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the Max Headroom chronicles

Frequently Asked Questions

There are a lot of good questions about Max Headroom and his world. So many that the only real way to deal with them is to put up a website with enough information that anyone can find the answer they're looking for. Go figure.

So the entirety of this site is the real "Max Headroom FAQ." However, there is a place to answer all the basic questions, and this is it. This FAQ will grow as needed, but it is meant to answer only the most general questions about Max and not to be an exhaustive compilation of answers. For exhaustive... see the rest of the site, as well as "circular logic" in any good online dictionary.

Another place to find answers to the little and general questions is the Elements page, which lists and discusses various items and things in the show.

Max Headroom FAQ Index

1.1 - Who is Max Headroom?

1.2 - Why does Max only exist as a head and shoulders?

1.3 - Why does Max stutter and repeat himself?

1.4 - How does Max see things from inside a television set?


2.1 - What city is the show set in?

2.2 - What are the "Fringes"?

2.3 - What are "Blanks"?


3.1 - What is Network 23? What other networks exist?

3.2 - Who owns and runs Network 23?

3.3 - What is the Zik-Zak Corporation?

3.4 - Who is Ped Xing?


4.1 - When did the show(s) run?

4.2 - Why did the show(s) get cancelled?

4.3 - Are any of the shows available on home video or DVD?

1.1 - Who is Max Headroom?

Max Headroom is a computer-generated personality who exists only within a television network's mainframe computer, over which he has almost total control and the ability to see and access almost anything within range of a TV set tuned to his channel. He consists of the slightly scrambled memories and personality of television news reporter Edison Carter and a sophisticated replication program developed by Network 23's teenaged technical genius, Bryce Lynch.

He was created after Carter was knocked unconscious in a motorcycle accident, striking his head on an underground garage exit gate labeled MAX HEADROOM 2.3m. (Such warnings are common in the UK. In the US, it would probably be phrased "Max Clearance.") The storyline of the telefilm and the US series pilot diverge slightly, but in both it was crucial to have access to Carter's memories before he came out of his coma.

Bryce uses his newly developed mental replication process to make an artificial version of Carter. In the telefilm, he promises that the construct will be able to pass for Carter on television; in the series pilot, he claims it will be able to answer questions. He is wrong in both cases.

The construct awakens with all of Carter's memories, but in scrambled form. All he can remember at first is the last thing Carter saw, "Max Headroom." It is soon discovered that he has the ability to learn and, in the pilot and series, has almost total control over Network 23's critical control systems. Except for the fact that he can only exist inside television - literally and figuratively - Max Headroom is a genie with awesome cosmic powers, a wicked sense of humor, and no particular love for his supporting medium or its owners.

1.2 - Why does Max only exist as a head and shoulders?

When he was created, there was no need to generate more than his face, so he could be talked to and respond. There also wasn't enough buffer or memory space to generate more.

Part of the inherent humor here is that Max is a the ultimate television "talking head."

1.3 - Why does Max stutter and repeat himself?

Fau-fau-faulty software. Software. Early on, his erratic speech is said to be due to "randomizing," but he never learns to do better.

Other than the stuttering and repetition, he talks strangely because he has all of an adult's memories, but none of his self-control or inhibitions. Max is a brilliant social infant.

1.4 - How does Max see things from inside a television set?

The networks can see out through any television tuned to their channel via something called the "two-way sampler." It appears to have been implemented to help test and evaluate commercials, but it makes a dandy snooper-scope. Max, with his near-total control of Network 23's resources, finds it easy to tap into for his own purposes.

It's not entirely clear whether the viewing public is aware of the sampler, or aware that it can be used surreptitiously. They seem to know about it for interactive shows and voting, but at other times Max and the networks seem to be spying without anyone being aware of it. Those who encounter Max and have conversations with him are often surprised that they can talk back to the TV. At least once the sampler is referred to as being a secret - at least, the spying part.

2.1 - What city is the show set in?

In the telefilm, the city was clearly (if very fleetingly) identified as London. In the US series, the city was never identified and was not meant to be.

The few location shots used were in and around Los Angeles, of course, but that doesn't mean anything. A member of the show's creative team stated that the abandoned wastelands and ruined buildings of the series were filmed in Fontana, California.

2.2 - What are the "Fringes"?

The areas around the city populated by the down and out. A near-wasteland of rundown buildings, wrecked cars, shantytown housing and squatters living on what they can catch... like rats. Residents are called Fringers. Many are Blanks.

Despite the utter ruin of these areas, there is never a shortage of working TVs, often in stacks.

There is another outlying area, apparently a bit better if even poorer, known as the River.

2.3 - What are "Blanks"?

Blanks are people who have either fallen off the information nets, or taken themselves off deliberately. Usually known and addressed by their first names with "Blank" as a title - Blank Reg, Blank Bruno, and Blank Dom(inique) are three we get to know well. When Edison Carter has to hide from the authorities, Blank Reg dresses him in Blank style and proclaims, "Edison Carter, Blank! Joinin' the fraternity of the last free men."

3.1 - What is Network 23? What other networks exist?

