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Creative Side--1
Creative Side--2
Creative Side--3

 

  

Creative Side by Richard Lindheim,
co-Creator of The Equalizer
Part II: The Making of the Pilot

EQZ Viewers' Newsline (Winter 1989)

With the casting of Edward Woodward on Friday, pre-production plans for The Equalizer pilot were complete.

There were two unforeseen consequences, however. Edward had just completed the motion picture King David with Richard Gere. To play the role of Saul, Edward had gained weight and grown a beard. In the videotape "reading" for The Equalizer; he was only seen in close-up with beard and glasses. After he was approved by CBS, Edward was instructed to shave the beard and fly immediately to New York, where a production crew and the director were waiting. Production would begin immediately on Monday morning.

Without knowing he had gained weight, the wardrobe crew had selected a light colored raincoat. It made him look even fatter. Moreover, when he shaved the beard, which he had worn for several months and grown fond of, his bare skin was naturally pale. On camera he came across as pasty and unhealthy looking, and his profile bore some resemblance to Alfred Hitchcock.

These minor problems could have been dealt with easily, but they were compounded by others. Trying to adapt to the last minute casting, the line producer and director decided to schedule an action sequence for the first day. It was to be a chase where the "heavies" were pursuing an innocent victim, who ultimately comes to The Equalizer for help. By scheduling this sequence first, there would be little "acting" required in the first day. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate. The production unit drove to Ryker&#39s Island near Manhattan, and were greeted by a downpour upon arrival. It rained so hard that all the vehicles got stuck in the mud. No film could be shot. After the first day of production the show was one day behind schedule. On the second day production began very slowly, fighting rain all the way.

The exposed film was shipped to Los Angeles for processing, and therefore there was a delay of two days before anyone could view the "dailies." The results were poor, only partly because of the weather.

Michael Sloan and I, with the support of Universal, had wanted Rod Holcomb to direct The Equalizer pilot. We had both known Rod from his days as a production assistant at Universal and had given him one of his first directing assignments on "B.J. and the Bear." Since then Rod had become one of the top tier directors in television, but still a very nice man with a real love of television. Rod, however, was just finishing another project and was exhausted. He turned us down. We then decided upon David Hemmings to direct the pilot. David, of course, is an actor, a good background for directors, and a very amiable and talented man. He has since gone on to become an excellent television director. Last year he directed the pilot for In "The Heat Of The Night" and he is currently directing the two-hour pilot for Don Bellisario&#39s new series, "Quantum Leap."

At the time of The Equalizer pilot, however, David was less experienced. This, combined with his British origin, worked against us. David and Edward together seemed to form a proper British-stiff-upper-lip coalition. The locations selected seemed very formal and British-like, and the acting only reinforced this impression. The whole thing looked stiff and cold.

At the studio we were looking at the dailies and feeling uncomfortable. It was not going well at all. The dailies were then being sent to the executives at CBS. We had not heard a word from them. We waited in dismal expectation, while we tried desperately to correct the problems. Re-shooting was already taking place. Then, after four days of production, CBS called.

Politely the program executive asked what we thought of the dailies. We hesitantly replied that there were problems, but we hoped they were being worked out. The conversation then turned to Edward. We agreed that, while his performance was interesting, the wardrobe was not, and there were those makeup problems. Then the executive unloaded a remark that startled me: "I think we should put the beard back on." I replied that we were already behind on production, and would not have the time to allow Edward to grow a beard again. The CBS executive agreed, but offered that a fake beard would work just fine. "They can be made to look quite good," was her position. I refused to consider it, and the conversation turned more hostile. The film dailies on videotape were going to be taken to Harvey Shephard, then head of programming for CBS, along with her recommendation about the beard. The phone call ended abruptly.

Meanwhile, the production unit was shooting a sequence aboard the Roosevelt Island Tram, which connects Manhattan with the small residential island near the East River. We had secured permission to use the tram for one night, and one night only. The sequence was to be the final climactic confrontation between The Equalizer and the bad guys.

It was a production nightmare. The tram was stopped and the actors rehearsed. Then, when we were ready, the tram was started. Everyone had to wait until it stopped swinging, before the Director could yell "action." When he yelled, "cut" everyone had to wait for the tram to stop swinging. By dawn very little had been accomplished. Worse, when the film dailies arrived, all anyone could see outside the tram�s windows was blackness. The whole thing could have been filmed without moving it at all. We had shot all night, lost the use of the tram, and were rewarded with an expensive but totally useless piece of incomplete film.

The next day Harvey Shephard called. He had seen the dailies and was dismayed. Forget the beard. That was the least of the problems. It was reluctantly decided that the only hope for the project would be to replace the director.

