Max Headroom (TV series)

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Max Headroom
GenreScience fiction
Created byGeorge Stone
Rocky Morton
Annabel Jankel
StarringMatt Frewer
Amanda Pays
W. Morgan Sheppard
Chris Young
Charles Rocket
Theme music composerMichael Hoenig
Country of originUnited States
United Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons2
No. of episodes14 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s)Peter Wagg
Producer(s)Brian E. Frankish
Peter Wagg
Camera setupSingle-camera
Running time45–48 minutes
Production company(s)Chrysalis/Lakeside
DistributorWarner Bros. Television Distribution
Original networkABC
Original releaseMarch 31, 1987 (1987-03-31) –
May 12, 1988 (1988-05-12)
Related showsMax Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future

Max Headroom is an 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 31, 1987 to May 12, 1988. The series is set in a futuristic dystopia ruled by an oligarchy of television networks.


In the future, an oligarchy of television networks rules the world. Even the government functions primarily as a puppet 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. 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.


Edison Carter[edit]

Edison Carter (Matt Frewer) is a hard-hitting reporter for Network 23, who sometimes uncovered things that his superiors in the network would have preferred be 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.

The series depicted very little of the past described by Edison. He met a female televangelist (whom he had dated in college) when his reporting put him at odds with the Vu Age Church that she now headed. Edison was sent on a near-rampage to avenge a former colleague, who died as a result of a story on dream-harvesting.

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).

Max Headroom[edit]

Max Headroom (Frewer) is a computer reconstruction of Carter, created after Bryce Lynch uploaded a copy of his mind. He appears as a computer-rendered bust of Carter superimposed on a wire-frame background. Since Carter's last sight before the motorcycle crash was the sign "Max. headroom" on a parking garage gate, these were the reconstruction's first words and ultimately his name. While Carter is a dedicated professional, Max is a wisecracking observer of human contradictions.

Despite being the titular character, Max sparsely appeared on the show. While he occasionally played a significant part in a plot — sometimes by traveling through networks to gain information or by revealing secrets about Carter that Carter himself wouldn't divulge — his most frequent role was as comic relief, delivering brief quips in reaction to certain events or giving a humorous soliloquy at the end of an episode.

Theora Jones[edit]

Theora Jones first appeared in the British-made television pilot film for the series. She was Network 23's star controller ("stolen" from the World One Network by Murray) and, working with Edison, the network's star reporter, she often helped save the day for everyone. She was also a potential love interest for Edison, 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".

Theora Jones was played by Amanda Pays, who along with Matt Frewer and W. Morgan Sheppard, was one of only three cast members to also appear in the American-made series that followed.

Bryce Lynch[edit]

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

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) 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, creating Max Headroom. It had been Bryce, following orders from Grossberg, who fought a hacking battle of sorts 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.

Blank Reg[edit]

Reg (W. Morgan Sheppard) 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 colleague 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. He has an energetic personality and 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 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.

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

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.
  • Breughel (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), Breughel's accomplice, who serves primarily as the muscle of the duo's body-harvesting operation. In "Dream Thieves", it is revealed that Breughel 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), Bryce's mentor, who is 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 "God".
  • Blank Traker (Brian Brophy, Season 1 / Michael Preston, Season 2), one of Bruno's fellow revolutionaries.
  • 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.
  • Joel Dung Po (Rob Narita), one of Network 23's second-tier reporters.
  • 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.
  • Chubb Shaw (James F. Dean), one of the board members of Network 66.
  • Dragul (John Durbin), a Network censor who hates Blanks.
  • Ped Xing (Arsenio Trinidad, Season 1 / Sab Shimono, Season 2), the head of the Zik-Zak corporation, Network 23's primary sponsor.
  • Stew, Blipvert Victim (Brian Healy), a viewer whose head explodes from watching blipverts, impelling Edison Carter to investigate Network 23.


The series was based on the Channel 4 British TV film produced by Chrysalis, Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future. Cinemax aired the UK pilot followed by a six-week run of highlights from The Max Headroom Show, a UK 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.[1]

Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future was re-shot as a pilot program for a new series broadcast by the U.S. 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 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 show went into production in late 1986 and ran for six episodes in the first season and eight in season two.

