About Max Headroom, the ’80s sci-fi TV show that starred a wisecracking digital talking head

Max Headroom's Guide to Life

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Max Headroom aired for two (short) seasons on ABC — a grand total of 14 episodes. The witty sci-fi satire show starred the inimitable Matt Frewer as Max — along with Amanda Pays, Chris Young, Jeffrey Tambor and George Coe.

Despite its short run, Max Headroom made quite an impact on pop culture, appearing on the cover of Newsweek, being parodied on the cover of MAD… and even popping up in the Doonesbury comic strip (where Ronald Reagan was lampooned as “Ron Headrest”).

Around the same time, yet more Max could be found inside your TV set, via The Max Headroom Show. That program, though, mainly featured music videos, with the Max Headroom character doing his shtick as a talking head between — and sometimes during — songs. – NJP

Bringing you the truth in a world gone Max (1987)

Max Headroom: Twenty minutes into the future

New series: Tuesday, March 31 on ABC Television

max headroom ad march 1987

In Max Headroom, Matt Frewer’s computerized sci-fi alter ego haunts the TV screen

Excerpted from The News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware) April 07, 1987

Actor Matt Frewer is unrestrained in his praise of Max Head-room, the computer-generated video star. He believes television audiences are impressed by Max’s “enthusiasm, his childishness, his good will toward men, his steam-shovel jaw, his Mount Rushmore forehead, his ironing board-like teeth.”

Of course, Frewer has good reason to approve of Max Headroom. In a way, he is Max Headroom.

Matt Frewer - Max Headroom

Max, that glib, self-centered talking head who peers out of video screens on ABC’s new “Max Headroom” series, is not totally a product of computer-generated animation — no matter how much he might appear to be.

Somewhere in there is a real person named Matt Frewer, with a heavily made-up face that is further distorted by video tricks. Frewer has been Max all along, but the unadorned actor was not seen in the Max Headroom “talk shows” on cable during the past two seasons.

He is, however, featured as television reporter Edison Carter in the ABC series, which began last week and airs Tuesday nights at 10.

Matt Frewer as Edison Carter - Max Headroom vintage television from the 80s

In the story, Max is a digital replication of Carter. Carter is all but killed by the villains, who reproduce his mind by computer. The computer also generates a video figure that says the words Carter himself would say.

But Max not only knows what Carter knows; he also has some ideas of his own. Carter revives, but Max continues to live inside the computer system.

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Now, this is tricky stuff, which is one reason “Max Headroom” is the most fascinating show to debut on network television this season. This is truly a show for the computer age; new technology is crucial to the whole premise. Much of what we see, in fact, is seen by the characters on yet another screen.

In addition, the show is not afraid to take on the television industry itself. The fictitious Network 23 is the chief villain. It has created Max with its own evil ends in mind, although the elusive Max seems determined to disrupt the network’s plans.

max headroom cast

“Max Headroom,” set “20 minutes into the future,” also brings to television the look and mood of such recent science-fiction theatrical films as “Brazil,” “The Road Warriors,” “Blade Runner” and even “Streets of Fire.”

“Max Headroom” is not afraid to depict the future in the dark, murky tones of those movies. This is a punk future, a wasteland in which technology is used, but not necessarily to make things better.

Still, “Max Headroom” is very funny. Those who enjoyed Max’s wisecracks as a talk-show host on Cinemax will enjoy him here. Frewer says he is happy the new show is “not just Max battling away in his box.”

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For one thing, his own face will be recognized now. “Until now, I haven’t been getting hassled on the street,” Frewer said by telephone from California, in a voice that occasionally sounded like Max’s, but lacked his electronic stutter. “I’m just dying for people to hassle me on the street.”

He also enjoys playing scenes with Max. “It’s like playing a scene with myself. The first time, it was a little disconcerting. The second time, I said, ‘Hey, this guy’s got great timing.'”

Max Headroom vintage TV show from 1987 (1)

But the chief drawback in playing Max remains for Frewer, a Canadian actor who has worked often in England, where he became Max in 1983. He must continue to undergo the lengthy transformation into Max.

“It combines prosthetics and rubber makeup with post-production techniques,” he said. “This is an opportunity for me to come out of the rubber closet.

Frewer says he is responsible for much of Max’s wit as well as the basic shape of his head. “I work closely with a couple of writers; we have a basic structure and I use that to ad-lib around.”

In developing the character, Frewer said, he “wanted to go for a hybrid of the goofy charm of Ted Baxter and the slickness of Johnny Carson, with a touch of Doris Day — mainly the hairstyle.”

These qualities — plus a lot more — come together in a series that pumps life into the television season.

Max Headroom's Guide to Life

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Mad Headroom video clips

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Max Headroom on the cover of Newsweek – April 20, 1987

Newsweek cover Mad about Max Headroom April 1987

On left: William Morgan Sheppard

Max Headroom vintage TV show from 1987 (2)

Newsweek cover Mad about Max Headroom April 1987

Mad: Television superstar Alfred E Headroom

Max of the Year – the cover of Mad magazine – March, 1987

Mad magazine Max Headroom March 1987

Max Headroom

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