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Max Headroom
MaxheadroomMpegMan.jpg
Max Headroom doing a promotion for Cinemax
Format Cyberpunk / Science fiction / Drama
Created by Annabel Jankel
Rocky Morton
Starring See Cast below
Country of origin United States
No. of episodes 14
Broadcast
Original channel Cinemax, ABC (USA)
Original run March 31, 1987 – May 5, 1988

Max Headroom (1987–1988) is a short-lived but ground-breaking American science fiction television series which aired on Cinemax, then on ABC. The series was developed from a British television movie, 20 Minutes into the Future, that was developed to provide background for the character, originally developed for Channel 4's The Max Headroom Show in 1985–1986. The Original Max Talking Headroom Show came out in 1987 on Cinemax.

Contents

Television series

In 1987, the story told in 20 Minutes into the Future, a made-for-television movie, formed the basis of a fully-fledged 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 editor.

The U.S. series expanded on the cyberpunk themes in the British TV movie but otherwise had no connection to the British music video show. In an arrangement perhaps unique in the history of television, the U.S. spin-off series featuring Max Headroom was a fictional drama, while its main character was originally created for a non-fiction entertainment show in Britain.

The series began as a mid-season replacement in spring of 1987, and was sufficiently popular to be renewed for the fall television season, but the viewer ratings could not be sustained, due to direct competition with CBS's Top 20 hit Dallas and NBC's Top 30 hit Miami Vice, and Max Headroom was canceled part-way into its first broadcast season; leftover episodes aired in spring 1988. Plans for a cinema version titled Max Headroom for President were mentioned in the media, but the film was never produced.

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.

Characters

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Max Headroom

See Max Headroom (character)

Edison Carter

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 to keep private. Eventually, one of these instances required him to flee his workspace, upon which he was injured in a motorcycle accident in a parkade. Bryce Lynch downloaded 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 parkade.

The series depicted very little of the past described by Edison, though he did meet a female priest that he once dated when his reporting put him at odds with the Vu Age Church that she now headed.

Edison cares about his co-workers, especially Theora Jones and Bryce Lynch.

According to a personal statistics file displayed on a computer screen in the series, Edison is 6'2" tall and weighs 180 pounds.

Theora Jones

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 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.

The Ogg Theora open video codec is named after this character.

Bryce Lynch

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

His birthdate is October 7, 1988. In the show Bryce appears to be 16 or 17 years old, so in the episodes that we see on screen Bryce is living in the time frame of 2004–2005.

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 (the late 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 downloads 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 only seen outside of his lab in three episodes:

  • In "Academy," Bryce returns to his former college to track down a student who is committing broadcast hijacking attacks ('signal zipping') on Network 23's transmissions. Bryce's core morals, as shared with other students of the college, are discussed further in this episode. Initially Bryce resists helping track down the attacker, seeing it as harmless experimentation, even though an innocent man is framed for the crime (which is punishable by death).
  • In "Security Systems," he is reluctantly forced into a temporary exile with the fugitive Edison Carter when his off-hand comment that "SS even does security for Network 23" makes them realize, too late, the mistake they have made in trying to hack A7 from Bryce's lab. At first annoyed at being displaced from the safety of his hidden lab, Bryce is soon happily looking forward to slipping under Security Systems 'radar' using "a pink bus with a 5 watt UHF transmitter."
  • In "Lessons," he takes Theora's place in Control to guide Edison as well as disable the Censor computer—gaining him the respect of other controllers who watch him work.

Blank Reg

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 anyone'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.

He dresses in cyberpunk style and has a Mohawk hairstyle.

Ned Grossberg

Ned Grossberg is a recurring villain on the series, played by 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 rapid-speed advertising delivery medium known as Blipverts, which condenses a full advertisement into a few seconds. But 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 resume the chairmanship.

Other characters

Episode listing

Season 1: 1987

Title Original air-date #
Blipverts March 31, 1987 1
Investigative TV news reporter Edison Carter uncovers the disturbing secret of a new TV technology called "Blipverts," high-intensity commercials with the ability to overload people's neural network causing them to explode.
Rakers April 7, 1987 2
Theora's brother ends up tangled in the web of a mafia-organized sport called "raking," a deadly mutation of motorized skateboarding.
Body Banks April 14, 1987 3
A man forces a meeting with Carter after two thugs kidnap his girlfriend as an involuntary donor for a transplant operation. Meanwhile, Max demands to know some details about some fuzzy parts of his (and hence Edison's) memory.
Security Systems April 21, 1987 4
An unknown buyer is planning to acquire Security Systems, the biggest security center in the world; the CEO of the company, however, while expressing her fear about the takeover, refuses to reveal more detail.
War April 28, 1987 5
A terrorist group claims responsibility for a series of explosions – live and on air, with the aid of Network 23's competitive network, Breakthru TV.
The Blanks May 5, 1987 6
The city's computer system is plagued by failures due to the Blanks, a group of anarchists who removed themselves from the central databanks.