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 systems, 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 Roberts14 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 Roberts21 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 Roberts28 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 Roberts5 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 Brown18 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 Cassutt25 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 false claim of saving its parishioners' minds as AI constructs.
9"Grossberg's Return"Steve Roberts2 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.
"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 Sellers28 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 gaining unauthorized access to pay-per-view educational programs, the only source of education for homeless children.
14"Baby Grobags"Adrian Hein & Chris Ruppenthal12 May 1988 (1988-05-12)
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.

Continuity issues[edit]

  • In "Body Banks" (episode 3) Formby is implicated in the scandal and dismissed. She is still seen in the Network 23 boardroom in further episodes.
  • In "Lessons" (episode 13), while inside a church, Edison confides in Murray that he had once dated a preacher. This had all been played out in "Deities" (episode 8).


  • 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. This also applied to the computer hardware (most of which was a patch work of mismatched technologies, which consisted of keyboards with Underwood typewriter keys, many "terminals" literally being a TV plonked on top of a typewriter with a few high tension cables drifting about that further contributed to the dystopian cyberpunk theme. Theora's main operator console was an early upstrike typewriter which only had three rows of keys (no numeric row).


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 in 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 previously unbroadcast 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,[2] but it was never made.

Comico 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".

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!"[3]

The 1987 Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion incident involved someone dressed as Max Headroom interrupting the signals of Chicago television stations WGN-TV and WTTW.[4][5] 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.

In popular culture[edit]

Max Headroom has inspired many imitations and spoofs:

  • In the 1980s, 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.[6]
  • Back to the Future Part II also featured a Max Headroom inspired Reagan, and computer-generated versions of Michael Jackson and the Ayatollah Khomeini as waiters at the fictitious Cafe '80s. Larina Adamson, an associate producer on Max Headroom, was the video playback design supervisor for this effect.[7]
  • "Sledge Hammer!" featured an episode where a villain tries to hypnotize Sledge by having him converse with a computer generated alter ego with a lot of Max's traits.
  • "Fax Headful" was a parody of Max Headroom, which appeared as a recurring segment on PBS's Square One Television in 1992.
  • 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 had a "You're watching ME:TV" interstitial 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 while the background panned vertically with purple and blue neon stripes.
  • In the episode "John Quixote" of season 4 of Farscape', John Crichton enters virtual reality where he encounters a Max Headroom-like version of himself.
  • "Second Chance for Max Headroom" is a song by rock band Sum 41 on their 2000 album Half Hour of Power.
  • 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 2013 "Rap God" video features himself portrayed as Max Headroom.[8]
  • In the 2015 movie Pixels, an alien appears as Max Headroom to communicate with the humans during the final battle for Earth.[9]

DVD release[edit]

Shout! Factory (under license from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment) released Max Headroom: The Complete Series on DVD in the United States and Canada on August 10, 2010.[10] The bonus features includes a round-table discussion with most of the major cast members (other than Matt Frewer), and interviews with the writers and producers.

The original British version of the movie Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future was released to the Japanese DVD rental market on September 2, 2005.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stone, Morton and Jankel at the ICA
  2. ^ Marilyn Beck, "Max Headroom On Way To B-b-big Screen", Chicago Tribune, Dec. 10, 1987; retrieved January 27, 2013
  3. ^ Gareffa, Peter M. (1987). Contemporary Newsmakers: 1986 Cumulation. Gale Research Inc. p. 172. ISBN 978-0-8103-5452-4.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ 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".
  6. ^ Trudeau, G. B. (October 1995). Flashbacks: Twenty-Five Years of Doonesbury. Andrews and McMeel. p. 217. ISBN 0-8362-0436-0.
  7. ^ "Larina Jean Adamson". IMDb. Retrieved 2017-04-08.
  8. ^ "See Eminem as Max Headroom in Lewinsky-Referencing 'Rap God' Video". Spin. 2013-11-27. Retrieved 2017-04-08.
  9. ^ Walsh, Katie. "'Pixels' review: Supporting cast, effects help gaming movie". Retrieved 2017-04-08.
  10. ^ Latchem, John (February 26, 2010). "Shout! Factory Maxing Out". Home Media Magazine. Retrieved February 27, 2010.
  11. ^ ""Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future" on DVD". Made in DNA. 2005-09-20. Archived from the original on 2008-09-19. Retrieved 2007-09-17.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]