Robert McCall (The Equalizer)

Created by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim

Got a problem?
Odds against you?
Call the Equalizer. 212-555-4200.

Sort of an update of the old TV western Have Gun, Will Travel. Need justice? Wire McCall, Manhattan.

That was the premise of The Equalizer, which ran on CBS from 1985 to 1989. Cynical, disillusioned and guilt-ridden, former secret agent ROBERT McCALL took an early retirement, disgusted by the treachery and hypocrisy of his profession. Not hurting for money, he decides to set himself up as a private detective and a one-man “equalizer”, dedicating himself to helping people who really need it, as penance for his previous life. His turf may be the garbage-strewn, grafitti-laden streets and subways of New York City (in all its 1980s glory), but he works out of a swanky Manhattan apartment, drives a Jag, dresses immaculately, and solicits clients through the classified sections of local papers. His background in espionage, detective and bodyguard work stands him in good stead. He sometimes enlists the aid of his former Agency boss, known only as Control. Also occasionally lending a hand, or getting in the way, are Mayer, his sometime assistant; Scott, his impulsive son; Pete O’Phelan, a former female colleague and current owner of a small cafe, and a slew of police contacts.

Basically, it was a revenge fantasy. McCall could be cold-bloodedly efficient, as relentless and single-minded as a shark. And often, just as deadly. More often than not, the real equalizer was his gun. Still, perhaps in response to the criticism levelled at the TV show’s violence, McCall often displayed some surprising bouts of compassion. And, despite some uneven writing, Edward Woodward, as McCall, was always compelling to watch; an icy blend of sang froid effectiveness and frosty pragmatism.

The idea of someone running a vengeance-for-hire business, catering to those who have nowhere else to turn, has been attempted several times since on television, most notably with the exceedingly lame Dellaventura and the far superior, blackly humorous Vengeance Unlimited, which featured a McCall-like figure who enjoyed his work just a bit too much. But none ever matched the level of cold-blooded efficiency that The Equalizer occasionally reached.

A show very much of its time.

LET’S GO TO THE MOVIES!

It was announced in early 2007 that real deal crime writers Terrill Lee Lankford and Michael Connelly were writing a screenplay for a big budget update of the series. The Weinstein Company and Mace Newfeld Productions were set to produce. That all fell through, though, because by December 2013 it had been replaced by a new production, written by Richard Wenk, with Alex Siskind and Escape Artists producing, and Denzel Washington to star as the guilt-ridden British secret agent trying to atone for past sins.

Uh, Denzel?

Apparently it was no joke. The Equalizer made its bloody and violent big screen debut in September 2014, with TV’s classy Brit ex-spy turned avenger-for-hire replaced by an ex-CIA agent turned Home Depot worker and Pip (as in Gladys Knight and the Pips) impersonator played by Washington. Just another dumb, standard action flick fare–any dumber and it would have starred Bruce Wills. But the surprising amount sadistic violence (power tools were involved) was something else again.

So naturally it was a hit, and a few years later, there was a sequel: the even more violent but creatively titled The Equalizer 2, wherein McCall (the economy being what it is) is now a Lyft driver who eventually ends up in Europe to wreak bloody havoc and avenge the death of his old handler.

Washington can be a great actor, and he’s won or been nominated for a slew of Oscars over his long career. None of them, however, were for his work in the Equalizer movies.

AND THEN…

In 2021, CBS decided to re-imagine The Equalizer once more, with Queen Latifah stepping into the role as ROBYN McCALL.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Richard Lindheim is a writer and producer, known for The EqualizerB.J. and the Bear  and The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo, while Michael Sloan, also a writer and producer, also wrote for those shows, as well as McCloud, Simon & SimonColumbo, Quincy M.E.The Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman, Mystery WomanBaywatchHarry OAlfred Hitchcock Presents, The Devlin ConnectionKung Fu: The Legend Continues and The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mysteries.

HELP WANTED

  • Just a question. Where can I find out what kind of gun Robert McCall used on The Equalizer? Was it a Beretta? A Walther PPK?
    Terrell Manasco

TELEVISION

 