Season 2: 1987–1988

Title Original air-date #
Academy September 18, 1987 7
Someone is "zipping" Network 23 — hijacking its satellites. While Blank Reg fights for his life on a Courtroom TV gameshow, Theora believes Bryce may be hiding something.
Deities September 25, 1987 8
A New-age church wants Max so it can make good on its claims to preserve its members' personalities forever rather than merely fleecing them with claims of doing so. And the leader of this group knows just how to use Edison to get to Max.
Grossberg's Return October 2, 1987 9
After his fall from the CEO chair at Network 23, Grossberg takes the helm of Network 66, and he's got an axe to grind.
Dream Thieves October 9, 1987 10
The Networks are running out of creative material for new programming, so they turn to the audience's dreams. The process has some nasty side-effects, though.
Whacketts
(alt. The Addiction Game)
October 16, 1987 11
When a building collapses, the survivors climb into the wreckage to rescue… television sets? Why is everyone watching Whacketts?
Neurostim April 28, 1988 12
Zik Zak's new promotional giveaway, the Neurostim bracelet, implants memories directly into your mind. Their bold new plan could spell curtains for Network 23… and Edison Carter!
Lessons May 5, 1988 13
Edison discovers that the automated censor system is sending metro cops to arrest "blanks" who are pirating pay-per-view educational programs: the only source of education for ghetto children.
Baby Growbags Originally unaired in the U.S. 14
Edison discovers that in vitro babies with an exceptionally high IQ are taken away from their parents for a TV show on Network 66.

Notes

  • Each episode opened with the "20 Minutes Into the Future" legend, indicating when the action occurs. It was the series' tagline.
  • 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.

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 (Blank Reg: "It's a book. It's a non-volatile storage medium. It's very rare. You should 'ave one.")

Of Max Headroom himself, actor Matt Frewer told Rolling Stone Magazine that "you can say virtually anything, because theoretically the guy's not real, right? Can't sue a computer, goddamn it!"[citation needed]

The Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion incident, involved someone dressed as Max Headroom interrupting the signals of Chicago television stations WGN and WTTW.[1][2] 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.

Predictions

  • 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, CBS issued a report[3] that fast-forwarding through commercials (essentially creating the "blipvert" effect) actually increases recall of an advertiser's message.
  • In 2006, Coca-Cola used advertising similar to a "blipvert" to promote its soft drink Sprite. The commercials, collectively referred to as "sub-lymon-al advertising" (a play on "subliminal advertising" and the "lymon" flavor) feature dream-like situations, frequently interrupted by a barrage of rapid-fire images intended to make the viewer thirsty. At the end of the commercial, the word "Obey" flashes on the screen, and a man in a suit snaps his fingers, as if to wake the viewer from an hypnotic state.
  • Also in 2006, GE started a series of commercials called "One Second Theater"[4] which compressed many frames of information into a single second of a 30-second commercial. This information can barely be made out at full speed and must be viewed frame-by-frame with a PVR in order to be fully comprehended. Except for the inability to be understood in real-time, these are very close in implementation to a blipvert.
  • The episode "Body Banks" involved the theft of organs from the poor for the benefit of the rich. On February 1, 2008, Newsweek reported on a day laborer in India who was knocked out and had his kidney removed. This was described as part of a large, illegal transplant network.[5]

References in pop culture

  • There is an homage to Max Headroom 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.
  • On May 10, 2007, Nickelodeon's ME:TV made a "You're watching ME:TV" 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 and the background panned vertically with purple and blue neon stripes.
  • In episode 7, "John Quixote," of Farscape's season 4, John Crichton enters virtual reality where he encounters a Max Headroom-like version of himself.
  • Back to the Future Part II featured computer generated versions of Ronald Reagan and Michael Jackson as waiters at the fictitious Cafe '80s.

DVD release

The original British version of the movie was released to the Japanese DVD rental market on September 2, 2005.[6]

In February 2010, Shout! Factory announced that Max Headroom: The Complete Series would be released on DVD in the United States and Canada in August 2010.[7]

References

  1. ^ 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." 
  2. ^ 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"." 
  3. ^ Mandese, Joe (2004-11-19). "CBS Says 'Not So Fast,' DVRs Actually Boost Commercial Recall". MediaPost. http://publications.mediapost.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=20944. Retrieved 2007-09-17. 
  4. ^ GE, "Introducing GE's 'One Second Theater'; A Whole New World of Creative Content" (press release), May 8, 2006, accessed May 13, 2006
  5. ^ Overdorf, Jason (2008-02-01). "Stolen Kidneys". Newsweek (Newsweek). http://www.newsweek.com/id/107448. Retrieved 2009-07-11. 
  6. ^ ""Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future" on DVD". Made in DNA. 2005-09-20. http://mopedronin.livejournal.com/303219.html. Retrieved 2007-09-17. 
  7. ^ Latchem, John (February 26, 2010). "Shout! Factory Maxing Out". Home Media Magazine. http://www.homemediamagazine.com/tv-dvd/shout-factory-maxing-out-18578. Retrieved February 27, 2010. 

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