Wednesday, 14 June 2017
710 The Max Headroom Show
First viewed ; April 1985
There are few more identifiably eighties icons than Max if only as a sort of test card for how far computer graphics had come on by 1985.
Max was a product of the boom in promotional videos; both his creators, Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel , were involved in the business and launched the character in an hour-long TV drama set in a dystopian future. Canadian actor Matt Frewer played an investigative reporter who meets with a nasty accident . While comatose his brain waves are digitally recorded by a computer geek and used to launch a virtual version which soon turns out to have an eccentric life of its own. I wasn't sufficiently enticed to watch the original programme.
The character was then used to host an early Saturday evening show starting the following week on Channel Four. It was very similar to Rock n. America with Max providing comic inserts in between pop videos. Frewer remained in the role and was allowed creative input into the character which he based on a particularly insincere and smarmy US TV host. Because VR was still in its infancy, his appearance was not actually computer-generated at all and required Frewer to spend many hours virtually immobilised in latex.
I still wasn't in from the beginning and remember my mum shouting me down from upstairs wondering why I wasn't watching a programme that showed a lot of music videos. It never became appointment TV for me ; I found Max's smart alec persona irritating as of course it was meant to be. Nevertheless, it considerably boosted Channel Four's viewing figures.
By the time of the second season the producers had realised the potential of Max as an interviewer who could ask questions human hosts would avoid. Sting was one of the initial victims. The road to Mrs Merton starts here.
The third and final season was early in 1987. One of the very last episodes featured Max interviewing Oliver Reed not long after his notorious appearance on Aspel & Company. On this occasion Reed was debonair, completely sober and unruffled by anything Max could throw at him.
By then the producers felt that the show had run its course. The latter two seasons had been shown in the U.S. but not made much impact in a nation saturated by MTV's fare. Instead ABC went back to source and re-shot the pilot retaining Frewer but making some plot changes. It launched Max Headroom , a sci-fi adventure series which ran for two seasons in 1987-88. If this was ever shown in the UK, I never saw it.