  • THE EQUALIZER Buy the complete series on DVD
    (1985-89, CBS)
    88 60-minute episodes
    Created by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim
    Writers: Michael Sloan, Robert Crais, Grenville Casey, Donna Powers, Wayne Powers
    Directors: Richard A. Colla, Richard Compton, James A. Contner, Mario DiLeo, Gordon Hessler, Rod Holcomb, Tobe Hooper, Leon Ichaso, David Jackson, Jim Johnston, Paul Krasny, Marc Laub, Aaron Lipstadt, Bradford May, Russ Mayberry, Alan Metzger, Michael O’Herlihy, Jonathan Perry, Donald Petrie, James Sheldon, Mark Sobel, Luis Soto, Tony Wharmby
    Producer: Alan Barnette
    Executive Producer: James McAdams
    A Universal Television Production
    Theme by Stewart Copeland
    Starring Edward Woodward as ROBERT McCALL
    Also starring Robert Lansing as Control
    William Zabka as SCOTT MCCALL
    Maureen Anderman as Pete O’Phelan (1987-1989)
    Melissa Sue Anderson as Yvette Marcel (1987-1988)
    Eddie Jones as Lieutenant Brannigan (1989)
    Richard Jordan as Harley Gage (1987-1988)
    Ron O’Neal as Lieutenant Isadore Smalls (1986-1987)
    Chad Redding as Sergeant Alice Shepard (1987-1989)
    Keith Szarabajka as Mickey Kostmayer (1986-1989)
    Steven Williams as Lieutenant Jefferson Burnett (1985)
    Mark Margolis as Jimmy
    and Irving Metzman as Sterno
    Guest stars: Robert Mitchum, Paul Jabara, Jerry Stiller, Melissa Leo, Adam Ant, Lori Petty, J.T. Walsh, Esai Morales, Will Patton, Burt Young, Ed O’Neill, Bill Cobbs, Adam Horovitz, Charles Dutton, Tovah Feldshuh, Ray Sharkey, Fred Williamson, Marisa Berenson, Sandy Dennis, Sylvia Miles, James Murtaugh, Melissa Joan Hart, Gwen Verdon, Tony Shalhoub, Laurie Metcalf, D.W. Moffett, Jon Polito, Kathleen Lloyd, Tony Musante, Jennifer Grey, Christian Slater, William Sadler, Charles Cioffi, James Remar, Anthony Zerbe, Lindsay Crouse, Kevin Spacey, Ed Lauter , Chris Elliott, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Stewart Copeland, John Goodman, David Johansen, Telly Savalas, Oliver Platt, Michael Moriarty, Amanda Plummer, Macaulay Culkin, Lisa Eichhorn, Michael Lerner, Michael Rooker, E.G. Marshall, Stanley Tucci, Keith David, David Strathairn, Hector Elizondo, George Plimpton, Pat Hingle, Laura San Giacomo, Maureen Stapleton , Ving Rhames

    • Season One Buy this season on DVD
    • “The Equalizer” (September 18, 1985)
    • “China Rain” (September 25, 1985)
    • “The Defector” (October 2, 1985)
    • “The Lock Box” (October 9, 1985)
    • “Lady Cop” (October 16, 1985)
    • “The Confirmation Day” (October 23, 1985)
    • “The Children’s Song” (October 30, 1985)
    • “The Distant Fire” (November , 1985)
    • “Mama’s Boy” (November 13, 1985)
    • “Bump and Run” (November 20, 1985)
    • “Desperately” (December 4, 1985)
    • “Reign of Terror” (December 11, 1985)
    • “Back Home” (December 18, 1985)
    • “Out of the Past” (January 15, 1986)
    • “Dead Drop” (January 22, 1986)
    • “Wash Up” (January 29, 1986)
    • “Torn” (February 5, 1986)
    • “Unnatural Causes” (February 12, 1986)
    • “Breakpoint” (February 19, 1986)
    • “No Conscience” (March 5, 1986)
    • “Unpunished Crimes” (April 1, 1986)
    • “Pretenders” (April 8, 1986)
    • Season Two Buy this season on DVD
    • “Prelude” (October 8, 1986)
    • “Nocturne” (October 15, 1986)
    • “A Community of Civilized Men” (October 22, 1986)
    • “Joyride” (October 29, 1986)
    • “Shades of Darkness” (November 5, 1986)
    • “Nightscape” (November 12, 1986)
    • “Counterfire” (November 19, 1986)
    • “The Line” (November 26, 1986)
    • “Tip On a Sure Thing” (December 3, 1986)
    • “The Cup” (December 10, 1986)
    • “Heartstrings” (December 17, 1986)
    • “High Performance” (January 7, 1987)
    • “Beyond Control” (January 14, 1987)
    • “Carnal Persuasion” (January 21, 1987)
    • “Memories of Manon, Part1” (February 4, 1987)
    • “Memories of Manon, Part 2” (February 11, 1987)
    • “Solo” (February 18, 1987)
    • “A Place To Stay” (February 25, 1987)
    • “Coal Black Soul” (May 6, 1987)
    • “First Light” (May 13, 1987)
    • “Hand and Glove” (May 20, 1987)
    • “Re-Entry” (May 27,1987)
    • Season Three Buy this season on DVD
    • “Blood & Wine, Part 1” (September 23, 1987)
    • “Blood & Wine, Part 2” (September 23, 1987)
    • “Suspicion of Innocence” (September 30, 1987)
    • “In the Money” (October 7, 1987)
    • “Encounter in a Closed Room” (October , 1987)
    • “Mission: McCall, Part 1” (October 28, 1987)
    • “Mission: McCall, Part 2” (November 4, 1987)
    • “Shadow Play” (November 11, 1987)
    • “Inner View” (November 18, 1987)
    • “The Rehearsal” (December 2, 1987)
    • “Christmas Presence” (December 16, 1987)
    • “A Dance on the Dark Side” (January 13, 1988)
    • “The Child Broker” (January 20, 1988)
    • “Video Games” (January 27, 1988)
    • “Something Green” (February 10, 1988)
    • “The Mystery of Manon, Part 1” (February 17, 1988)
    • “The Mystery of Manon, Part 2” (February 24, 1988)
    • “No Place Like Home” (March 16, 1988)
    • “Last Call” (March 23, 1988)
    • “Regrets Only” (March 30, 1988; AKA “A Family Obsession”)
    • “Target of Choice” (April 6, 1988)
    • “Always a Lady” (May 4, 1988)
    • Season Four Buy this season on DVD
    • “The Last Campaign” (October 26, 1988)
    • “Sea of Fire” (November 2, 1988)
    • “Riding the Elephant” (November 9, 1988)
    • “Eighteen With a Bullet” (November 16, 1988)
    • “The Day of the Covenant” (December 7, 1988)
    • “Splinters” (December 14, 1988)
    • “The Making of a Martyr” (January 11, 1989)
    • “The Sins of Our Fathers” (January 18, 1989)
    • “The Visitation” (February 1, 1989)
    • “Past Imperfect” (February 15, 1989)
    • “Trial By Ordeal” (March 1, 1989)
    • “Silent Fury” (March 8, 1989)
    • “Lullaby of Darkness” (March 30, 1989)
    • “17 Zebra” (April 6, 1989)
    • “Starfire” (April 13, 1989)
    • “Time Present, Time Past” (April 20, 1989)
    • “Prisoners of Conscience” (April 27, 1989)
    • “The Caper” (May 4,1989)
    • “Heart of Justice” (May ,1989)
    • “Race Traitors” (June 11, 1989)
    • “Endgame” (August 10, 1989)
    • “Suicide Squad” (August 24, 1989)

