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Max Headroom

Max Headroom was the name of a fictional celebrity character in the late 1980s and a science fiction television series featuring him.

The Max Headroom character started in 1985 as an announcer for a music video program on British television Channel 4 called "The Max Talking Headroom Show". The intent was to portray a computer-generated cutting-edge character. Max Headroom appeared as simply a stylized head on TV against harsh primary color rotating line backgrounds, he was most well known for his jerky techno-stuttering speech, wit, and a knack for word-play puns (such as "With friends like that, who needs enemas?").

Max himself was not computer generated, the technology did not exist in the mid-1980s to make it possible (or at least practical). Max was actually an actor in latex and foam rubber prosthetic makeup. With the backgrounds and video editing, the average viewer was convinced that Max was computer generated.

Max became something of a celebrity outside of the television series. He was the spokesman for Coca-Cola's disastrous New Coke campaign, using his trademark staccato to deliver the slogan "Catch the wave! Coke!". He also hosted an interview show on the Cinemax cable TV channel, and appeared in the video for "Paranoimia" by The Art of Noise.

To create a background story for their announcer, Channel 4 created a one-hour TV movie describing the story of the creation of the computer-generated person. Titled 20 minutes into the future, the movie was a dystopic look at a run-down near-future dominated by television and large corporations. It introduced television reporter Edison Carter and his efforts to expose corruption and greed. In the pilot episode, Edison is hunted down by his own employer, Network 23. In the process, he is injured and his mind is digitized into a computer program. The resulting program takes on a life of its own as the eccentric and unpredictable "Max Headroom" who can move through computer and television networks at will.

In 1987 the story was turned into a full fledged television series. The original one-hour movie was partially recast and re-filmed as a pilot for a new series on the U.S. based television network ABC.

It was the first cyberpunk series to run in the United States on one of the main broadcast networks in prime time. Like other science fiction, the series introduced the general public to new ideas in the form of cyberpunk themes and social issues. The series portrayed the Blanks, a counter-culture group of people who lived without any official numbers or documentation for the sake of privacy. Various episodes delved into issues like literacy and the lack thereof in a TV-dominated culture (Blank Reg: "It's a book. Non-volatile storage media. Everyone should have one.")

Although it was not a comedy series, low-key humor was a noteworthy part of the entire effect. Some was more overt, such as Max's wisecracking lines, while other was less obvious. One example is the use of traffic signs for character names. The character Max Headroom got his name because, in the original story, Edison Carter crashed into a traffic gate labelled "Max headroom 2 metres" and was knocked unconscious, and when his brain was digitized that was his last image. Also the president of Network 23's largest corporate sponsor from Asia, the Zik-Zak corporation, is named Ped Xing. It could be a Chinese name, but it is also the common American traffic sign abbreviation for "pedestrian crossing". Technological anachronisms were a recurring feature in the series. As Theora types in computer commands for real-time control of satellites, the camera zooms in to show her typing on the keys of a manual typewriter.

In the end, the series all-too-accurately predicted its own demise. With story lines about TV ratings monitored on a second-by-second basis, the series was a little too far ahead of its time. After 14 episodes, ABC cancelled it.

Like most fads, Max faded from the public eye in the 1990s. He was mostly forgotten until the late 1990s, when U.S. cable TV channels Bravo and the Sci-Fi Channel re-ran the series.

In 1997, life imitated art as predicted by Max Headroom. In the original story, reporter Edison Carter exposed the TV network's efforts to create Blipvert's, a new high-intensity television commercial which had the unfortunate side-effect of overloading the nervous system of certain viewers (with lethal consequences). In a bizarre parallel in 1997, Japan's Pokemon television series unintentionally triggered seizures in a number of viewers through intense flashing images on the screen. While fortunately not lethal, the relatively rare condition of photosensitive epilepsy caused the seizures in the affected viewers because of their intense concentration on the flashing images.

One of the most bizarre incidents involving the Max Headroom character was on November 22, 1987 when two Chicago Illinois television stations had their broadcast signals hijacked by an unknown person wearing a Max Headroom mask. The first attack took place for twenty-five seconds during the sportscast on the 9 O'Clock news on WGN-TV Channel 9 and two hours later around 11 O'Clock on PBS affiliate WTTW-TV Channel 11 for nearly two minutes during a broadcast of the sci-fi series Doctor Who which also included the masked Max Headroom getting smacked on their bare rear-end by a fly swatter. A copy of the WTTW-TV Channel 11 incident is available under "External Links" below. According to television and newspaper reports following the incident it was reveal that it was a college student from the Chicago area that had hacked the two television stations.

 

U.S. Series Cast:

External Links



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