Suddenly, our luck changed. Rod Holcomb had taken a brief vacation, was rested, and now interested. Over a weekend he flew to New York, reassessed the situation and took over. Rod instinctively understood the project, and the difference was immediate. The stuffy British feel was gone; the performances were dynamic, and the camera glided and made interesting visual statements. We also had the opportunity to correct Edward&#39s wardrobe. There was a glimmer of optimism.

Over the days the improvement continued in dramatic fashion. For really the first time we could see the potential of the series.

The last sequence to be filmed was that same aborted climax on the Roosevelt Island Tram. But now it had been switched to Battery Park, at the lower end of Manhattan, and the famous Staten Island Ferry. Again the shooting all took place at night, but this time successfully. The last shot took place at dawn, and ironically it was the end of the show. Filmed television shows like motion pictures are never shot in sequence, so it was just coincidence that this happened. The scene was between Robert McCall (Edward Woodward) and Control (Robert Lansing) dockside in front of the old firehouse. Edward has often recounted that, as the camera rolled, a dead body (a real dead body) floated to the surface. It seemed a fitting conclusion.

Now, as Edward returned home to England and the production crew disbanded, the post-production process began in Los Angeles. Michael Sloan had written a long script for an hour pilot, and even with tightening during production itself it was immediately apparent that the pilot was going to be too long. In fact the first editor�s assemblage ran 78 minutes. The final running time required by CBS was around 55 minutes.

As a result, radical surgery was mandated. Whole scenes were deleted; characters were eliminated; even one complete story thread in the pilot was dropped.

First to go was much of the River Cafe sequence. Michael and I had thought it would be desirable on a creative level and efficient for production to have a restaurant where McCall would regularly hang out to meet his clients. In the script, and filmed, were two characters who were to be regulars in the series; the owner, and an entertainer who played the piano and sang. Both disappeared to the editing room floor. This concept, of course, would be revived in the third year of the series.

Next to go was the secondary storyline. In the pilot script Control and the "company" were not willing to let McCall simply resign. Some kind of threat is still implied in the finished pilot, but it was more formidable in the original, with an assassin actually trying to shoot McCall until he turned the tables and reconciled with Control with the quid pro quo that McCall would "help out" once in awhile. There is a faint remnant of that story still in the pilot in a scene at the East River, where McCall meets Control; sitting on a bench in the background is Jerry Stiller, a compatriot of McCall in the pilot In the original script, after Control leaves there was a scene between McCall and Stiller regarding this assassination plot. In the final version Stiller is just a well paid extra.

The elimination of that storyline also excised McCall&#39s wife from the pilot. There was a scene, fully and expensively shot with lots of extras, where McCall meets his ex-wife. That unhappy conversation is interrupted by the assassination attempt with people scattering as bullets fly.

Jim McAdams has attempted several times to find a way of building that existing sequence into an episode of The Equalizer, but with no success to date.

With these cuts the finished pilot was still 62 minutes long. It was decided to leave it this length, and worry about additional editing when and if it went on the air.

The completed picture looked very good to us, but so much had transpired during production we were now uncertain of our judgment. To regain some objectivity we took the completed pilot to Preview House in Los Angeles to test it in front of an audience. The results surprised and delighted us. The audience responded extremely well to the concept, the show, and especially Edward.

All the events of these years, months, and weeks culminated in a screening at CBS. The room that morning was filled with higher and lower executives of the network, and, fortunately for us, some of the executives� secretaries who were curious about seeing the potential new network series.

The screening went well, and at the end there were many complimentary remarks. But I overheard part of a conversation between the head of the network and the program executive who had wanted the beard. The crux was that the network head did not believe anyone would watch a show about a fat middle-aged man.

The program executive subsequently joined us and confirmed that the head was not impressed. "Good try," we were told. "I told you he should have had a beard."

Michael, I, and the studio executives were crushed. All that effort, all that time, all that money was wasted. We drove back to Universal defeated.

But then the unexpected happened. That afternoon we received a phone call from the program executive. She was happy. Returning from lunch, she found all the secretaries talking about The Equalizer: The word all around CBS among the "little people" was very favorable; perhaps the network head was willing to reconsider.

CBS turned the pilot over to their internal testing operation. The results confirmed our Preview House experience, and The Equalizer finally made it to the network schedule.

Now a whole new set of problems arose as we prepared to shoot the series. But that is another story.

