Classic intros: The Equalizer

Revisiting the mean streets of NYC

The Equalizer‘s mix of both espionage and private investigator elements married to a thumping theme tune and a dark representation of New York’s underbelly made for one of the most memorable intros of the many crime dramas that saturated our TV screens in the 1980s. With a movie remake starring Denzel Washington slated for later this year, now is a good time to revisit the original.


The Equalizer (88 episodes, 1985-89).


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, both of whose parents worked in the intelligence community. 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.

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.

Classic intros

Danger Mouse

Hawaii Five-O

Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister

Top Gear

The Sopranos

Life on Mars

Battlestar Galactica

The Six Million Dollar Man

Knight Rider

The West Wing

Friday Night Lights

2 Comments on Classic intros: The Equalizer

  1. It is a great intro. However, the show that followed was pretty average! Your choices are good but how about some older shows? The Fugitive had a brilliant intro as did the Invaders and pretty nearly every Quinn Martin production. The A-Team (first four seasons) had a killer intro and tune and don’t forget Mission: Impossible which gave you a sneaky peak of that week’s action!

    • Hi GK. On the whole, I’ve tended to stick to more modern shows because both I and most of my audience are more familiar with them. There are some great older ones, though – I’ll probably try to dip into a few of them as I continue!

      To be honest, I can’t remember that much about The Equalizer, having watched it first time round but not since. I quite enjoyed it at the time. Mind you, whenever I’ve gone back to watch favourite series from my youth, I’m always surprised by the pedestrian nature of the story compared to contemporary shows. There aren’t many where I don’t look back and think that they don’t seem quite so great/exciting now. Ah well.

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