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October 9, 2015

Gone Too Soon: Max Headroom

by Jason Hughes, posted Oct 19th 2009 2:04PM
Max Headroom
The name "Max Headroom" comes from the last thing TV reporter Edison Carter saw before he was knocked out and hacker extraordinaire Bryce Lynch dumped his memories into a computer: a sign reading "Max. Headroom: 2.3 meters" as a warning for low clearance. The program came alive and an '80s icon was born. Most people today remember Max Headroom for his pervasive commercial association with New Coke.

Yet it was in the Max Headroom series that he was truly groundbreaking. The show was developed from a UK telefilm: Max Headroom: 20 Minutes Into the Future. And that film was only created to give back-story to a talking head they wanted to use in a music video show.

Unfortunately, the popularity of this show and the character lasted about as long as New Coke. And for those of you who have no idea what New Coke is ... exactly!

What Is It?
Max Headroom was the first major broadcast cyberpunk series, and was incredibly innovative for its time. It borrowed a lot of its cinematic cut techniques from the MTV movement, and offered a look at a dystopic future in which television and advertisement had grown to dominate society.

Matt Frewer and Amanda Pays, Max HeadroomIn the pilot, the CEO of Network 23 is nervous about his cover-up of the deaths caused by his "blipverts," a new form of subliminal advertising. His top reporter, Edison Carter, may be onto him, so he taxed Bryce Lynch to find out. Their encounter led to the creation of Max Headroom.

In this world, the TV is always on, and the networks can see through them and see us, as well. As Max is a network computer program, this allows him to also see through any television set that's tuned to his channel. He uses this ability to help Carter, who did survive his accident, and his friends.

Throughout the series, we learn that the world just outside of the cities is a veritable wasteland of rundown buildings and lives, but there are working televisions everywhere! We also meet "blanks," which are people who are completely off-the-grid; thus out of the reach of the corporate powers.

Why did it have to go?
Max himself proved quite popular. But even after respectable ratings in his first six-episode season, he couldn't compete against the likes of Dallas and Miami Vice the next fall. Maybe ABC didn't want him to succeed. He was, after all, revealing future network plans, wasn't he?

How do I find out what happens next?
Max HeadroomMatt Frewer jumped back into the TV to portray an older and wiser Max Headroom for Britain's Channel Four, as part of their initiative to promote the switch to digital broadcast recently. He's also a part of Sirius XM's "80s on 8" channel, providing bumbers and song intros by his brother "Less" Headroom. For awhile, it looked like there might be something brewing for the 20th anniversary, but nothing came of it.

What this means is we may never find out what happened next. We can assume that Carter and Max continued fighting the good fight, but in the corporate-greed, consumerism-driven modern future they were living in, they likely lost in the end. Probably everyone ended up in the Matrix or something. Of course, Max would be all powerful there!

Where did the cast wind up?
  • Matt Frewer (Max Headroom/Edison Carter) had several notable roles after Max, including Dr. Mike Stratford (Doctor Doctor), Matt Prager (PSI Factor), Dr. Chet Wakeman (Taken), Ted Altman (Intelligence), and currently Dr. Jim Taggart (Eureka).
  • Max HeadroomAmanda Pays (Theora Jones) followed up with a major role as Tina McGee in The Flash TV series.
  • Chris Young (Bryce Lynch) was Allen Campbell in Married People. More recently, he's been involved in producing music videos, working with Kelly Clarkson.
  • Jeffrey Tambor (Murray) has become a near-legend in TV with roles like Hank Kingsley (The Larry Sanders Show) and George Bluth, Sr. (Arrested Development) among countless screen credits.
  • Charles Rocket (Ned Grossman) had a recurring gig on Touched by an Angel as the Angel of Death. He continued working until his death in 2005, ruled a suicide.
  • Concetta Tomei (Blank Dominique) is perhaps better known for her roles as Lila Garreau (China Beach) and Lynda Hansen (Providence).
  • Jere Burns (Breugel) was next seen as Kirk Morris in Dear John, before landing big roles in several failed series like The Mommies, Good Morning Miami, Help Me Help You and most recently Surviving Suburbia.
  • Andreas Katsulas (Mr. Bartlett) found his greatest success as G'Kar on Babylon 5, but was never short for work until his death from cancer in 2006.

Max HeadroomWho Cares?
Other than nostalgia for the character in general, there isn't much of an outcry of support for this long-forgotten show. Those who've been lucky enough to have seen it, love it, but those numbers are small.

When can I see it?
As recently as two years ago, I could have sent you to AOL's In2TV page for nostalgic shows like this. But alas, no more. Reruns aired on Bravo, Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy) and TechTV (now G4), but as you can see by the fact that two of those have different names now, it's been awhile.

In fact, it's nowhere. Still, I have a feeling that Max Headroom will be back. Maybe Max himself will show up on our TVs one day and give it to us himself.

[via Wikipedia, IMDb, The Max Headroom Chronicles, The Museum of Broadcast Communications and more!]

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I do agree and think that he may have had a shot if it weren't for the tough competition of the other shows, I am not even sure people had their tv sets on for any other time but for Dallas and the Vice. But alas I think the time has passed for Max and he shall forever hold a special place in our hearts along with Cowboy Curtis from Pee-Wee's Playhouse.

October 22 2009 at 12:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Matt Frewer is, and always will be, the Trashcan Man from The Stand miniseries.

October 19 2009 at 10:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ric Kaysen

It's near the top of my list of shows that were too good for TV when the discussion comes up.

October 19 2009 at 10:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jason Chapa

You forgot to mention that in Back to the Future Part II, Ronald Reagan appears Max Headroom-style in the 80s cafe.

October 19 2009 at 7:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I heard Max on Sirius the other day on the 80's channel, and it sounded like a new recording to me (I believe he said, "you're listening to 80's on 8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8" in his trademark style).

Anyway, I know that no one reads comments, but click the star, and they'll send you an email when an episode is going to come on:


October 19 2009 at 6:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thanks! Loved the show in its day. That was TOUGH shows to be put up against at beginning of a season. Geez Dallas & Vice. Either alone would have done in many successful shows. Nice catch up.
Doubt would fly today as a remake but they've done many other such projects. Better than lot of what's on.
I mean Robot Chicken. No more please.

October 19 2009 at 5:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You forgot about W. Morgan Sheppard who played Blank Reg. He was my favorite charactor.

October 19 2009 at 4:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I loved this show & still refer to it any time I'm someplace that the tv never goes off (doctor waiting rooms, certain relatives).

October 19 2009 at 3:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

ABC certainly didn't do it any favours - put it up against Dallas and Miami Vice, and didn't even burn off all the post-cancellation episodes, although they were later shown in syndication.

I've been wanting a DVD set for ages - ideally with extras like the British version of the original movie and the American pilot based on it, the Art Of Noise music video he was in, possibly some Coke commercials. Maybe even some footage from Max's shows on Channel 4 and Cinemax if we were really lucky. A girl can dream, can't she?

Seriously - if "Pink Lady and Jeff" and "The Richard Pryor Show" can get DVDs, why can't Max?

October 19 2009 at 3:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thanks for "reviving" the show in this post. Too bad the character is only remembered as a shill for New Coke. The show itself was pretty smart, with some decent social commentary.

I can't figure out why there hasn't been a DVD set. Cult shows with smaller audiences have DVDs. The issue isn't music rights. It must be rights to the character, spread among different international entities?

October 19 2009 at 2:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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