Max Headroom (TV series)

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Max Headroom
MaxheadroomMpegMan.jpg
Max Headroom in a promotion for Cinemax
Genre Science fiction
Drama
Created by Annabel Jankel
Rocky Morton
George Stone
Written by Steve Roberts
David Brown
Michael Cassutt
James Crocker
Joe Gannon
Adrian Hein
Rebecca Parr
Martin Pasko
Chris Ruppenthal
Arthur Sellers
Starring See Cast
Country of origin United Kingdom
United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 2
No. of episodes 14 (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s) Peter Wagg
Producer(s) Brian E. Frankish
Peter Wagg
Camera setup Single-camera
Running time 45–48 minutes
Production company(s) Chrysalis/Lakeside
Lorimar-Telepictures
Distributor Warner Bros. Television
Broadcast
Original channel ABC
Original run March 31, 1987 (1987-03-31)  – May 5, 1988 (1988-05-05)
Chronology
Related shows Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future

Max Headroom is a British-produced American satirical science fiction television series by Chrysalis Visual Programming and Lakeside Productions for Lorimar-Telepictures that aired in the United States on ABC from March 1987 to May 1988. The series was based on the Channel 4 British TV pilot produced by Chrysalis, Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future. The series is often mistaken as an American-produced show due to the setting and its use of an almost entirely American cast along with being broadcast in the United States on the ABC network. Cinemax aired the UK pilot followed by a six-week run of highlights from The Max Headroom Show, a music video show where Headroom appears between music videos. ABC took an interest in the pilot and asked Chrysalis/Lakeside to produce the series for American audiences.

The show went into production in late 1986 and ran for six episodes in the first season with eight being produced in season two.

Television series[edit]

In 1987, the story told in Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future, a made-for-television movie shot in 1985, formed the basis of a drama television series. The film was re-shot as a pilot program for a new series broadcast by the U.S.-based ABC television network. The pilot featured plot changes and some minor visual touches, but retained the same basic storyline. The only original cast retained for the U.S. version series were Matt Frewer (Max Headroom/Edison Carter) and Amanda Pays (Theora Jones); a third original cast member, W. Morgan Sheppard, joined the series as "Blank Reg" in later episodes. Among the non-original cast, Jeffrey Tambor co-starred as "Murray", Edison Carter's neurotic producer.

The series is set in a futuristic dystopia ruled by an oligarchy of television networks. Even the government functions primarily as a puppet state of the network executives, serving mainly to pass laws — such as banning "off" switches on televisions — that protect and consolidate the networks' power. Television technology has advanced to the point that viewers' physical movements and thoughts can be monitored through their television sets; however, almost all non-television technology has been discontinued or destroyed. The only real check on the power of the networks is Edison Carter, a crusading investigative journalist who regularly exposes the unethical practices of his own employer, and the team of allies both inside and outside the system who assist him in getting his reports to air and protecting him from the forces that wish to silence or kill him.

The series began as a mid-season replacement in spring of 1987, and did well enough to be renewed for the fall television season, but the viewer ratings could not be sustained, due perhaps to direct competition with CBS's Top 20 hit Dallas (also produced by Lorimar) and NBC's Top 30 hit Miami Vice. Max Headroom was canceled part-way into its second season; the entire series, along with two leftover episodes, was rerun in spring 1988, during the Writers Guild of America strike. A cinema spin-off titled Max Headroom for President was announced with production intended to start in early 1988 in order to capitalize on that year's U.S. presidential election,[1] but it was never made.

Comico comics also had plans to publish a graphic novel based on the story, but never fulfilled them. A few posters were produced for comic shops, with a picture of Max Headroom saying comics will never be the same again.

Characters[edit]

Max Headroom[edit]

Edison Carter[edit]

Edison Carter (Matt Frewer) was a hard-hitting reporter for Network 23, who sometimes uncovered things that his superiors in the network would have preferred kept private. Eventually, one of these instances required him to flee his workspace, upon which he was injured in a motorcycle accident in a parking lot. Bryce Lynch uploaded a copy of his mind into a computer, giving birth to the character Max Headroom, as the last words seen by Edison Carter before impact were "Max Headroom," specifying vehicle clearance height in the parking lot.

The series depicted very little of the past described by Edison, though he did meet a female televangelist (whom he once dated when his reporting put him at odds with the Vu Age Church that she now headed) and a former colleague/rival who later died (and whose death sent Edison off on close to a rampage to avenge that death).

Edison cares about his co-workers, especially Theora Jones and Bryce Lynch, and he has a deep respect for his producer Murray (although he rarely shows it).

