Episode ABC.1.1: "Blipverts"

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Episode ABC.1.1
Title "Blipverts"
Production No. 1.1
UK Air Date NA?
US Air Date 31 Mar 1987
Length 48 minutes
Creative Teleplay by Joe Gannon and Steve Roberts

Based on the British Screenplay by Steve Roberts

Directed by Farhad Mann

Edited by Edward Salier

Watch for... Carter's sexual harassment line.

Carter sniffing Theora's hair.

Bryce getting out of the bathtub to use his computer - unlike in the telefilm.

Bryce incorrectly pronouncing "data."

Florence attempting to purloin Theora's credit tube.

Theora's car in her bedroom.

"No, we didn't!"

Theora's lucky, lucky teddy bear.

Crew Series Crew, Season 1
Actor Role
Main Cast
Matt Frewer Edison Carter

Max Headroom

Amanda Pays Theora Jones
George Coe Ben Cheviot
Chris Young Bryce Lynch
Jeffrey Tambor Murray
Also Starring
Jere Burns Breugal
Rick Ducommon Mahler
Guest Starring
Charles Rocket Ned Grossberg
Hank Garrett Gene Ashwell
Virginia Kiser Miss Julia Formby
Lee Wilkof Edwards
Billie Bird Florence (Body Bank Receptionist)
Ken Swofford Gorrister
Co-Starring
Viola Kates Stimpson Eyewitness
Irene Olga López Security Supervisor
Pearl Shear Gladys McWilliams
Ricardo Gutiérrez Martinez
Featuring
Skip O'Brien McWilliams (Exploding Viewer)
Matt Roe Tall Security Guard
John Davey Metrocop with Stunner
Taylor Presnell Security Guard*
Heath Jobes Tall Metrocop*
Unknown Cast
 ? Asian Man in Zik-Zak ad montage
* Tentative role match.
The ABC series led off with a pilot that was a close remake of the original telefilm, but with some changes to adapt Max's genesis to a new story line.

The complete episode, from original broadcast masters, is available on the Shout! Factory DVD set.

Synopsis

(Note: This synopsis is written to be completely "standalone" and is without reference to the very similar telefilm synopsis. For a comparison of the two shows, see the Essays page.)

In a bleak, dystopian future where a downtrodden underclass is ruled by warring television networks and their advertisers, one tough investigative reporter, Edison Carter, strives to make a difference. He is one of the best-known on-air personalities, and "satellites globally" for what has long been the top-rated among thousands of television channels, Network 23. We're brought "20 Minutes into the Future" with a fast zoom to their towering building.

Like all television reporters, he works solo with a minicam linked back to the network via his base "controller." While in the field on a hot lead, the network executives inexplicably can the story. His controller, Gorrister, commits the error of leaving him cut off and vulnerable in the field, and Carter punches him out on his battered return. Carter then demands a new controller, "the best," and "one he can trust," and gets "the best," the beautiful and skilled Theora Jones, hired away from World 1.

When he tries to continue investigating the story, Carter is blocked at a high level. With Theora's skilled system cracking skills, he eventually learns that the Network 23 executives know something about the mysterious event. With Theora's help, he breaks into the R&D lab - on the hidden 13th floor! - of Network 23's clandestine teenaged technical genius Bryce Lynch. There, he discovers a secret "Rebus tape" that shows how a new form of compressed commercial, a "blipvert," designed by Lynch and exclusive to Network 23, causes extremely slothful viewers to explode.

Grossberg and most of the Network 23 board, driven by ratings and advertising revenue issues tied to their biggest advertiser, the powerful global corporation Zik-Zak, want the profitable and compelling blipverts to continue, despite the risk.

While Carter is viewing the secret tape, Bryce Lynch sends network security guards to capture him, and he is sent running for his life. In an epic computer command battle between Bryce and Theora, Lynch manages to force up an exit barrier that knocks Carter from his speeding motorcycle. The last thing he sees before unconsciousness is the clearance warning on the exit gate: Max Headroom 2.3m. Theora comes running to the rescue, but Carter, his camera and the motorcycle are gone, swept up by the guards.

When it becomes critical to find out how much Carter learned about the blipvert problem, Network 23 president Grossberg allows Bryce to perform a cerebral scan of the unconscious Carter, transferring his memory into an AI program that theoretically could read out Carter's memories. When the AI clone is started up, all it can remember at first is "Max... Max Headroom."