Home | 4 New Shows | Equalizer Movie | Duo To Script | Mad Magazine | Get Tough | Welfare Hotel | All New York | New TV Hero |  Creative Side Part 2

Home
4 New Shows
Equalizer Movie
Duo To Script
Mad Magazine
Get Tough
Welfare Hotel
All New York
New TV Hero
Squeeze
Jolly Good Shows
Child Death
Gray Panther
Creative Side--1
Creative Side--2
Creative Side--3

 

  

Creative Side by Richard Lindheim,
co-Creator of The Equalizer
Part II: The Making of the Pilot

EQZ Viewers' Newsline (Winter 1989)

With the casting of Edward Woodward on Friday, pre-production plans for The Equalizer pilot were complete.

There were two unforeseen consequences, however. Edward had just completed the motion picture King David with Richard Gere. To play the role of Saul, Edward had gained weight and grown a beard. In the videotape "reading" for The Equalizer; he was only seen in close-up with beard and glasses. After he was approved by CBS, Edward was instructed to shave the beard and fly immediately to New York, where a production crew and the director were waiting. Production would begin immediately on Monday morning.

Without knowing he had gained weight, the wardrobe crew had selected a light colored raincoat. It made him look even fatter. Moreover, when he shaved the beard, which he had worn for several months and grown fond of, his bare skin was naturally pale. On camera he came across as pasty and unhealthy looking, and his profile bore some resemblance to Alfred Hitchcock.

These minor problems could have been dealt with easily, but they were compounded by others. Trying to adapt to the last minute casting, the line producer and director decided to schedule an action sequence for the first day. It was to be a chase where the "heavies" were pursuing an innocent victim, who ultimately comes to The Equalizer for help. By scheduling this sequence first, there would be little "acting" required in the first day. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate. The production unit drove to Ryker&#39s Island near Manhattan, and were greeted by a downpour upon arrival. It rained so hard that all the vehicles got stuck in the mud. No film could be shot. After the first day of production the show was one day behind schedule. On the second day production began very slowly, fighting rain all the way.

The exposed film was shipped to Los Angeles for processing, and therefore there was a delay of two days before anyone could view the "dailies." The results were poor, only partly because of the weather.

Michael Sloan and I, with the support of Universal, had wanted Rod Holcomb to direct The Equalizer pilot. We had both known Rod from his days as a production assistant at Universal and had given him one of his first directing assignments on "B.J. and the Bear." Since then Rod had become one of the top tier directors in television, but still a very nice man with a real love of television. Rod, however, was just finishing another project and was exhausted. He turned us down. We then decided upon David Hemmings to direct the pilot. David, of course, is an actor, a good background for directors, and a very amiable and talented man. He has since gone on to become an excellent television director. Last year he directed the pilot for In "The Heat Of The Night" and he is currently directing the two-hour pilot for Don Bellisario&#39s new series, "Quantum Leap."

At the time of The Equalizer pilot, however, David was less experienced. This, combined with his British origin, worked against us. David and Edward together seemed to form a proper British-stiff-upper-lip coalition. The locations selected seemed very formal and British-like, and the acting only reinforced this impression. The whole thing looked stiff and cold.

At the studio we were looking at the dailies and feeling uncomfortable. It was not going well at all. The dailies were then being sent to the executives at CBS. We had not heard a word from them. We waited in dismal expectation, while we tried desperately to correct the problems. Re-shooting was already taking place. Then, after four days of production, CBS called.

Politely the program executive asked what we thought of the dailies. We hesitantly replied that there were problems, but we hoped they were being worked out. The conversation then turned to Edward. We agreed that, while his performance was interesting, the wardrobe was not, and there were those makeup problems. Then the executive unloaded a remark that startled me: "I think we should put the beard back on." I replied that we were already behind on production, and would not have the time to allow Edward to grow a beard again. The CBS executive agreed, but offered that a fake beard would work just fine. "They can be made to look quite good," was her position. I refused to consider it, and the conversation turned more hostile. The film dailies on videotape were going to be taken to Harvey Shephard, then head of programming for CBS, along with her recommendation about the beard. The phone call ended abruptly.

Meanwhile, the production unit was shooting a sequence aboard the Roosevelt Island Tram, which connects Manhattan with the small residential island near the East River. We had secured permission to use the tram for one night, and one night only. The sequence was to be the final climactic confrontation between The Equalizer and the bad guys.

It was a production nightmare. The tram was stopped and the actors rehearsed. Then, when we were ready, the tram was started. Everyone had to wait until it stopped swinging, before the Director could yell "action." When he yelled, "cut" everyone had to wait for the tram to stop swinging. By dawn very little had been accomplished. Worse, when the film dailies arrived, all anyone could see outside the tram�s windows was blackness. The whole thing could have been filmed without moving it at all. We had shot all night, lost the use of the tram, and were rewarded with an expensive but totally useless piece of incomplete film.

The next day Harvey Shephard called. He had seen the dailies and was dismayed. Forget the beard. That was the least of the problems. It was reluctantly decided that the only hope for the project would be to replace the director.