According to a personal statistics file displayed on a computer screen in the series, Edison is 6'2", weighing 180 pounds.

Theora Jones[edit]

Theora Jones was played by Amanda Pays and first appeared in the British-made television pilot film for the series. Along with Matt Frewer and W. Morgan Sheppard, Pays was one of only three cast members to also appear in the American-made series that followed.

Theora was Network 23's star controller ("stolen" from the World One Network by Murray) and, working with the network's star reporter, Edison Carter, she often helped save the day for everyone. She was also the pseudo-love-interest of Edison Carter, but that subplot was not explored fully on the show before it was cancelled.

Network 23's personnel files list her father as unknown, her mother as deceased, and her brother as Shawn Jones; Shawn is the focus on the second episode broadcast, "Rakers".

Bryce Lynch[edit]

Bryce Lynch (Chris Young), a child prodigy and computer hacker, is Network 23's one-man technology research department.

His birthdate is shown on-screen to be October 7, 1988.

In the stereotypical hacker ethos, Bryce has few principles and fewer loyalties. He seems to accept any task, even morally questionable ones, as long as he is allowed to have the freedom to play with technology however he sees fit. This, in turn, makes him a greater asset to the technological needs and demands of the network, and the whims of its executives and stars. However, he also generally does not hurt or infringe on others, making him an uncannily neutral character in the Max Headroom universe.

In the pilot episode of the series, Bryce is enlisted by evil network CEO Ned Grossberg (Charles Rocket, another non-original cast member) to investigate the mental patterns of unconscious reporter Edison Carter, to determine whether or not Carter has discovered the secrets of the "Blipverts" scandal. Bryce uploads the contents of Carter's memory into the Network 23 computer system, and manages to boot them as a computer program. The resulting personality, an unhinged and unrepressed version of Carter's personality, is dubbed "Max Headroom" after his first words (the last words seen by Carter before being knocked unconscious by a parking-garage security gate). Ironically, it had been Bryce, following orders from Grossberg, who fought a hacking battle of sorts (a la the opening scene to Hackers) with Theora Jones that led to Edison hitting his head on a traffic barrier and falling unconscious.

After the first episode, Bryce is generally recruited by Carter and his controller, Theora Jones, to provide technical aid to their investigative reporting efforts.

Bryce is seen outside of his laboratory in just six episodes.

Blank Reg[edit]

Blank Reg was played by W. Morgan Sheppard, one of only three cast members to also appear in the American-made series that followed.

Reg is a "blank", a person not indexed in the government's database. He broadcasts the underground Big Time Television Network from his bus. He is a good friend of Edison Carter, and saves him on more than one occasion. With cohort Dominique, he operates and is the onscreen voice of Big Time television, "All day every day, making tomorrow seem like yesterday."

He dresses in a punk style and has a Mohawk haircut. His personality could be considered energetic. He also has a strong nostalgic streak, defending antiquated music videos and printed books in equal measure.

Ned Grossberg[edit]

Ned Grossberg is a recurring villain on the series, played by former Saturday Night Live cast member Charles Rocket.

In the UK telefilm Max Headroom: 20 Minutes Into the Future upon which the American series was based, the character was called Grosman and was played by Nickolas Grace. Rocket portrayed Grossberg as an American yuppie with a characteristic facial and neck-stretching twitch.

In the pilot episode, Grossberg is the chairman of Network 23, a major city television station with the highest rated investigative news show in town, hosted by Edison Carter. In the Max Headroom world, real-time ratings equal advertising dollars, and advertisements have replaced stocks as the measure of corporate worth.

Grossberg, with his secret prodigy Bryce Lynch, develops a high-speed advertising delivery method known as Blipverts, which condenses full advertisements into a few seconds. When Carter discovers that Blipverts are killing people, Grossberg orders Lynch to prevent Carter from getting out of the building. Knocked unconscious, Carter's memories are extracted into a computer by Lynch in order to determine whether Carter uncovered Grossberg's knowledge of the danger of Blipverts. The resulting computer file of the memory-extraction process becomes Max Headroom, making Grossberg directly responsible for the creation of the character.

In the end, Grossberg is publicly exposed as responsible for the Blipverts scandal, and is removed as chairman of Network 23.

A few episodes later, in "Grossberg's Return", Grossberg reappears as a board member of Network 66. Again, he invents a dubious advertising medium and convinces the chairman of the network to adopt it. When the advertising method is shown to be a complete fraud, the resulting public reaction against the network leads to the chairman being removed, and Grossberg manages to assume the chairmanship.

