Max Headroom was the name of a fictional television character in
the late Awesome80s and of the science fiction television series in which
The Max Headroom character started in 1985 as an announcer for a music
video program on the British television channel, Channel 4, called The
Max Talking Headroom Show. The intent was to portray a futuristic
computer-generated character. Max Headroom appeared as a stylized head on
TV against harsh primary color rotating-line backgrounds, and he became
well known for his jerky techno-stuttering speech, wit, and puns
("Like they say when you're buying suppositories, 'With friends like
that, who needs enemas?'").
Despite the publicity for the character, the real image of Max was not
computer-generated. 3-D rendering and computing technology in the
mid-1980s was not sufficiently advanced for a full-motion, voice-synched
human head to be practical for a television series. Max's image was
actually actor Matt Frewer in latex and foam rubber prosthetic makeup with
a fiberglass suit, superimposed over a moving geometric background. (Even
the background was not actual computer graphics at first; it was
hand-drawn cell animation like the "computer generated"
animations in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy TV series. Later in the
U.S. version they were rumored to be generated by a 7.16Mhz Amiga
computer.) But when these things were combined with clever editing, the
appearance of a computer generated human head was convincing to many.
Max became a minor celebrity outside the television series. He was the
spokesman for Coca-Cola's disastrous New Coke campaign, using his
trademark staccato to deliver the slogan "Catch the wave! Coke!"
He also hosted an interview show on the Cinemax cable TV channel, and
appeared in the video for "Paranoimia" by The Art of Noise.
To create a background story for their announcer, Channel 4 created a
one-hour TV movie describing the story of the creation of the
computer-generated person. Titled 20 Minutes into the Future, the
movie was a dystopic look at a run-down near-future dominated by
television and large corporations. It introduced television reporter
Edison Carter and his efforts to expose corruption and greed. In the pilot
episode, Edison is hunted down by his own employer, Network 23. In the
process, he is injured and his mind is digitized into a computer program.
The resulting program takes on a life of its own as the eccentric and
unpredictable Max Headroom who can move through computer and television
networks at will.
In 1987 the story was turned into a full fledged television series. The
original one-hour movie was partially recast and re-filmed as a pilot for
a new series on the U.S. based television network ABC.
It was the first cyberpunk series to run in the United States on one of
the main broadcast networks in prime time. 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 (Blank Reg:
"It's a book. Non-volatile storage media. Everyone should have
Although it was not a comedy series, low-key humor was a noteworthy
part of the entire effect. Some was more overt, such as Max's wisecracking
lines, while other was less obvious. One example is the use of traffic
signs for character names. The character Max Headroom got his name
because, in the original story, Edison Carter crashed into a traffic gate
labelled "MAX HEADROOM 2.3m" and was knocked unconscious, and
when his brain was digitized that was his last image. Also the president
of Network 23's largest corporate sponsor from Asia, the Zik-Zak
corporation, is named Ped Xing. It could be a Chinese name, but it is also
the common American traffic sign abbreviation for "pedestrian
crossing". Technological anachronisms were a recurring feature in the
series. As Theora types in computer commands for real-time control of
satellites, the camera zooms in to show her typing on the keys of a manual
In the end, the series all-too-accurately predicted its own demise.
With story lines about TV ratings monitored on a second-by-second basis,
the series was a little too far ahead of its time. After 14 episodes, ABC
cancelled it. There was some talk about the character returning in a movie
entitled Max Headroom for President but nothing came of it.
Like most fads, Max faded from the public eye in the 1990s. He was
mostly forgotten until the late 1990s, when U.S. cable TV channels Bravo
and the Sci-Fi Channel re-ran the series. Reruns also briefly appeared on
TechTV in 2001. Science fiction fans eagerly await the show's release on
- "Blipverts" (airdate: March 31, 1987)
- "Rakers" (April 7, 1987)
- "Body Banks" (April 14, 1987)
- "Security Systems" (April 21, 1987)
- "War" (April 28, 1987)
- "The Blanks" (May 5, 1987)
- "Academy" (September 18, 1987)
- "Deities" (September 25. 1987)
- "Grossberg's Return" (October 2, 1987)
- "Dream Thieves" (October 9, 1987)
- "Whacketts" (alt. "The Addiction Game") (October
- "NeuroStim" (April 28, 1988)
- "Lessons" (May 5, 1988)
- "Baby Growbags" (originally unaired in US)
- "Blipverts" was the reworked version of the original
"20 Minutes Into the Future" film. The only actor other than
Matt Frewer to appear in both versions of the story was Amanda Pays
(as Theora Jones, Edison Carter's "controller"). W. Morgan
Sheppard would reprise his role as Blank Reg later on in the series
(but not in this episode), making him the only other actor to have
thus crossed over. All other roles were recast, and several characters
(most notably Bryce Lynch) were made far less sinister. Also, in the
original film the character of Max Headroom existed as a physical
hardware unit, which in the end was "stolen" by Blank Reg
and his underachieving pirate network, "Big-Time TV", and
went to work for them; but in "Blipverts" and for the rest
of the series it was established that Max existed only as software, an
independently-acting computer program which (who?) escapes into the
Network 23 mainframe and in the end elects to stay there.