FILMS

  • THE EQUALIZER | Buy on DVD Buy on Blu-Ray Watch it now!
    (2014, Columbia)
    Based on characters created by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim
    Written by Richard Wenk, Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim
    Directed by Antoine Fuqua
    Starring Denzel Washington as ROBERT McCALL
    Also starring Marton Csokas,Chloe Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Haley Bennett,†Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, David Meunier, Johnny Skourtis, Alex Veadov, Vladimir Kulich, E. Roger Mitchell, James Wilcox, Mike O’Dea, Anastasia Sanidopoulos Mousis, Allen Maldonado, Rhet Kidd, Mike Morrell
    TV’s classy Brit ex-spy turned avenger-for-hire, played with grim, chilly perfection by Edward Woodward, becomes a shucking-and-jiving ex-CIA agent turned Home Depot worker and Pip impersonator played by Denzel Washington. The whole things directed by Antoine Fuqua, who previously teamed up with Washington in the Oscar-winning Training Day, but this blood-soaked snot rag is so excessively and gratuitously violent you have to wonder what they were thinking. (So what do I know? Turns out that’s exactly what moviegoers wanted…)
  • THE EQUALIZER 2 | Buy on DVD Buy on Blu-Ray Watch it now!
    (2018, Columbia)
    Based on characters created by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim
    Written by Richard Wenk
    Directed by Antoine Fuqua
    Starring Denzel Washington as ROBERT McCALL
    Also starring Bill Pullman, Orson Bean, Melissa Leo, Jonathan Scarfe
    More blood and gore, but less power tools… this time Denzel’s an Uber driver.

NOVELIZATIONS

  • Equalizer (1987, by David Deutsch) Buy this book
  • Equalizer #2: To Even the Odds (1987, by David Deutsch) Buy this book
  • Equalizer #3: Blood and Wine (1988, by David Deutsch) Buy this book

NOVELS

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks, Belinda.

3 thoughts on “Robert McCall (The Equalizer)

    1. Well, after stripping the original concept down, down, down to the point where it would fit Denzel’s phone-it-in shuck’n’jive better, there’s not much left to preserve. And Queen Latifah isn’t the worst choice in the world–she could be an interesting blend of compassion and grit. A female Equalizer might work, assuming we forget all about the original character. It could be worse–it could be Adam Sandler.

      I just wish the film and television industry had more writers and producers who could actually imagine, not just re-imagine.

  1. I use to watch this show when it aired in Egypt during the 90s and it still holds up with its mixture of action, a modern 80s-90s update of the private eye genre, vigilante justice (though toned down to the point McCall is more like Batman than say The Punisher), political intrigue and some social commentary that still feels relevant today.

    I also seen the Denzel Washington films too, they were fun action films but not really a proper revival of the series since they made McCall seem more like a typical over the top action hero than the TV incarnation was. Just take them as an alternative universe version of the series.

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