To keep the secret of the Rebus tape and the blipvert problem, Grossberg decides to have both Carter and his controller - Gorrister - disposed of. Two thugs, Breugal and Mahler, kill Gorrister and take Carter's unconscious body to a "body bank," a wrecking yard for human parts.

While searching for Carter, Theora stumbles on Gorrister's delivery to the body bank and is led to Carter, who she buys back and takes to her apartment to recover.

Meanwhile, Grossberg delightedly shows off "Max Headroom" to the network board as the world's first fully programmable presenter. Network 23's ratings soar within minutes of putting Max on their broadcast - not that they have much choice, as Max has escaped into the network's computers and is no longer under anyone's control.

Carter corners Bryce Lynch in his studio and pries the story out of him, meeting Max in the process. Although the Rebus tape is in Grossberg's hands, the viewing of it is in Carter's - and thus Max's - memories. Carter confronts Grossberg at his press conference announcing Carter's death and after showing the Rebus tape to the world, demands an answer - on global satellite television - about the blipvert problem. The final decision to go live with the story comes from Network 23 board member - and now president - Ben Cheviot.

Grossberg is out (but still alive), Lynch is reformed (somewhat), Cheviot takes over Network 23, and Max Headroom is loose in Network 23's computer, ready to c-c-c-cry havoc at every turn.

Notes & Commentary

This episode is a remake of the original telefilm, with as many interesting changes as exactly repeated bits of dialogue.

The telefilm was intended to leave Max with a pirate network, a fictional stand-in for the real Channel 4. In the rewrite, leaving Max attached to the big network gave more story possibilities. The pirate network, Big Time Television, is brought into the story in a later episode.

When Lorimar picked up the rights to continue the story as a series, they completely recast the show, keeping only Matt Frewer and Amanda Pays, with William Morgan Sheppard brought on in later episodes. Instead of one American actor among an all-British cast, the series had one (and later two) British actors among an American cast.

Nearly all of the computer graphics are recycled from the British version. This leads to some slight inconsistencies.

There is no clue in this episode as to the city in which the story is set. (The telefilm clearly, if briefly, located itself in London.)

The exploding viewer is captured on a "Rebus tape," which becomes a pivotal object in the story. It appears that "Rebus" was intended to represent the possibly secret "two way" nature of the television system, whereby the networks can spy on viewers. Other references in the series are to the "two way sampler."

We never see the helicopter pilot Martinez in this episode, only hear his voice.

The dialogue is an odd mix of leftover Britishisms ("zed" for the letter Z) and "fixes" of prior terms for American audiences ("blipvertisements" on first reference, for example, since "advert" - the root for blipvert - is much more common in the UK the US.)

Among the news headlines that flash past on Theora's console are:

  • Missile missing from AKG.
  • Man sings whole of Shakespeare.
  • Assassination of medic team in Bolivia.
  • Nuclear submarine explodes.

The missile and medic stories are the same as in the telefilm. The "man sings Shakespeare" story - is that a riff on the singing, Shakespeare-quoting Breugal as portrayed by Hilton McRae?

Bryce Lynch's birthdate is given as October 7, 1988 (European style: 7/10/88). If his age is 18 or thereabouts, this places the story in 2006.

Theora's decoding of Bryce's door passcode uses a thermal scan of the keypad, but the highlighted keys have little to do with the passcodes she provides to Carter. At least four letters she specifies are not on those keys. (The codes are identical to those from the telefilm, which did not use the "thermal scan" gimmick. They had to remain the same because the same alphanumeric "decoding" matrix graphic was used.)

Bryce's exit code is BZ2VH. His entry code is IJ2FI.

Theora says, "I know all about little boys." Carter turns it into an innuendo, but Theora clearly means something else. Is she referring to her younger brother, a subject not raised until the second episode?

Breugal and Mahler are a riff on the 19th century Scottish body snatching team of Burke and Hare, who started off stealing newly buried bodies for physicians to use in anatomy lessons, and graduated to delivering still-warm corpses. The two parts are cut down in this version and the reference is probably lost on most American viewers.

Carter's personal ident code is 74928BDG6629.

The nurse receptionist at Nightingale's Body Bank is named "Florence." (Florence Nightingale? Famous nurse? Get it?)