When under stress, Grossberg exhibits a tic of slightly stretching his neck in his suit's collar, first seen in episode 1 when he confronts Lynch in his lab regarding Max retaining Carter's memory about the blipverts.

Other characters[edit]

  • Murray McKenzie (Jeffrey Tambor), Carter's high-strung producer, whose job often becomes a balancing act between supporting Carter's stories and pleasing Network 23's executives.
  • Ben Cheviot (George Coe), one of the executives on Network 23's Board of Directors. He becomes the board's new Chairman after Ned Grossberg is fired in the wake of the Blipvert incident. He is surprisingly ethical and almost invariably backs Edison Carter, occasionally against the wishes of the Network 23 board of directors.
  • Dominique (Concetta Tomei), co-proprietor of Big Time TV along with Blank Reg, managing the business aspects of running the station. It is implied that she and Reg are romantically involved, if not husband and wife—although, until events following Reg's arrest and imprisonment, they have never touched. Dominique may not be a blank like Reg, as she possesses credit tubes, but she behaves culturally as one.
  • Brueghel (Jere Burns), an intelligent, sociopathic criminal-for-hire who, along with Mahler, makes money disposing of corpses for other criminals by selling them to body banks around the city. However, he is not above selling out his employers if it means a big payoff, a fact which Edison Carter takes advantage of on several occasions while working on stories.
  • Mahler (Rick Ducommun), Brueghel's accomplice, who serves primarily as the muscle of the duo's body-harvesting operation. In "Dream Thieves", it is revealed that Brueghel killed Mahler and sold off his body during a slow night of business, and replaced him with a new man whom he nicknamed "Mahler" as a mocking tribute.
  • Rik (J.W. Smith), a streetwise pedicab driver whom Edison Carter frequently employs when looking for information about the city's underworld.
  • Blank Bruno (Peter Crook), a revolutionary Blank who works to make life better for the city's Blank population by any means necessary. He has a pet toad which he calls "Gob".
  • Martinez (Ricardo Gutierrez), one of Network 23's helicopter pilots, he often works with Carter when he is out on assignment.
  • Janie Crane (Lisa Niemi), one of Network 23's second-tier reporters, who ends up breaking a few important stories of her own throughout the series.
  • Angie Barry (Rosalind Chao), one of Network 23's second-tier reporters. She often fills in for Carter when he is indisposed.
  • Julia Formby (Virginia Kiser), one of Network 23's board members. In "Body Banks", it is revealed that she once had an affair with Cheviot, for which she is blackmailed by a wealthy member of the Plantagenet family into stealing Max Headroom from Network 23 in the hope that Max's program might be used to preserve the mind of his mother. She resigns from the board after the incident.
  • Gene Ashwell (Hank Garrett), one of Network 23's board members, who frequently panics when the network faces a crisis. It is revealed in "Deities" that he is a member of the Vu-Age Church, and is responsible for kidnapping Max on behalf of the church's leader.
  • Ms. Lauren (Sharon Barr), one of Network 23's board members.
  • Mr. Edwards (Lee Wilkof), one of Network 23's board members.
  • Simon Peller (Sherman Howard), a corrupt politician who receives financial backing from Network 23. He shares a mutual animosity with Carter, who despises Peller's underhanded political tactics.
  • Mr. Bartlett (Andreas Katsulas), one of the board members of Network 66. An incautious risk-taker, he frequently becomes directly involved in the network's shady projects, going behind even Ned Grossberg's back on occasion.
  • Ped Xing (Arsenio Trinidad, Season 1 / Sab Shimono, Season 2), the head of the Zik-Zak corporation, Network 23's primary sponsor.

Episode listing[edit]

