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Science Fiction
Picture: headroom

Max Headroom
20 Minutes Into The Future


"Max Headroom" science fiction drama was the first, and so far the only, cyberpunk TV series.

There was two series, another in UK and another in USA. UK version was released in 1985. It was directed by Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton, and written by Steve Roberts. USA version was released in 1987. It was directed by Francis Delia and Janet Greek.

Matt Frewer played the main role as Edison Carter and Max Headroom in both series. Other actors in both versions where Amanda Pays as Theora Jones and William Morgan Sheppard as Blank Reg.

Max Headroom was characterised by intelligent scripts; a quirky sense of humour; some serious speculation about the power and ethics of television; a slightly satirical but intricately realised vision of the future with a gritty, "Brazil"-like, "retro-tech" style; frequent references to traditional cyberpunk concepts ("ice", "flatline", nanotechnology, and so on from William Gibson's books.); and some very good computer-generated special effects (mostly done on Amiga 1000s, by the way... somebody knows a great hunk of hardware when they see one). Being an intelligent and sophisticated series, it was, of course, cancelled after one season.

The story began in 1984, when Channel Four in Britain wanted to produce a really unusual music-video show, and decided to use a (fake) computer-generated host. They invented the character of Max Headroom, and also commissioned a screenplay describing the fictional story of his origin. The original plan was to split this up into five-minute segments and scatter it among the music videos, but they soon realised that this would be impractical. Instead, it was produced as a feature-length made-for-TV movie, and was shown as a pilot for the music series, to general critical acclaim. Max Headroom, played by a heavily made-up Matt Frewer, went on to host the series (although both the British series and the later American one featured computer graphics on a large scale, Max himself was never an actual computer image).

In 1987, Lorimar in the US acquired the rights to the character, and produced one season (fourteen episodes of about 45 minutes each) of a series based on the British movie. The first episode was a somewhat shorter version of the original story, featuring some of the same actors; later episodes continued the story of Max Headroom, reporter Edison Carter, and Network 23.

Differences between the British and American versions of the pilot... the British version was longer (about twice as long, in fact) and included a few characters who didn't show up until later episodes in the American version (notably Dominique and Blank Reg of Bigtime TV), but the plot was generally similar, just shown in more detail. The main differences were in the character of Bryce Lynch (in the British version he was a nasty little brat who ended up going down with Grosman (Grossberg), whereas in the American version he had an attack of conscience and ended up on Edison Carter's side), and in the fate of Max himself (in the British version he ended up with Bigtime TV, in the American version he returned to Network 23).

Incidentally, from the birthdate and age given for Bryce Lynch (in the novelisation by Steve Roberts), it can be deduced that "Max Headroom" (at least the British version) takes place in the year 2004.


In the post-apocalyptic future where television sets are more important than food, TV ratings are the all important currency of the nation. A new technique of preventing viewers from channel surfing proves somewhat detrimental to particularly sedentary couch potatoes. The top studio becomes concerned: dead viewers make for low ratings. Edison Carter, top news reporter, is sent to find out more. After a motorcycle accident, his mind is preserved by wizz-kid Bryce and becomes his wise cracking, computer generated alter-ego: Max Headroom, who manages to boost ratings above those of any live hosts to date. This made for TV movie was later remade (sanitized version) as the first episode of the series.

Links & References

the Max Headroom chronicles
By James Gifford

Max Headroom Episode Guide
Compiled and Edited by Joe Struss.

Watch the series!

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Grossberg : "Max, this is the executive board of Network 23."
Max : "You mean you're the people who execute audiences?"