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Max Headroom

A Brief History of 'Max Headroom,' from SF-Lovers Digest

"Max Headroom" was the first, and so far the only, cyberpunk TV series. It was characterized by intelligent scripts, a quirky sense of humor, some serious speculation about the power and ethics of television, and a slightly satirical but intricately realized vision of the future with a gritty, "Brazil"-like, "retro-tech" style. It had frequent references to traditional cyberpunk concepts such as "ice," "flatline," and "nanotechnology," and some very good computer-generated special effects (mostly done on Amiga 1000s). 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. It decided to use a (fake) computer-generated host. It invented the character of Max Headroom and commissioned a screenplay describing the fictional story of his origin. The original plan was to split up the story into five-minute segments and scatter them among the music videos, but Channel Four soon realized that this would be impractical. Instead, "Max Headroom" was produced as a feature-length made-for-TV movie and was shown as a pilot for the music series to 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 United States acquired the rights to the character and produced one season (14 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.

There were 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 plots were similar. One big difference was 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. Another big difference was 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 birth date and age given for Bryce Lynch (in the novelization by Steve Roberts), it can be deduced that "Max Headroom" (at least the British version) takes place in the year 2004.

This file is from the SF-Lovers Archives at Rutgers University. It is provided as part of a free service in connection with distribution of SF-Lovers Digest. Contact sf-lovers-request@rutgers.edu for more information.