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Retro : Making Headroom for Max

January 16, 1994|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bravo has gone to the Max.

The cable channel started airing repeats this month of "Max Headroom," the innovative 14-part series that originally appeared on ABC in 1987.

"Max Headroom" is the second cult series resurrected by Bravo. Last year it gave new life to David Lynch's 1990-92 "Twin Peaks."

Set in the future, "Max Headroom" finds the world to be a pretty grim place. Crime, corruption and television are everywhere. More than 4,000 channels are battling for viewers. Television is such a force, it's illegal to turn off sets.

Enter Max Headroom, a computer-generated character on Channel 23, who pops up on the screen at any time to make sarcastic comments. Max, played by Canadian actor Matt Frewer, is the creation of a young computer genius named Bryce (Chris Young), who models him after the station's ace reporter, Edison Carter (also played by Frewer). Amanda Pays ("The Flash") plays Theora Jones, Carter's beautiful assistant.

Frewer, who went on to star in the sitcoms "Doctor, Doctor" and "Shaky Ground," hasn't seen the series since it went off the air because of poor ratings on Oct. 16, 1987. "I try not to watch things I have done in the past," he says. "I think it is a good idea to move on. I don't begrudge the 'Max Headroom' phase because it was obviously a wonderful thing to do and an amazing opportunity to be able to come to the States with it, playing a dual lead in the series. Also, the character seemed to carve out its little niche in TV history. I am very proud."

His association with Max Headroom actually began in England in 1984. Frewer had studied acting there and was working in London's West End theater district. His career changed radically when he was hired by Chrysalis Records to play Max, a computerized veejay who would introduce the record label's videos. Max became so popular, he was given his own irreverent talk show (seen in the United States on premium cable's Cinemax). Before getting his own U.S. series, Max became a spokesman for Coca-Cola.

To this day, Frewer says, people think Max really was computer generated--"just a cartoon." In England, Frewer was encouraged not to leak anything to the press on how Max was created.

"It was, like, dazzle them with a little bit of fancy footwork that it was created by a computer generator and effects, just to kind of blanket the fact there was a guy under there. Eventually, that became more and more difficult to do. In England, I was going through a 4 1/2-hour makeup process and over here, it was 2-1/2 hours. It became a strict case of credit where credit was due. I wanted to come out of the rubber closet, as it were. So I hired a publicist!"

In hindsight, Frewer believes the U.S. series was probably ahead of its time. "It seemed to spawn a few shows, and the looks of a few shows that seemed to take a leaf out of the 'Max Headroom' book. 'Max Headroom' took a leaf out of 'Blade Runner's' book. I think 'Max' was a fairly dangerous thing to have on the networks' doorstep. All power to ABC for being brave enough to put it on because it was about a TV network. We were definitely tipping the hat of what was going on at the networks at that time."

"Max Headroom" airs Fridays at 5 p.m. and repeats Sundays at 7 p.m. on Bravo.

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