Among the networks shown on the ratings graphic of stations with ratings in the billions:

  • Network 23
  • Pulsart TV
  • Flanel 25
  • Bimboviz
  • Big Time (in the billions!?)
  • Pornoviz
  • Traumaviz
  • Fatui - 1... (incompletely visible)
  • Gidividi
  • ZGVNHY (did a programmer run out of ideas and just whack in a random string?)

Opening Credits

Mh-abc11-place-slide-320.jpg

This episode uses a unique version of the opening credits, with a score but no dialogue clips, and (of course) only scenes from this same episode. They conclude with the long-form version of the "Zik-Zak montage" seen in all further episode titles, and then a brief appearance of a PLACE NETWORK COMMERCIAL HERE... which looks like a network programming error until you notice the Network 23 logo. It's a bit of "making strange," parodied in a later episode.

The Japanese man in the Zik-Zak montage is uncredited and remains unidentified.

Subliminal Credits

This episode has the "Fred Raimondi" and "Cliff Ralke" credits for about seven frames each in the Zik-Zak montage (which is more an opening scene of the episode proper, our view of the "blipvert," than part of the front credits as later).

Quotes & Caps

MH-11-Carter-on-air.jpg
MH-11-Gorrister.jpg
MH-11-McWilliams-(exploder).jpg
MH-11-Bryce's-floor-13-or-126.jpg
MH-11-Bryce's-keypad.jpg
MH-11-Carter-and-Theora.jpg
  • Carter: "Edison Carter to Network 23... come on, guys, clear this link!"
  • Carter: "This is Edison Carter, answering the questions other people are afraid to ask. What I want to know is this: Who died today in apartment complex 1-4-2-zeta, and who is trying to suppress the story?"
  • Murray: "Have you looked at our ratings? The numbers are up three points in the first five minutes!"
  • Carter: "It's MY neck out there!"
  • Gene Ashwell: "Come on, Ben - the only people that inactive are pensioners, the sick or the unemployed... I mean, who really cares?"
  • Mrs. Formby: "We are the only channel with blipverts. We lose them, and we lose the Zik-Zak Corporation to our competitors."
  • Murray: "Edison Carter, Theora Jones."
Theora: "Hi."
Murray: "Uh, she just said 'hi'..."
Carter: "Hi!"
Murray: "You've heard of her, so behave yourself!"
  • Theora Jones: "How's your head?"
Edison Carter: "Fine... how's yours?"
  • Edison Carter: "See if you can... kind of, ahh... access the inaccessible?"
  • Murray: "Back off - I mean it! What is so special about some microwave oven going 'pop'?"
Carter: "Aw, come on, Murray, since when do Metrocops guard microwaves..."
Murray: "Edison..."
Carter: "...unless they're cooking their lunch?"
  • Carter: "Theora, run that again, that last bit..."
Cheviot: "Carter got too damned close to the truth this morning."
Carter: "Did I, now..."
  • Theora: "Here we go - Bryce Lynch, research and development, Level 13."
Carter: "Uh, Theora, I hate to tell you this, but there's no Level 13 in this building."
Theora: "Oh, yes there is."
  • Theora: "I know all about little boys."
Carter: "Yeah, I just bet you do."
  • Carter: "Look... I don't want to be picky... but we're going the wrong way!"
  • Grossberg: "I do so hate wasting employees."
  • Grossberg: "Can't you get on with this!?"
Bryce: "I'm really making quite a bit of progress. Look - his childhood is here, his sexual memory there... which is really quite interesting..."
  • Bryce: "You're looking at the future, Mr. Grossberg: people translated as data."
  • Mahler: "Another nice accident,then?"
Breugal: "It's just a carryout... it's on the way."
  • Max: "Max. Max Headroom."
Grossberg: "Max Headroom?"
Max: "Max. Max. Max Headroom."
Grossberg: "All right, now what happened?"
Bryce: "I don't know. He keeps shifting his memory location."
Grossberg: "He?"
  • Max: "This is... is... live and direct, N-N-Network 23. Am I on air?"
Grossberg: "I'll be damned."
Max: "I beg your pardon?"
Grossberg: "Is that thing talking to me?"
  • Bryce: "Hi... Max."
Max: "Hi. B-Both of you. Welcome to Network 23. You want to check these ratings? I seem to have an audience of two."
  • Max Headroom: "Hel-Hel-Hello, and welcome to N-Network 23. Live and direct, it's Network 23 - the network where t-t-two's company and three's an audience."
  • Breugal: "Easy, Luddite... hands are rare and expensive items. Worth more than cameras."
