Classic TV intros #8: The Equalizer

A regular series looking back on classic TV show intros …

Programme

The Equalizer (88 episodes, 1985-89).

Premise

Former secret agent Robert McCall (Edward Woodward) sets himself up as a New York private detective/trouble-shooter, dispensing sometimes rough justice upon criminals in defence of the helpless and powerless.

The intro

The Equalizer‘s theme tune was created by Stewart Copeland of The Police. It centres on a fast and heavy percussion beat – reminiscent of the kind of rapid heartbeat one might experience in situations of extreme danger – which underpins a simple but eerie synthesizer melody. A quick pan across a portion of the New York skyline at night (the illuminated art deco form of the Chrysler Building is clearly visible) segues into a sequence of people-in-danger scenes accompanied by alarming sounds such as screeching tyres and a crying baby: an aerial shot of a man running from an unseen danger, a man moving in on a lone woman in an elevator, a startled man in a phone box, a woman stranded on a deserted subway platform as a man appears menacingly in front of her, and so on. We then see a brief silhouette of McCall brandishing his trademark Walther PPK/S handgun, followed by a tracking shot underneath the title card which slowly pans around his shadowy figure, stood implacably in front of his Jaguar XJS, before finally illuminating his face.

The combination of music and visuals in this intro is hugely evocative, bringing to life the seedy underbelly which exists after dark in many large cities. From the opening beats, there is no mistaking this show’s take on New York for the ‘bright lights, big city’ of Friends or Ugly Betty. This is an environment every bit as dangerous as the world of espionage McCall left behind him.

Trivia

Stewart Copeland was a particularly appropriate choice of theme composer, given that both his parents worked in the intelligence community. His father, Miles Copeland Jr, was one of the founding members of the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the CIA, while his mother Lorraine worked with British military intelligence during WWII.

Copeland made a brief cameo as a pickpocket in one episode.

Woodward suffered a heart attack in the summer of 1987. Accordingly, the producers needed to find a quick replacement while Woodward recuperated. Robert Mitchum was brought in as an old friend of Robert McCall who helped McCall’s son search for his missing father in the two-part episode Mission: McCall. Richard Jordan was also employed as embittered former operative Harley Gage for eight episodes.

Martin Shaw, who had risen to fame as Doyle on The Professionals, turned down the role of McCall.

In June 2010 it was announced that Russell Crowe was looking to bring The Equalizer to the big screen, with Crowe himself attached to play McCall.

Links: IMDbTV.comWikipedia

Previous classic TV intros

#1 – Knight Rider

#2 – The Sopranos

#3 – Hawaii Five-O

#4 – Life On Mars

#5 – Battlestar Galactica

#6 – Danger Mouse

#7 – Sapphire and Steel

Do you think the intro for this show deserves the status ‘classic’? And do you have a favourite of your own? Watch out for more ‘Classic TV intros’ posts coming soon.

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11 thoughts on “Classic TV intros #8: The Equalizer

  1. Martin Shaw turned down The Equalizer lead role? Well I never.

    It wouldn’t have been the same with him in the role. Now Gordon Jackson would have been a different proposition.

    • Apparently so. It’s hard to imagine how it would have panned out with a 40-year old rather than Woodward, who was about 55 at the start of the series. I suspect they would have made more of Shaw’s youth and physicality in the role – which would have made it a bit more like other shows – whereas Woodward’s McCall wasn’t one to get into punch-ups, which gave the character a very different air. There is a certain world-weariness about the Equalizer we came to know which would have been harder to sell with a younger actor.

      I definitely see where you’re coming from with Jackson, who would have been similar to Woodward (if a few years older).

  2. I’d like to nominate for a “classic” TV intro… Buck Rogers (Season 1) Parodied by South Park and others. It’s memorable, the music goes from an ominous otherworldly tone to post-disco all in the span of a minute. And it had William Conrad narrating!

    • An excellent suggestion, Sam – a real classic of its time, with a fantastic narration. It was already sitting on my list, but I will bump it up the order and try to cover it in the next few weeks.

      • I have both Buck Rogers series on DVD if you want a lend :-) First series a classic, 2nd series not so much, but there was a change in the titles and I can’t remember if it was for good or ill.

        Equalizer did have a great theme tune, I haven’t heard it in many years, but I can still hear it in my head and I have fond memories of being allowed to stay up late to watch it with my Dad.

        • Cheers Gareth. I’ve managed to watch bits of both seasons in the last couple of years, thanks to the wonders of multichannel TV, but I may have to borrow the DVDs from you to view the whole set.

          From what I remember, season two is inferior in pretty much every respect. They changed the format – Buck and Wilma stopped defending Earth and were dispatched on the Searcher (very Star Trek) to seek out lost human colonies (very Battlestar Galactica), several characters were replaced, and the intro and narration changed. Other than that, it was the same … ;-)

  3. I loved The Equalizer! Eighties right? I had a serious crush (a paternal thing probably) for this British take-care-of-everybody’s-business kind of guy. I watched him so carefully that I even remember seeing how he placed a fork and knife on a plate when he finished a meal. This guy had manners in the minutiae.

    • Edward Woodward’s McCall did apparently make for something of a more mature sex symbol, if I remember correctly. He certainly brought a tremendous gravitas and class to the role.

      In exchange, we got Michael Brandon in Dempsey and Makepeace – not an even swap if you ask me! ;-)

  4. Pingback: Classic TV intros #9: Treme « Slouching towards Thatcham

  5. Pingback: Classic TV intros #10: The Six Million Dollar Man « Slouching towards Thatcham

  6. Pingback: Classic TV intros #11: Top Gear « Slouching towards Thatcham

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