Robert McCall is a former agent with the Company.
The exact identity of this intelligence bureau, also referred to as the Agency, is never specified but there is sufficient evidence pointing towards the CIA, if unspoken. McCall was an agent for many, many years but left earlier than normal retirement because he had had enough. Not hurting for money, he has moved to New York City and begun a small one-man crusade to help the underdog get out from under. His reasoning is quite clear to himself - he has done enough bad things on behalf of his "employers" to last several lifetimes and he wants to even things out a bit. This reasoning is not so understandable to some who knew him in the old days, especially the man running the Company's New York office, known only as Control.
"Got a problem? Odds against you? Call the Equalizer" is the advertisement in the newspaper. It gives a phone number in Manhattan where help can be reached, although McCall has obviously learned to never answer the phone directly but let the machine get it and play back messages later. If McCall decides that the caller is legitimate and not, as often is the case, someone looking for a hand out or an acquaintance rubbed out, he will contact the person and schedule a meet in a safe location. Once he takes the case, though, regrets are in store for those he rules deserving of it.
Since McCall is no stranger to the City and many of his former associates, and not a few opponents, live there, he thinks nothing of routinely calling upon them for assistance. Many are less than happy about the calling but some, like his protege and young friend, Mickey Kostmayer, delights in working again with his old mentor and gladly drops whatever he is doing when summoned. Since that is sometimes something Control had him doing, friction can be high between McCall and Control. Nevertheless, the old friendship between McCall and Control goes back a long way and despite his irritations, Control has come to McCall's help himself more than once.
In September 1985, CBS aired the first episode in a new action series starring veteran British actor Edward Woodward. According to one of the creators of the show, the original thought had been to have someone like James Coburn play the character but it was decided that Mr. Woodward would play him. For his part, Mr. Woodward definitely had the credentials especially after having already played the spy Callan on British television from 1967-1972.
The shows would traditionally start with a scene in McCall's Manhattan apartment showing the answering machine recording a new call for help, setting the scene for that night's main adventure. The dialogue was routinely brisk and pithy with lots of jabs at McCall from his old friends and warnings to mind his own business from bad guys and even better retorts from McCall. These rejoinders were often followed up with enough physical action to show how much they were meant.
Playing Control, McCall's former boss and current friend was another veteran actor, Robert Lansing, and his ability to appear mysterious and menacing was as superb as Mr. Woodward's. Throwing in the young but by no means novice agent, Mickey, played with great skill by Keith Szarabajka, and the show was a hit.
There was enough action to satisfy most couch potatoes and enough violence to give pacifists strokes on a weekly basis. The show lasted four years and might have gone on longer had not Mr. Woodward suffered from a heart attack and frail health afterwards. Even bringing in the great Robert Mitchum for a couple of episodes and having Richard Jordan take over for a few more did not save the series. Mr. Woodward did return to the show but only for another season.
The three books in the series that were published were novelizations of several of the episodes. They were published in Britain first. It is unknown if they were ever released in the States.
Note: There are several excellent sites on the web about this series. Any good search engine will take the viewer right to them.