  • Murray: "Metro police just called me. Gorrister is missing. There was a break-in at his apartment last night. They suggested we check the body banks."
  • Florence: "Seems familiar... was he on TV? People pay extra for celebrity parts."
Breugal: "Definitely."
Mahler: "On TV, yeah, uh-huh, yeah."
  • Grossberg: "Chaos is not helpful."
  • Grossberg: "Edwards, what exactly did the Zik-Zak Corporation say?"
Edwards: "Their whole campaign is designed to use blipverts to prevent channel switching. Ordinary ads allow channel-switching. Their view is that they could buy time on any network for that. No blipverts... no deal."
  • Grossberg: "We're talking ratings."
Cheviot: "We should be talking people!"
Grossberg: "The same thing."
  • Cheviot: "We're only down two percent."
Grossberg: "Two percent is 6 million viewers. And if they start channel-switching, it's war! You know that, Ben."
Cheviot: "We're used to it! It happens all the time!"
  • Theora: "Look, Florence, what do I do... I mean, what do I do if I want him?"
Florence: "Do? Just pay and pick him up, honey. You want him alive, or dead?"
Theora: "You mean he's still alive?"
  • Max: "What kind of s-s-show is this, anyway?"
Grossberg: "This is not a show, Max. This is the executive board of Network 23."
Max: "Ah-Ah-Ah. Exec-Exec... you mean you're the people who execute audiences."
  • Max: "Yes, t-t-tune into Network 23, the network that's a real mindblower" *BOOM!* "And I love-love-l-l-love those blip-blip-blip-blipverts!"
  • Grossberg: "All right, where is he?"
Bryce: "I don't know."
Grossberg: "You don't know?"
Bryce: "He shifted his whole entire file set to some other place in memory."
Grossberg: "What? What... has... happened?"
Bryce: "He's gone."
Grossberg: "Gone?"
Bryce: "He's escaped into the system."
Grossberg: "Escaped. Find him!"
  • Max: "...and then I'll be talking to you about Zik-Zak's 1000-volt C-C-Christian Converter. Just plug yourself in and your friends will see the light - a very large flash of light. Heh-haha!"
  • Max: "I'd k-k-k-keep-keep talking to you if I had time, but it's not in my hands. I just haven't got any - hands. Or time. But I'll see you again. And again. And again. And again."
  • Theora: "Murray, I'm going to need a live news feed override with an open air queue sometime in the next forty-five minutes."
Murray: "What's up?"
Theora: "I've got a story that's going to blow this network!"
Murray: "Well, who's in the field?"
Theora: "Edison Carter."
Murray: "Theora... he's dead. Grossberg is holding a press conference this morning."
Theora: "Well, then, I guess Edison will be broadcasting from the grave. How's that for a story?"
  • Murray: "What is that?"
Theora: "It's computer-generated, whatever it is."
Murray: "It looks like Edison!"
  • Carter: "Max?"
Max: "Max."
Bryce: "Max Headroom!"
Max: "M-M-Max Headroom."
Bryce: "He's a computer-generated person based on you."
Carter: "Hi, Max."
Max: "Hi... Hi... Max!"
  • Carter: "Well, this'll be the first time I've ever shot material from beyond the grave, especially when it appears to be me."
Max: "Two minds, but with one single memory!"
  • Cheviot: "Cheviot."
Murray: "What do I do, Mr. Cheviot?"
Cheviot: "Do what you have to do, Murray."
  • Grossberg: "Network 23 regrets to announce its award-winning news reporter and on-air personality Edison Carter was killed yesterday while on assignment."
Murray: "You're on the air live in five seconds."
Carter: "This is Edison Carter coming to you very much live and direct on Network 23. The news of my death, Mr. Grossberg, is obviously premature. And now I'd like your comment on the revolutionary form of advertising called... blipverts."
  • Max: "Hi. Hi. No, this is not a blip-blip-blipvert, this is Max Headroom on Network 23. And I - and I - and I know right now you're looking at me and you're thinking Wow, Wow, he could become a star. So, so, before you get the wrong idea about me, let me just say very humbly... you're right. I could."
  • Max: "Now I d-d-don't want to be gloomy, gloomy, but what does the future hold? Some say - some say it holds the promise of a young olive branch... which-which-which means I might have to turn over a new leaf in the future."
  • Max: "How can you tell when our president is lying? His lips move."