Max Headroom was this crazy idea come up with originally in England (on TV4) back in 1985 as a VJ. He was supposed to be this futuristic, computer-generated personality (but not perfect -- the 'video stutter', for instance) that was on between music videos -- Max's oddball appeal was surprisingly strong. It was decided that Max needed a "backstory" to explain his existence. Thus was born a TV-movie: "20 minutes into the future", an acerbic commentary on television news that almost as an aside explained Max. There was also a bizarro interview show (grown out of the video show -- it still showed videos) with Max (or rather, a television showing Max) 'interviewing' celebrities of the day like Bill Shatner, Grace Jones, Don King, Jeri Hall, Ron Reagan (the Presiden't son). It was wisecracky and fun (but wasn't by any stretch a political commentary like the movie.)
Never to be too very far behind a trend, ABC-TV decided to take "20 minutes into the future" and make it an hourly show. It was to be edgy (which is to say not particularly) and energetic, and star Max. It received a primetime weekday slot (Tuesdays) - it was a serious entry into ABC's (replacement) lineup. The cast was remade to be more US-centric (the original movie was more British, of course), the star - Matt Frewer played the human hero Edison Carter and Max - was US born and Canadian raised, which made things easy.
ABC's Max Headroom followed the movie otherwise -- crusading reporter Edison Carter, assisted by the rest of the cast (including, most of the time, his alter-ego Max) makes the world safe from various slightly futuristic perils (capitalism gone wild, drug use gone wild, technological elitism, excessive governmental control, genetic engineering, etc.). The overarching story, though, was TV news and its not-so-secret comercial underbelly (this was back in the day when the myth of TV news as heroic activity was still abroad, and the evils of 'corporate synergy' hadn't become quite so obvious.) As Edison asks naively of his boss at one point, "Since when has TV news been about entertainment?" His boss replies matter of factly "Since it was invented?"
Still in all, Max was well written, well acted, and well presented. The show's depressing future of a TV-addicted, hopeless, facelessly regulated populous, ruled more or less by commercial interests (specifically, the TV networks) was all too real. The show complete 'world' of high-flying powerful and low-life (but cared for) powerless seemed to encapsulate both
capitalist and socialist nightmare scenarios (recall that the Soviet Union still existed back in these days).
Max didn't last, of course. Brought in as a 'mid-season' replacment in 1987 (that is, a show put on the air to plug a hole left by a cancelled show -- such shows have a somewhat lower level of expectation from the networks), Max was renewed for fall 1988, but cancelled five shows into that season. Max's appeal in the existing population of Dallas/Hunter Moonlighting/20-20 shows wasn't a fit to the general audiences of the day -- its ratings were, shall we say, unexciting. Max Headroom has often been called "ahead of its time" (usually for its computer-heavy cyberpunkish outlook), but if Max had come along five years later -- X-Files premiered in 1993 -- it might have been better treated by broadcasters and gotten the success it deserved.
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