1 9 8 4 – 1 9 8 7 (UK/USA/Japan)
Recognised as the first and perhaps the only cyberpunk television series, Max Headroom went through a variety of different incarnations.
Starting in 1984, Channel 4 in Britain speculated on creating an unusual music video show that would utilise a computer-generated host.
Originally planned to be split into several five-minute segments and dispersed throughout the day, Max Headroom was finally commissioned as a ‘made for TV’ movie.
The concept then made it to a fourteen episode series set in an apocalyptic future and a society of harsh class inequalities where predators roamed the street looking for unsuspecting citizens who could be sold for parts to black-market “body banks”.
This world was ruled by Zic-Zac and other powerful corporations locked in a ruthless competition for consumer dollars and television rating points.
In the opening episode, Network 23 dominated the airwaves through its use of blipverts, which compressed thirty seconds of commercial information into three seconds. Blipverts caused neural over-stimulation and (more rarely) spontaneous combustion in more sedate viewers.
Other episodes centred around the crime of ‘zipping’ (interrupting a network signal) and neurostim (a cheap burger pak giveaway which hypnotised people into irrational acts of consumption). We also encountered ‘blanks’ – a subversive underground of have-nots, who had somehow dodged incorporation into the massive databanks kept on individual citizens.
At the core of this dizzying and colourful world was Edison Carter (Canadian-born actor Matt Frewer), an idealistic Network 23 reporter who took his portable mini-cam into the streets and the boardrooms to expose corruption and consumer exploitation which, in most episodes, led him back to the front offices of his own network.
Edison’s path was guided by Theora Jones (Amanda Pays), his computer operator, whose hacker skills allowed him to stay one step ahead of the security systems, and by Bryce Lynch (Chris Young), the amoral boy wonder and computer wizard.
He was aided in his adventures by Blank Reg (William Morgan Sheppard), the punked-out head of a pirate television operation, BigTime Television, which operated from an old, worn-out pink bus.
Edison’s alter-ego, Max Headroom, was a cybernetic imprint of the reporter’s memories and personality who came to life within computers, television programmes and other electronic environments. There he became noted for his sputtering speech style, his disrespect for authority, and his penchant for profound non-sequiturs.
Max Headroom managed to create a loyal fan following and has had several offshoots including ads for Coca-Cola, a song by Art of Noise, a Christmas special, a talk show called The Max Talking Headroom Show, and a spoof appearance in the film, Back to the Future II.
Max Headroom/Edison Carter
William Morgan Sheppard