Genre Science fictionDrama
Theme music composer Michael Hoenig
Starring See Cast
First episode date 31 March 1987
|Created by Annabel JankelRocky MortonGeorge Stone|
Written by Steve RobertsDavid BrownMichael CassuttJames CrockerJoe GannonAdrian HeinRebecca ParrMartin PaskoChris RuppenthalArthur Sellers
Country of origin United KingdomUnited States
Networks American Broadcasting Company, Cinemax
Program creators Rocky Morton, Annabel Jankel
Cast Matt Frewer, Amanda Pays, Jeffrey Tambor, W Morgan Sheppard, George Coe
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.
- Television series
- Edison Carter
- Theora Jones
- Bryce Lynch
- Blank Reg
- Ned Grossberg
- Other characters
- Impact on society
- DVD release
The show went into production in late 1986 and ran for six episodes in the first season with eight being produced in season two.
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, 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.
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 had dated in college) when his reporting put him at odds with the Vu Age Church that she now headed; and a former colleague/rival who died as a result of a story he was pursuing on dream-harvesting − and whose death sent Edison off on close to a rampage to avenge him.
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 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 (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 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 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.
Impact on society
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!"
The Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion incident involved someone dressed as Max Headroom interrupting the signals of Chicago television stations WGN-TV and WTTW. 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.
The original British version of the movie was released to the Japanese DVD rental market on September 2, 2005.
"Shout! Factory" released Max Headroom: The Complete Series on DVD in the United States and Canada on August 10, 2010. The set includes a roundtable discussion with most of the major cast members (other than Matt Frewer), and interviews with the writers and producers.