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The Mixed-up World Of Max Headroom Creators

May 05, 1987|TERRY ATKINSON

Stone said that while others have benefited from the Max phenomenon, he hasn't. "My life style here is literally one room with bare floorboards." The writer said he was so depressed after being taken off the Max project that "I thought 'to hell with film and television.' I couldn't touch a typewriter for some time."

Now Stone is writing again, but he hasn't been able to sell his story treatments. "I don't even get to first base, because you say you did a show and people say, 'OK, what did you have to do with ("Max")? You're name isn't up there (as screenwriter).'. . . Everybody looks at credits. They really matter over here, and I'm sure they matter over there."

"I mean, (bleep) it--I invented Max."

Morton and Jankel agree. They said that Stone came up with the name and basic idea for the character. The couple--romantic as well as creative partners (Jankel is expecting a baby in October)--then worked out a "broad outline," according to Jankel, that involved a "conspiracy" situation in which "this TV presenter had to escape" and bumped his head on something saying "MAX HEADROOM, 2.3 METERS" (a "maximum headroom" warning), "knocking him unconscious. And the TV (network) was so desperate for ratings that they had to reconstitute him. So we then conceived the idea that the live person would be re-created as a computer-generated personality."

But then, they said, Stone suggested that the character who gets his head banged up be "a roving reporter." Morton: "And then George came up with Theora, who controls (the reporter) through the television, and then he invented the blipvert because we needed a 'MacGuffin' in the film. Then the whole thing exploded from there."

Morton, Jankel and Stone said that they came up with almost all of the major characters and settings seen in the ABC show and, of course, in the original "Max" film. But before the latter was made, Stone was taken off the project.

Steve Roberts, who has sole screenplay credit on that film and is story editor for the ABC show, gave this version of what happened: He was told by Wagg, Morton and Jankel that the Stone script "had a lot of ideas in it but was entirely unusable. I read the script and agreed with them. . . . What it was was a piece full of rather bright ideas. However, it was Rocky and Annabel who said they needed something else altogether."

Asked about this, Jankel and Morton said that Stone's script was "shootable" but that "George probably had too many ideas in there." They confirmed that they agreed to Roberts' involvement and worked closely with him. According to them, Roberts' chief contribution was dialogue. They stated, however, that all of the central characters and elements were created by Stone.

Roberts, on the other hand, said that isn't entirely so. He did have one objection to the claim that Stone had invented all the major characters in the British film. At one point during the final-script stage, British occult writer Colin Wilson was brought in as an adviser--and Wilson's son, Roberts asserts, came up with the idea of making Bryce a teen-ager rather than "a potty old professor." Morton and Jankel believed this detail to be correct. Stone, though, insisted that he conceived Bryce as "a kid."

"To tell the truth," Roberts said, "George came up with some smashing ideas. But in terms of the origins of this stuff, I mean. . . . The story of Hamlet came from an old Norseman, and the last time I saw it at Stratford I didn't see his credit anywhere."

While many of the questions about Max's past remain to be resolved, ABC is a lot more concerned with what the talking head's future will be. ABC Entertainment Vice President Ted Harbert told The Times that "Max Headroom" is "the type of show we would like to have on our schedule in the fall," but that results of the entire spring tryout "will have to be analyzed before a decision is made." (Meanwhile, Max will also show up in another HBO/Cinemax series).

Morton and Jankel likened Max to a child who's grown up and left home. And how do they feel about their popular, troublesome offspring?

"Well," said Morton, "we're sort of pleased . . . "

" . . . that he's done so well for himself," said Jankel, finishing his sentence. They both laughed.

"But we still worry about him," added Morton. "And we especially worry about the company he keeps."

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