Nine p.m. in the ‘80s was a great time to be awake if you were kid. Sure Cooks Mills’ nights just seemed to be that much darker knowing that you had to be at school the next morning, but what better way to put off that impending dread by enjoying the kind of grown up TV entertainment off limits to those kids who couldn’t successfully con their parents into letting them stay up late?
Of course there were the nighttime soaps: “Dynasty”, “Dallas”, “Falcon Crest”, “Knots Landing”. Most of these shows kind of went in one ear and out the other. Sure they were on, but other than a crush on Emma Samms, I never retained much from any of them other than the basics: Dynasty was tuxedos and mansions; Dallas was oil and big hats; Falcon Crest was mansions and something about vineyards; and Knots Landing? Well…did anyone really watch that one?
But ‘80s TV wasn’t just an era for shoulder pads, heavy eye makeup and tortured romantic drama in a mansion; no it was an era for the stylish, follow-no-rules private detective. Now that’s something a young boy could understand.
But there was another kind of show that I was obsessed with then, and still even now; and that’s the concept of the “troubleshooter.” You may remember: You’ve got a problem; the cops can’t help, there’s no one to turn to, so you call…well…how about, from the Sept. 17, 1985, Journal Gazette, Edward Woodward as (pause for dramatic musical sting) The Equalizer!
Seriously, if you want to talk cool opening sequences, you can’t beat this one; a pulsating synth and guitar workout, written by the drummer of The Police, playing over a montage of the best “gritty” city visuals of the time…a woman retreating from a dangerous punk on a dark subway, a man hiding inside a dimly lit phone booth, clearly afraid for his life, an ominous shot of an executive hands placing weights on a scale. But through the fog of night the shadow of Edward Woodward appears, cool as ice, black coat, collar turned up, pistol in hand, while the red “Equalizer” title logo appears like a laser beam across the bottom of the screen!
The show itself? You remember it, right? You should, it ran four seasons, although these days when the average length of a TV network procedural like the god-awful NCIS franchise seems to be what, 15 seasons, a show that’s only on for four years might as well have just been a blip.
Woodward played “Robert McCall,” an older chap with a British accent who has moved to New York City after retiring from an agency known only as “The Company”. To atone for past sins, he sets up his own one-man protection/troubleshooting operation for those who have no other options. And just how do you contact him? Well, through a lone ad in the newspaper’s classified section which only said “Got Problems? Odds against you? Call The Equalizer.”
Poor guy, imagine him having to sit in front of an old answering machine having to sift through all those messages. But each week he’d take on a client who needed protecting from this, that or whatever, usually abusive husbands, stalkers, distraught parents with missing kids, and even the occasional reappearance of old dangers from his “Company” days, helped out only by a network of past clients who owe him favors, and the also just-as-mysterious “Control”, played by Robert Conrad.
My personal favorite episode featured ‘80s rock star Adam Ant as “DeGraumont” and featured the ominous warning to McCall, about to go undercover in “DeGraumont” sleazy child kidnapping operation: “If you say you’ll do ‘x’, you’d better be prepared to do ‘x’”. I don’t have a lot of opportunities in my daily life to use that line, but I try. Trust me, I try."
So obviously similar shows like “The A-Team” and “Knight Rider” became kids’ stuff to me overnight, and you’d better bet I strutted on into Humboldt Grade School each morning after the previous night’s Equalizer feeling like I was way up on everyone else who had to go to bed as soon as, say, “Alf” was over.
Discovering “The Equalizer” led me to seek out other “dangerous loner” programs lurking around 9 p.m.; I certainly found a few. Maybe you did too. Anyone out there remember all seven glorious episodes of “Sable”? Ok…well what about “Midnight Caller”? That was the one about a late night talk radio host who helped out callers by day? Well, surely you remember “Stingray”, which was just like “The Equalizer” except even weirder, with the protagonist named “Ray” (short not for his car, but only for “Raymond”) who had no background at all, whose license plates were untraceable, and who took no payment other than a promise that someday he’d ask you for a favor and no matter what it was, you had to do it. When asked what would happen if the promise wouldn’t be kept he’d only say, “Well…then I lose.” Nice. Oh, and it had an opening theme that may have been even better than the “The Equalizer’s”. “Stingray” only ran 24 episodes. Don’t think it wasn’t going to be my choice of archive item this week, but alas, while the show was mentioned two or three times in the Journal Gazette, no photo.
So, Mr. Woodward, you win this week. Sure the A&E Network has stopped re-running your old episodes every weekday, but as long as there are DVD sets and streaming services, you’ll live forever. And you’re also the reason why, if you anyone spots me out and about, they’ll most likely see that I’m quietly mumbling to myself, narrating my own adventures as “Tracker Hargraves, Central Illinois Troubleshooter” while perusing the string cheese at the grocery store. And just how would my clients get ahold of me for their Coles County problems? By checking the newspaper. Naturally.