall used to work.[2] As a general rule, however, the people responding to the newspaper ad were unremarkable, average, and unknown.[6][5]

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

Cast and characters



Notable guest stars

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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", in which William Zabka appears as McCall's son Scott. 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 Guzmán. 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. 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, Tomas Milian (twice), 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, Stanley Tucci, 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, William Hickey, Lori Loughlin, Michael Wincott, Tony Shalhoub, Anthony Zerbe, Michael Cerveris, William Atherton, 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.

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. Other episodes were scored by John Cacavas.


Main article: List of The Equalizer (1985 TV series) episodes

SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast aired
122September 18, 1985April 8, 1986
222October 8, 1986May 27, 1987
322September 23, 1987May 4, 1988
422October 26, 1988August 24, 1989

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 Equalizer crew as its dark tone was much different than Magnum's much lighter and sunnier style. Ultimately the episode was never filmed, but its script was adapted and changed, ultimately airing as the episode "Beyond Control".


Television ratings

Nielsen ratings per season of The Equalizer
Season Episodes First aired Last aired TV
Rank Avg. HH
Date HH
Date HH
1 22 September 18, 1985 18.3[13] April 8, 1986 10.8[14] 1985–86 63[15] 12.6[15]
2 22 October 8, 1986 17.0[16] May 27, 1987 13.4[17] 1986–87 36[18] 15.4[18]
3 22 September 23, 1987 14.4[19] May 4, 1988 11.9[20] 1987–88 54[21] 12.8[21]
4 22 October 26, 1988 11.9[22] August 24, 1989 8.2[23] 1988–89 66[24] 11.0[24]

Critical response

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".[25] However, for People, Jeff Jarvis wrote, "The plot’s confusing and the show’s as erratic as a pacemaker on low batteries".[26]


The series was translated into Afrikaans for broadcast through South Africa's SABC as Die laaste uitweg.

The series was broadcast throughout the Arab World with Arabic subtitles during the 1990s, like in Egypt through Channel 2 and Saudi Arabia through Saudi 2.[27]

Home media

On February 12, 2008, Universal Studios released Season 1 of The Equalizer on DVD in Region 1 (US only).[28]

On May 15, 2013, it was announced that Visual Entertainment had acquired the rights to the series in Region 1.[29] They subsequently released season 2 on DVD on August 26, 2014.[30][31] 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.[32] 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.[32]

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.[33] On May 27, 2013, Fabulous Films released The Equalizer: The Complete Collection on DVD.[34] 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 fact nearly 50 percent 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.[35]

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 series

Main articles: The Equalizer (film), The Equalizer 2, and The Equalizer 3

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.

A third film titled The Equalizer 3 with Washington and director Antoine Fuqua returning[36][37] was released on September 1, 2023.

2021 television revival series

Main article: The Equalizer (2021 TV series)

In November 2019, CBS announced that a reboot was in development with Queen Latifah in the lead role as Robyn McCall. Andrew Marlowe and Terri Miller were named as showrunners with Latifah herself as an executive producer.[38] On January 27, 2020, CBS issued a pilot order for the new version.[39]

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.[40]

On May 8, 2020, CBS picked up the series[41] and they added Chris Noth as William Bishop, a quirky ex-CIA director who is the opposite of Latifah.[42] It premiered on February 7, 2021, after Super Bowl LV.[43]


A collection of novels featuring Robert McCall has 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.[44] 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, Equalizer: Requiem was released in 2020.[45]