Season 1: 1987[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Original air-date
1 "Blipverts" Story by: Steve Roberts
Teleplay by: Joe Gannon & Steve Roberts, based on Roberts' original British TV screenplay
31 March 1987 (1987-03-31)
Investigative TV news reporter Edison Carter uncovers the disturbing secret of a new TV technology in use by his own employers, Network 23, called "Blipverts", high-intensity commercials with the ability to overload people's nervous system, causing them to explode.
2 "Rakers" Story by: James Crocker
Teleplay by: James Crocker & Steve Roberts
7 April 1987 (1987-04-07)
When Theora begins ducking out of work for mysterious reasons, Carter soon discovers that she has been trying to find her missing brother, who has become involved in "raking", a dangerous new underground sport that combines motorized skateboarding with gladiatorial combat.
3 "Body Banks" Steve Roberts 14 April 1987 (1987-04-14)
After a woman is kidnapped as an involuntary organ donor for a transplant operation, the woman's boyfriend goes to Carter for help tracking her down. Meanwhile, Max demands to know some details about some fuzzy parts of Carter's (and hence his) memory.
4 "Security Systems" Michael Cassutt & Steve Roberts 21 April 1987 (1987-04-21)
Carter attempts to uncover the identity of the unknown buyer attempting to acquire Security Systems, the biggest security company in the world, but soon finds himself on the run from the police when his identity profile is erased from the government databanks and he is charged with Credit Fraud ... a crime punishable by death.
5 "War" Martin Pasko & Rebecca Parr & Michael Cassutt & Steve Roberts 28 April 1987 (1987-04-28)
A terrorist group called the White Brigade claims responsibility for a series of live, televised bombings, with the aid of one of Network 23's competitors, BreakThru TV. Carter and company investigate and soon uncover the truth: the terrorists are working with a sleazy programming package distributor who sells exclusive rights to coverage of their attacks to finance their activities.
6 "The Blanks" Steve Roberts 5 May 1987 (1987-05-05)
As the city government cracks down on the Blanks (people who have removed their identities from the central databanks), a militant Blank named Bruno threatens to use a powerful virus program to wipe out the city's entire computer network and everything connected to it, including Max.

Season 2: 1987–1988[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Original air-date
7 "Academy" David Brown 18 September 1987 (1987-09-18)
Blank Reg is arrested for "zipping" (hijacking) Network 23's satellite feeds, and is put on trial on a courtroom game show. Meanwhile, Edison and Theora learn the truth from Bryce: the zipping attacks are really being carried out by a group of students from a private academy for gifted children, the Academy of Computer Sciences, from which Bryce graduated.
8 "Deities" Michael Cassutt 25 September 1987 (1987-09-25)
The leader of the Vu Age church, who happens to be Carter's ex-girlfriend, kidnaps Max from Network 23 and threatens to erase him to prevent Carter from running a story exposing the church's claim of saving its parishioners' minds as AI constructs as false.
9 "Grossberg's Return" Steve Roberts 2 October 1987 (1987-10-02)
While working on a story related to the upcoming gubernatorial election, Carter learns that Ned Grossberg, Network 23's former CEO, has taken over 23's chief competitor, Network 66, and is planning to rig the election to get 66's candidate into office.
10 "Dream Thieves" Story by: Charlie Craig
Teleplay by: Steve Roberts
9 October 1987 (1987-10-09)
In an attempt to get an edge over the major networks, a subscription cable channel turns to airing recorded dream sequences. When Carter begins researching a story on dream recording, he learns that the process can have fatal side effects for the donors.
11 "Whackets"
"The Addiction Game"
Story by: David Rolfe
Teleplay by: Arthur Sellers
16 October 1987 (1987-10-16)
After witnessing survivors of a building collapse running into the wreckage to rescue their TV sets, all of which are tuned to the same game show, "Whackets", Carter investigates and learns that the show hooks its viewers, including Max, with an addictive subliminal signal. Guest Star: Bill Maher
12 "Neurostim" Michael Cassutt & Arthur Sellers 28 April 1988 (1988-04-28)
Zik-Zak's new promotional giveaway, the Neurostim bracelet, implants memories (and overwhelming urges to buy Zik-Zak products) directly into people's minds. When Carter gets too close to the truth behind the new promotion while researching his latest story, the promotion's developers plan to throw him off the trail by giving him a special, highly addictive Neurostim bracelet.
13 "Lessons" Story by: Howard Brookman & Colman DeKay
Teleplay by: Adrian Hein & Steve Roberts
5 May 1988 (1988-05-05)
Carter discovers that Network 23's automated censor system is sending the police to arrest Blanks who are pirating pay-per-view educational programs, the only source of education for homeless children.
14 "Baby Grobags" Adrian Hein & Chris Ruppenthal Originally unaired in the U.S.
While researching a story on genetically engineered "designer babies", Carter discovers that babies with exceptionally high IQs are being stolen from their parents just before being "born" to be used for a new TV show on Network 66.

Notes[edit]

  • Each episode opened with the "20 Minutes Into the Future" legend, indicating the series is meant to take place in our near future. It was the series' tagline.
  • Although unaired as part of the original U.S run, "Baby Grobags" was shown as part of the Australian series run.
  • At least one unproduced script, "Theora's Tale", has surfaced, as have the titles of two other stories ("The Trial" and "Xmas"). Currently, little is known of "The Trial" aside from its title; George R. R. Martin wrote "Xmas", in pre-production at cancellation time; "Theora's Tale" would have featured the "Video Freedom Alliance" kidnapping Theora, and war in Antarctica, between rival advertisers Zik Zak and Zlin.
  • Despite being set sometime in the near future, all police cars seen in the series were either 1950 or 1951 Bullet Nose Studebakers.

