Max Headroom, Cyberpunk TV

Max Headroom

Max Headroom and ABC brought Cyberpunk to the TV airwaves in 1986. The Museum of Broadcast Communications describes the series:

Max Headroom was one of the most innovative science fiction series ever produced for American television, an ambitious attempt to build upon the cyberpunk movement in science fiction literature.

I don’t recall watching the 1984 pilot movie, but I was an avid fan of the short-lived ABC series that aired in 1987. Even today, I am fascinated by the idea of an Artificial Intelligence like Max that could suddenly pop up on my TV screen and talk directly to me.

The pilot for Max was based on cyberpunk themes and shown on British Television just a year after the publication of Neuromancer. I watched computer hackers, outlaw TV stations and a crusading mobile TV reporter, Edison Carter, battle in a dystopian world dominated by immense media and marketing corporations. Max the AI would appear to Edison to provide leads and inspiration; for me Max was the main reason to watch the show. Unfortunately, neither Max nor the series attracted a wide audience and it was summarily dropped by the network.

Snippets of Max can be seen today on Youtube. Ironically, Max also appeared on TV in a 1986-7 ad campaign for the mega-corporation Coke. Some of these ads are on Youtube.

Besides the general cyberpunk theme there were other connections between the Max Headroom shows and the Cyberpunk movement.  In a 1994 interview William Gibson said that he followed the show and was thinking of writing an episode for the series, but the network cancellation of the series put an end to that idea. An edited transcript of the interview is available on Project Gutenberg and is also on the shelves of the Apple iBookstore.

Well, the Max Headroom series is long gone, but not forgotten; long live Max.


Day 5: Interview with William Gibson (Gieseppe Salza) (Project Gutenberg, 1994).


About carto

Retired software engineer who grew up in Montana, went to Montana State College in Bozeman, and moved to California to work at Stanford Research Institute (SRI). Carto's Logbook is about photography, travel and adventure; Mt. Maurice Times is tall tales mostly biographical; Carto's Library is about books I've read and liked.
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