See also


  1. ^ Weber, Bruce (November 17, 2009). "Edward Woodward, Star of Spy Series, Dies at 79". New York Times. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d "The Equalizer -". Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  3. ^ McLellan, Dennis (November 17, 2009). "OBITUARIES : EDWARD WOODWARD, 1930 - 2009 : British actor starred in TV's 'Equalizer'". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c Rees, Caroline (June 20, 2013). "The Equalizer: box set review". The Guardian US Edition. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  5. ^ a b 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. ^ "NBC takes final week of off-season ratings". Broadcasting. Vol. 109, no. 14. September 30, 1985. p. 98. ProQuest 1014707073.
  14. ^ "It's all NBC in the prime time ratings". Broadcasting. Vol. 110, no. 16. April 21, 1986. p. 94. ProQuest 1014721898.
  15. ^ a b "How they fared in '85-86: prime time program performance". Broadcasting. Vol. 110, no. 17. April 28, 1986. p. 36. ProQuest 1016901233.
  16. ^ "NBC keeps on rolling". Broadcasting. Vol. 111, no. 16. October 20, 1986. p. 38. ProQuest 1014736998.
  17. ^ "NBC continues summer winning streak". Broadcasting. Vol. 112, no. 23. June 8, 1987. p. 58. ProQuest 1016927329.
  18. ^ a b "The prime time show rankings for '86-'87". Broadcasting. Vol. 112, no. 17. April 27, 1987. p. 54. ProQuest 1014717670.
  19. ^ "Nielsen ratings". Life. USA Today. September 30, 1987. p. 3D. ProQuest 305922933.
  20. ^ "Nielsen ratings". Life. USA Today. May 11, 1988. p. 3D. ProQuest 306031582.
  21. ^ a b "The final season ratings". Life. USA Today. April 20, 1988. p. 3D. ProQuest 306041466.
  22. ^ "Nielsen ratings". Life. USA Today. November 2, 1988. p. 3D. ProQuest 306129406.
  23. ^ "'Baywatch' bonus for NBC". Life. USA Today. August 30, 1989. p. 3D. ProQuest 306214086.
  24. ^ a b Written at New York City. "Final 1988–89 season ratings compiled". Arizona Daily Star. Tucson. Associated Press. April 20, 1989. p. B-11 – via
  25. ^ "Vigilante With Verve". Washington Post. Retrieved December 26, 2019.
  26. ^ "Picks and Pans Review: The Equalizer". Retrieved December 26, 2019.
  27. ^ "مسلسل بوليسي قديم (The Equalizer ) القناة السعودية الثانيه". YouTube.
  28. ^ "The Equalizer – Got a problem? Odds against you? Call for Box Art!". Archived from the original on February 19, 2015. Retrieved December 31, 2014.
  29. ^ "The Equalizer DVD news: DVD Plans for The Equalizer". Archived from the original on June 7, 2013. Retrieved June 1, 2013.
  30. ^ "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.
  31. ^ "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.
  32. ^ a b "The Equalizer DVD Complete Collection Limited Edition". Visual Entertainment, Inc. Archived from the original on December 22, 2014. Retrieved December 31, 2014.
  33. ^ "Fabulous Films". Fabulous Films. Retrieved June 1, 2013.
  34. ^ "Fabulous Films". Retrieved December 31, 2014.
  35. ^ "Search – Umbrella Entertainment". Archived from the original on October 29, 2014. Retrieved March 21, 2013.
  36. ^ Morales, Wilson (January 12, 2022). "Exclusive: Denzel Washington Will Start Shooting The Equalizer 3 With Antoine Fuqua In 2022". Retrieved January 12, 2022.
  37. ^ Fraser, Kevin (January 12, 2022). "The Equalizer 3: Denzel Washington will reunite with Antoine Fuqua for sequel". Retrieved January 12, 2022.
  38. ^ Sneider, Jeff (November 4, 2019). "'The Equalizer' TV Series Starring Queen Latifah in the Works at CBS". Collider.
  39. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (January 27, 2020). "'The Equalizer Reboot Starring Queen Latifah Gets CBS Pilot Order". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved February 3, 2020.
  40. ^ "Development Update" from The Futon Critic (March 13, 2020)
  41. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (May 8, 2020). "Dramas 'The Equalizer' With Queen Latifah & 'Clarice', Chuck Lorre Comedy 'B Positive' Picked Up To Series By CBS". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved May 8, 2020.
  42. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (May 8, 2020). "Chris Noth Joins Queen Latifah In 'The Equalizer' CBS Series". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved May 8, 2020.
  43. ^ Andreeva, Nellie; Petski, Denise (December 3, 2020). "'The Equalizer' Starring Queen Latifah Lands Post-Super Bowl Slot On CBS; 'FBI' Midseason Return Set Post-AFC Championship Game". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved December 3, 2020.
  44. ^ "Killed in Action". Goodreads, Inc.
  45. ^ "Equalizer: Requiem". Goodreads, Inc.