Network 23 is the biggest and best-rated television network in the world, but other networks are continually encroaching on its ratings, often through underhanded techniques. It is run from the enormous Network 23 building, which has at least 123 floors.

There are "ten thousand" channels, but it is unclear how many other networks there are. Quite a few are named or shown by number during the telefilm and series. (You'll find a complete list on the Elements page.) At the far end of the spectrum from mighty Network 23 appears to be the microscopic Big Time Television, run by blanks Reg and Dominique and with audiences measured in handfuls.

It is never made clear how the networks are distributed except that Edison Carter "satellites globally" and TV satellites are an important commodity. We see quite a few references to Japan (mostly because of the Zik-Zak Corporation) and fleeting references to other viewing areas such as India.

3.2 - Who owns and runs Network 23?

It is not clear who owns the network, although references are made to shareholders. The network was founded by Ned Grossman (Ned Grossberg in the series) and Ben Cheviot. After the Blipverts incident, Grossman/berg was run out, leaving Cheviot in control. Grossberg later surfaces as the head of Network 66, with his secondary intent (after winning the ratings war) of destroying his former network.

Under the chairman is the Network 23 board, who rarely buck Cheviot's lead but often squabble about it. First on the board is Julia Formby, who is quick to insist on Miss instead of Mrs. and who had a secret affair with Cheviot in the past. She is gone in the second season, replaced by the harder-edged Lauren. Next is the sharp, amoral company man Edwards, for whom no corporate maneuver in pursuit of ratings is too distasteful. Then there's poor old Gene Ashwell, a buffoon despised by the other members. He's always ready with a tired idea or self-aggrandizing comment and not much more.

Finally, there are two other board members, one man and one woman, whose names are not known, who never speak and are only seen occasionally... and who are not always played by the same actors.

3.3 - What is the Zik-Zak Corporation?

Zik-Zak is an enormously powerful corporation, headquartered in New Tokyo, that produces a wide variety of products. They are Network 23's largest advertiser and are frequently yanking the network's chain over ratings and programming.

The company motto is "Know Future," which is a play on the old punk credo (stated in both the telefilm and series by Blank Reg) "No future."

It's clear they are a megacorp with fingers in everything, but we never hear about any of their legitimate products. We do hear Max's cheerful riffs for such loony and probably fictional items such as the Zik-Zak Bacon Straightener, the Zik-Zak 1000-Volt Christian Converter ("Plug yourself in and your friends WILL see the light!"), and Zik-Zak Burger Paks (which have their nutritional value doubled by the plastic wrapping).

3.4 - Who is Ped Xing?

The Chairman of Zik-Zak. Absolutely nothing appears to matter to him but having his advertising ride on the highest ratings crests possible.

Rumor has it he was born slightly prematurely when his mother was knocked down by a car while incautiously crossing a street.

4.1 - When did the show(s) run?

The original UK telefilm premiered on Channel Four on 4 April 1985. The purpose was to establish the character for use as a video show host, which he did immediately and for about the next year.

The US series premiered almost exactly two years later, on 31 March 1987, and ran for 11 episodes through the fall. Two of the remaining episodes were used as filler during the 1988 writer's strike, and the last may not have been shown in the US at all until years later.

In between were the New Coke ad campaign featuring Max, a US Cinemax talk show with Max as host, and a few specials in both the UK and US. The exact histories of these programs is unclear at this time.

4.2 - Why did the show(s) get cancelled?

Ratings, of course. Max was something of a nine-day wonder, and the cancellation of the US series and the failure of the New Coke campaign pretty well nailed his box shut.

The show had the misfortune to run against two highly-rated shows: "Dallas" in its spring premiere, and "Miami Vice" in the fall. While the demographic overlap between Max and the Ewings was probably small, this was an era of fewer televisions and if Mom and Sis were hooked on "Dallas," Chip wasn't going to see Max. The problem got worse when it was moved against a show that was not only wildly popular, but appealed to much the same demographic.

A few, including some among the show's creators, have quietly implied that "Max Headroom" was never anything more than a sacrificial placeholder against these two ratings juggernauts. It's also been intimated that ABC got very uncomfortable with the show's vicious portrayal of television networks. But in the end, it was ratings. Somewhere, Max was laughing.

4.3 - Are any of the shows available on home video or DVD?

The short answer is no.

Part 1 of the longer answer is that some of the shows were released on VHS in the late 1980s. The contents are irregular, the mix of NTSC (US) and PAL (UK) releases is irregular, and all are long out of print. The tapes, especially that of the UK telefilm, can be found on eBay and with Amazon.com's second-hand sellers, with the usual caveats about buying used tapes. But a mix of issues including unclear ownership and rights have kept a full release, or a release on DVD, from happening. (Click Here for more discussion.) There are some laserdisc releases of some series episodes, and perhaps the original telefilm, out there as well.

Part 2 of the longer answer is that some who have searched for bootleg DVDs have not gone away unhappy. That's all I will say here. That and "shop around."

The original telefilm was recently released on DVD... in Japan, for the rental-only market. It can be found with patient searching but is quite expensive with currency conversion and shipping.

Finally, a number of series episodes - perhaps all of them, in rotation - are available on In2TV, AOL's streaming video service.

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