Suddenly, our luck changed. Rod Holcomb had taken a brief vacation, was rested, and now interested. Over a weekend he flew to New York, reassessed the situation and took over. Rod instinctively understood the project, and the difference was immediate. The stuffy British feel was gone; the performances were dynamic, and the camera glided and made interesting visual statements. We also had the opportunity to correct Edward&#39s wardrobe. There was a glimmer of optimism.

Over the days the improvement continued in dramatic fashion. For really the first time we could see the potential of the series.

The last sequence to be filmed was that same aborted climax on the Roosevelt Island Tram. But now it had been switched to Battery Park, at the lower end of Manhattan, and the famous Staten Island Ferry. Again the shooting all took place at night, but this time successfully. The last shot took place at dawn, and ironically it was the end of the show. Filmed television shows like motion pictures are never shot in sequence, so it was just coincidence that this happened. The scene was between Robert McCall (Edward Woodward) and Control (Robert Lansing) dockside in front of the old firehouse. Edward has often recounted that, as the camera rolled, a dead body (a real dead body) floated to the surface. It seemed a fitting conclusion.

Now, as Edward returned home to England and the production crew disbanded, the post-production process began in Los Angeles. Michael Sloan had written a long script for an hour pilot, and even with tightening during production itself it was immediately apparent that the pilot was going to be too long. In fact the first editor�s assemblage ran 78 minutes. The final running time required by CBS was around 55 minutes.

As a result, radical surgery was mandated. Whole scenes were deleted; characters were eliminated; even one complete story thread in the pilot was dropped.

First to go was much of the River Cafe sequence. Michael and I had thought it would be desirable on a creative level and efficient for production to have a restaurant where McCall would regularly hang out to meet his clients. In the script, and filmed, were two characters who were to be regulars in the series; the owner, and an entertainer who played the piano and sang. Both disappeared to the editing room floor. This concept, of course, would be revived in the third year of the series.

Next to go was the secondary storyline. In the pilot script Control and the "company" were not willing to let McCall simply resign. Some kind of threat is still implied in the finished pilot, but it was more formidable in the original, with an assassin actually trying to shoot McCall until he turned the tables and reconciled with Control with the quid pro quo that McCall would "help out" once in awhile. There is a faint remnant of that story still in the pilot in a scene at the East River, where McCall meets Control; sitting on a bench in the background is Jerry Stiller, a compatriot of McCall in the pilot In the original script, after Control leaves there was a scene between McCall and Stiller regarding this assassination plot. In the final version Stiller is just a well paid extra.

The elimination of that storyline also excised McCall&#39s wife from the pilot. There was a scene, fully and expensively shot with lots of extras, where McCall meets his ex-wife. That unhappy conversation is interrupted by the assassination attempt with people scattering as bullets fly.

Jim McAdams has attempted several times to find a way of building that existing sequence into an episode of The Equalizer, but with no success to date.

With these cuts the finished pilot was still 62 minutes long. It was decided to leave it this length, and worry about additional editing when and if it went on the air.

The completed picture looked very good to us, but so much had transpired during production we were now uncertain of our judgment. To regain some objectivity we took the completed pilot to Preview House in Los Angeles to test it in front of an audience. The results surprised and delighted us. The audience responded extremely well to the concept, the show, and especially Edward.

All the events of these years, months, and weeks culminated in a screening at CBS. The room that morning was filled with higher and lower executives of the network, and, fortunately for us, some of the executives� secretaries who were curious about seeing the potential new network series.

The screening went well, and at the end there were many complimentary remarks. But I overheard part of a conversation between the head of the network and the program executive who had wanted the beard. The crux was that the network head did not believe anyone would watch a show about a fat middle-aged man.

The program executive subsequently joined us and confirmed that the head was not impressed. "Good try," we were told. "I told you he should have had a beard."

Michael, I, and the studio executives were crushed. All that effort, all that time, all that money was wasted. We drove back to Universal defeated.

But then the unexpected happened. That afternoon we received a phone call from the program executive. She was happy. Returning from lunch, she found all the secretaries talking about The Equalizer: The word all around CBS among the "little people" was very favorable; perhaps the network head was willing to reconsider.

CBS turned the pilot over to their internal testing operation. The results confirmed our Preview House experience, and The Equalizer finally made it to the network schedule.

Now a whole new set of problems arose as we prepared to shoot the series. But that is another story.

Home | 4 New Shows | Equalizer Movie | Duo To Script | Mad Magazine | Get Tough | Welfare Hotel | All New York | New TV Hero | Squeeze | Jolly Good Shows | Child Death | Gray Panther | Creative Side--1 | Creative Side--2 | Creative Side--3

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