- Each episode opened with a "20 Minutes Into the Future"
onscreen legend, presumably by way of indicating when all of this
takes place, making it a familiar tagline from this series.
- "Baby Growbags" was screened in the UK over Channel 4, but
skipped over by ABC in America. It was finally shown in the US over
cable channel Bravo in 1997.
- At least one unproduced script, "Theora's Tale," has
surfaced, as have the titles for two other stories ("The
Trial" and "Xmas"). At this update, not much is known
of "The Trial" apart from the title; George R. R. Martin
wrote "Xmas" which was in preproduction at the time of
cancellation; "Theora's Tale" would have featured a
"Video Freedom Alliance" kidnapping Theora, as well as a
shooting war in Antarctica between rival advertisers Zik Zak and Zlin.
- William Gibson, a fan of the show, had written a script for the
show, but the series was canceled before it was shot.
Network 23 was inspired by the 23 enigma with the specific real and
theoretical televisual reference derived from Genesis P-Orridge's use of
the number 23 as the number of the illuminati in his groups Psychic TV
& Thee Temple Ov Psychic Youth.
The series' promotional material unmistakably resembles Peter Saville's
legendary designs for Factory Records' Manchester club, The Haçienda,
opened by Antony Wilson (of Granada TV) with members of New Order in 1981
and recently recreated for the film 24-Hour Party People.
In his comic strip Doonesbury, Garry Trudeau parodied President
Ronald Reagan as a Max Headroom-like character called "Ron
Max Headroom-style depictions of Michael Jackson, President Reagan and
Ayatollah Khomeini are presented in the 'Café 80s' scene from Back
to the Future Part II.
One of the most bizarre incidents involving the Max Headroom character
was on November 22, 1987, when two Chicago, Illinois television stations
had their broadcast signals hijacked by an unknown person wearing a Max
Headroom mask. The first attack took place for 25 seconds during the
sportscast on the 9 O'Clock news on WGN-TV Channel 9 and two hours later
around 11 o'clock on PBS affiliate WTTW-TV Channel 11 for nearly two
minutes during a broadcast of the science fiction series Doctor Who which
also included the masked Max Headroom getting smacked on his bare rear-end
by a fly swatter. A copy of the WTTW-TV Channel 11 incident is available
under "External links" below. According to television and
newspaper reports following the incident it was revealed that it was a
college student from the Chicago area that had hacked the two television
1997, life imitated art as predicted by Max Headroom. In the original
story, reporter Edison Carter exposed the TV network's efforts to create
"Blipverts," a new high-intensity television commercial which
had the unfortunate side-effect of overloading the nervous system of
certain viewers (with lethal consequences). In a bizarre parallel in 1997,
Japan's Pocket Monsters (Pokémon) television series
unintentionally triggered seizures in a number of viewers through intense
flashing images on the screen. While fortunately not lethal, the
relatively rare condition of photosensitive epilepsy caused the seizures
in the affected viewers because of their intense concentration on the
In 2004 there were reports that some advertising companies were
planning to experiment with commercial messages lasting only 2 or 3
seconds in length. In November 2004, the CBS Network issued a report that
fast-forwarding through commercials (essentially creating the
"blipvert" effect) actually increases recall of an advertiser's
The series is also credited with accurately predicting the rise of the
so-called 500-channel universe, reality television and webcams.
From 2000 to 2003, the German company T-Online, subsidiary of Deutsche
Telekom had a computer generated advertisement character named Robert
T-Online which suspiciously looks like Max Headroom. Surprisingly their
current CEO Kai-Uwe Ricke looks a lot like that character.
A box office slump in the United States starting in 2004 due to the
availability of "on demand media" was predicted in the episode
"Dream Thieves", in which it is revealed that there are no more
In the animated children's series Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego,
The Chief is depicted as a fully sentient, wild-haired, joke-cracking
digital head, very similar in appearance and function to Max Headroom.
U.S. series cast
Edison Carter/Max Headroom: Matt Frewer
Theora Jones: Amanda Pays
Murray : Jeffrey TamborBryce Lynch: Chris Young
Blank Reg: W. Morgan Shepherd
Ben Cheviot: George Coe
Lauren: Sharon Barr
Breugel: Jere Burns
Angie Barry: Rosalind Chao
Mahler: Rick Ducommun
Gene Ashwell: Hank Garrett
Mr. Bartlett: Andreas Katsulas
Ned Grossberg: Charles Rocket
Dominique: Concetta Tomei
Edwards: Lee Wilkof