|Created by||George Stone
|Theme music composer||Michael Hoenig|
|Country of origin||United States
|No. of seasons||2|
|No. of episodes||14|
|Brian E. Frankish
|Running time||45-48 minutes|
|Distributor||Warner Bros. Television Distribution|
|Original release||March 31, 1987- May 12, 1988|
|Related shows||Max 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 1987 to May 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 (Matt Frewer) is 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.
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 (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.
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".
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 (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.
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."
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 Grosman and was played by Nickolas Grace. Rocket portrayed Grossberg as an American yuppie with a characteristic facial and neck-stretching twitch.
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.
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.
|1||"Blipverts"||Story by: Steve Roberts
Teleplay by: Joe Gannon & Steve Roberts, based on Roberts' original British TV screenplay
|31 March 1987|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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.|
|7||"Academy"||David Brown||18 September 1987|
|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|
|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 Roberts||2 October 1987|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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 Ruppenthal||12 May 1988|
|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.|
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, 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".
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 1987 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.
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Max Headroom has inspired many imitations and spoofs:
Shout! Factory released Max Headroom: The Complete Series on DVD in the United States and Canada on August 10, 2010. 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.
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.
According to [WTTW] spokesman Anders Yocom, station technicians monitoring the transmission "attempted to take corrective measures, but couldn't".