Impact on society[edit]

Max Headroom was the first cyberpunk series to run in the United States on one of the main broadcast networks in prime time, although it was not tagged with that label until some time after its cancellation. Like other science fiction, the series introduced the general public to new ideas in the form of cyberpunk themes and social issues. The series portrayed the Blanks, a counter-culture group of people who lived without any official numbers or documentation for the sake of privacy. Various episodes delved into issues like literacy and the lack thereof in a TV-dominated culture (for example, in the episode "Body Banks", Blank Reg says: "It's a book. It's a non-volatile storage medium. It's very rare. You should 'ave one." This statement also anticipates the mid-2000s controversy over the replacement of print by online and e-book sources.)

Of Max Headroom himself, actor Matt Frewer told Rolling Stone Magazine that "The cool thing about playing Max is that you can say virtually anything because theoretically the guy's not real, right? Can't sue a computer!"[2]

The Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion incident involved someone dressed as Max Headroom interrupting the signals of Chicago television stations WGN-TV and WTTW.[3][4] The person or persons responsible were never identified.

In the late 1990s, U.S. cable TV channels Bravo and the Sci-Fi Channel re-ran the series. Reruns also briefly appeared on TechTV in 2001.

References in pop culture[edit]

Max Headroom has inspired many imitations and spoofs. In the '80s, Garry Trudeau created the character Ron Headrest for his political comic strip Doonesbury. The character combined the concepts of Max Headroom and then US President Ronald Reagan. Back to the Future Part II also featured a Max Headroom inspired Reagan, as well as computer generated versions of Michael Jackson and the Ayatollah Khomeini as waiters at the fictitious Cafe '80s. There is an homage to Max Headroom in the 1997 film Batman & Robin when Barbara encounters her uncle Alfred Pennyworth in the batcave. He has programmed his brain algorithms into the batcomputer and created a virtual simulation. He appears and speaks (stutteringly) like Max Headroom.

Nickelodeon's ME:TV made a "You're watching ME:TV" clip with Ryan Knowles impersonating Max Headroom on the webwall. In the clip, Ryan's hair was combed back like Max's, and he stutters occasionally and the background panned vertically with purple and blue neon stripes. In episode 7, "John Quixote", of Farscape's season 4, John Crichton enters virtual reality where he encounters a Max Headroom-like version of himself.

There is also a song by rock band Sum 41 called "Second Chance for Max Headroom".

In the Ernest Cline novel Ready Player One, protagonist Wade Watts uses the name Bryce Lynch as his alias. He also has a Max Headroom AI in his ship.

Eminem's "Rap God" video features himself portrayed as Max Headroom.

DVD release[edit]

The original British version of the movie was released to the Japanese DVD rental market on September 2, 2005.[5]

"Shout! Factory" released Max Headroom: The Complete Series on DVD in the United States and Canada on August 10, 2010.[6] The set includes a roundtable discussion with most of the major cast members (other than Matt Frewer), and interviews with the writers and producers.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Marilyn Beck, "Max Headroom On Way To B-b-big Screen", Chicago Tribune, Dec. 10, 1987; retrieved January 27, 2013
  2. ^ Gareffa, Peter M. (1987). Contemporary Newsmakers: 1986 Cumulation. Gale Research Inc. p. 172. ISBN 978-0-8103-5452-4. 
  3. ^ Hayner, Don (1987-11-24). "2 channels interrupted to the Max". Chicago Sun-Times. p. 3. CHI265386. "The first interruption came during Bears highlights on the 9 p.m. newscast of Channel 9. The intruding broadcast, which appeared only in the Chicago area, showed the Headroom character rocking back and forth with hands held in the air. It played for 25 seconds until WGN workers changed transmission paths." 
  4. ^ Carmody, John (1987-11-24). "NBC Lands Gorbachev Interview (The TV Column)". Washington Post. p. D1. 95520. "According to [WTTW] spokesman Anders Yocom, station technicians monitoring the transmission "attempted to take corrective measures, but couldn't"." 
  5. ^ ""Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future" on DVD". Made in DNA. 2005-09-20. Retrieved 2007-09-17. 
  6. ^ Latchem, John (February 26, 2010). "Shout! Factory Maxing Out". Home Media Magazine. Retrieved February 27, 2010. 

External links[edit]