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Max Headroom

By Wikipedia

Max Headroom was the name of a fictional television character in the late Awesome80s and of the science fiction television series in which he starred.

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.

TV show

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 one.")

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 typewriter.

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 DVD.

Episode Listing

Season 1

  1. "Blipverts" (airdate: March 31, 1987)
  2. "Rakers" (April 7, 1987)
  3. "Body Banks" (April 14, 1987)
  4. "Security Systems" (April 21, 1987)
  5. "War" (April 28, 1987)
  6. "The Blanks" (May 5, 1987)

Season 2

  1. "Academy" (September 18, 1987)
  2. "Deities" (September 25. 1987)
  3. "Grossberg's Return" (October 2, 1987)
  4. "Dream Thieves" (October 9, 1987)
  5. "Whacketts" (alt. "The Addiction Game") (October 16, 1987)
  6. "NeuroStim" (April 28, 1988)
  7. "Lessons" (May 5, 1988)
  8. "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.

Influences

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 Headrest".

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 stations.

In 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 flashing images.

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 message.

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 movie theaters.

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

 

Share Your Memories!

Do you have a favorite episode of Max Headroom? What do you remember about the series? Share your stories with the world! (We print the best stories right here!)

Your Memories Shared!

" This started out as a Cinemax series (in the United States), and I do remember how he came to be known as M-M-Max Head-Head-Headroo-oo-oom. He was one of the firs computer-generated images for TV. Really strange show. . . but I was smoking some strange things back then anyway. . . . ."

--klutzy

 

TV TIDBITS

Aired: March 31, 1987 - Octoboer 16, 1987

Cast: Matt Frewer, Amanda Pays, Concetta Tomei, Chris Young

Network: ABC

Genre: Sci-Fi

Theme song

Image courtesy of ABC


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