"The Equalizer" has all the ingredients of a hit: a road-tested franchise history, a global star as its lead and the kind of gritty action that can still attract a significant audience to network TV. CBS is so high on its prospects that it's airing the series premiere after next Sunday's Super Bowl. Football fans too intoxicated to change the channel are likely to at least take a peek.
"The news was a great boost to our crew that's been working under difficult conditions," series lead Queen Latifah said in a virtual news conference. "This is big stuff."
But the high-profile slot doesn't necessarily guarantee success. Of the scripted shows that were launched after the championship game, only two — "The Wonder Years" and "Family Guy" — enjoyed long runs. The shows that fizzled out quickly include "MacGruder & Loud," "The Good Life" and "Extreme," titles that would stump even "Jeopardy!" champs.
In recent years, networks have avoided spotlighting new series after the game, handing off the night instead to popular reality series and "very special" episodes of established hits. The 2014 episode of "New Girl" featuring Prince and last year's third-season premiere of "The Masked Singer" each attracted more than 26 million viewers; the 2017 debut of "24: Legacy" drew fewer than 18 million.
Still, "Equalizer" has a good shot at being one of few new shows to truly benefit from a Super launch.
The premise — a disenchanted government operative comes to the aid of the downtrodden — has worked well in two films starring Denzel Washington; each grossed over $190 million worldwide.
But the character first came to the screen three decades earlier in a CBS drama starring Edward Woodward. That show's co-creator, Richard Lindheim, who was also involved in developing the reboot, died last month, the day after watching the pilot episode.
Lindheim and the producers were adamant about making the lead a Black woman. According to executive producer Debra Martin Chase, Latifah is only the fourth Black woman to carry a one-hour network drama, following in the footsteps of Teresa Graves, Kerry Washington and Viola Davis. Building a vehicle for the rap trailblazer seems particularly wise for a network that doesn't have a great track record when it comes to diversity.
"To have a Black woman as the face of justice, that's the real special sauce for this moment," said co-creator Andrew Marlowe.
While Woodward and Denzel Washington played men cloaked in mystery, Latifah's Robyn McCall is not shy about leaning on a support system that includes characters played by Chris Noth, Lorraine Toussaint and Adam Goldberg. She suffers from nightmares, wracked with guilt over those she couldn't save during her time with the CIA.
"In Denzel's version and the original version, those characters were much more stoic, more closed off," Latifah said. "Robyn doesn't have that luxury. She has a teenage daughter. She has to figure out how to turn off the soldier in her and turn on the mom."
Not that McCall pulls her punches. Within the first 10 minutes of next week's episode, the hero single-handedly disarms three hooligans with a quip that would have Arnold Schwarzenegger beaming with admiration.
But if "The Equalizer" sticks around as long as "Family Guy" has, it'll be because of McCall's compassion for the underdog.
"People who have it rough, the people who are in line for food, that's who she fights for," Latifah said. "That's who she wants to equalize for."