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Max Headroom

Entry updated 13 November 2023. Tagged: Film, TV.

UK made-for-tv film (1985); US tv series (1987-1988). Chrysalis/Channel 4 (UK); Chrysalis/Lakeside-Lorimar Telepictures (US). Created by Steve Roberts (screenplay) and George Stone, Annabel Jankel, Rocky Morton (story). Produced by Peter Wagg, Brian Frankish, Roberts. Writers included Roberts, Philip DeGuere, Michael Cassutt. Directors included Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel (UK teleplay), Farhad Mann, Tommy Lee Wallace, Thomas J Wright, Victor Lobl, Janet Greek. Teleplay 70 minutes; series ran two seasons, 14 50-minute episodes in all. Colour.

There are two distinct branches of the Max Headroom television saga, first in the UK, then in the USA. Originally the computer-generated stuttering head – played by an image-processed Matt Frewer – was created as a state-of-the-art link man for rock videos in a television music programme, but a fictional origin had to be devised for him. Hence the 1985 made-for-tv film (originally titled A Rebus), in which investigative newsman Carter (Frewer) digs into a conspiracy revolving around compressed television ads ("blipverts") that can cause sedentary viewers to explode. After an accident Carter's brain patterns are electronically duplicated to create his computerized alter ego. Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future (1985) by Steve Roberts is Tied to the film.

While this led in the UK to the planned rock-video series – plus a talkshow, advertising contracts, spin-off books and merchandise – US production company Lorimar was more impressed by the teleplay explaining Max Headroom's origin, and remade it (with small changes) as Blipverts, the first episode of a series. Frewer continued to play Carter and Headroom, and Amanda Pays also transferred from the UK production as Theora, Carter's computer-genius colleague. Roberts likewise crossed the Atlantic.

Although the Media-dominated future world of the pilot suggested many possibilities for a Cyberpunk-style sf thriller series, subsequent episodes were hindered by a reliance on tired ideas (gladiatorial combat, test-tube babies) that could have easily been used on Logan's Run or any other future-Dystopia series, and Max Headroom lasted only two short seasons. In its image-dense style and media-fuelled cynicism, however, it did introduce the trappings of cyberpunk to television. [KN]


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