Remember Max Headroom?
Sure you do. If you’re old enough.
M-M-Max was a king, once upon a time.
Twenty minutes into the future… thirty years into the past… it was 1987, and Max was the hottest television personality in the world, with the hottest television show. Actually, he had several shows. He started out in the Uk introducing music videos. Then he got his own talk show, also in the UK. And then a ground-breaking British television movie. New Coke made him their official spokesman. Then Max crossed the Atlantic to get his own sf show on ABC. He made the cover of NEWSWEEK, was parodied on the cover of MAD, did a guest appearance with David Letterman.
Alas, alack, Max Headroom’s reign as the king of popular media proved as short lived as New Coke. His series on ABC was hailed as innovative, startling, ground-breaking, original… like nothing else on television… the first cyberpunk television show… but it proved to be way WAY ahead of its time, starting strong and falling fast, surviving for only two short semi-seasons, an initial run of six episodes, and a second season of seven. Then ABC pulled the plug, and Max vanished from the airwaves, surviving only in the hearts and minds of science fiction fans.
Thirty years have come and gone since that glorious year of 1987, and once again we’re going twenty minutes into the future… in Santa Fe, at least. So mark the dates May 13 – May 20 down on your calendars, and be sure to swing by the Jean Cocteau Cinema.
That’s the week we’re having our M-M-M-MAXATHON!!!
Yes, that’s right. We’ve having a whole week of Max, to celebrate his 30th anniversary. We’ll be screening all fourteen episodes of his show: the original British pilot, “Twenty Minutes Into the Future,” and the American remake of same, plus every one of the ABC hours that followed. You saw them once on your little-bitty 1987 tv set. Now see them again on the Cocteau’s
big medium-sized screen. With our world famous popcorn… and maybe we can even find some New Coke!
Some very special guests will be coming to Santa Fe to help us celebrate the anniversary. Head writer STEVE ROBERTS, who scripted the British pilot and crossed the pond to head the writing staff for the ABC show, will be flying in to join us, and MICHAEL CASSUTT, another of Max’s writer producers will be with us start to finish. After thirty years, they’re ready to spill all the secrets. But wait, there’s more… Max himself is coming too. Yes, MATT FREWER, the one and only Max Headroom, will be on hand for the last three days of the M-M-M-Maxathon.
Oh, and one more thing. We’ll also be featuring, for the very first time anywhere, two Max Headroom episodes that have never been seen or heard before anywhere, two episodes written by a guy you won’t find listed anywhere in the credits for the show: me.
Yep. That’s right. MAX HEADROOM is the great “what if” in my own television career.
For me, MAX came along after my stint on TWILIGHT ZONE and before BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. When ABC first greenlit the US show, they ordered six original scripts to follow the pilot, almost all of which ended up getting assigned to writers just coming off TZ. I was one of those. Mine was supposedly to be… hmmmmm, let me see now… the fourth episode of the series. My title was “Mister Meat.” Now, TV writing in those days was a two-step process: “story with option to teleplay,” they called it. You wrote a ‘story,’ a short plot outline with all the major beats and characters. Then, when the showrunners, studio, and network all approved it, you went on to write the teleplay.
“Mister Meat” never got that far, alas. The showrunners and my fellow Maxxies loved it, as I recall, but when ABC saw the story they reacted with horror. Way too disturbing and offensive, they announced, driving a spike firmly through my concept and sending me on my way. Which I why I never got hired onto MAX HEADROOM and wound up on staff on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST instead.
I got a second chance when MAX was picked up for a second season, however. As a freelancer, I got the choice assignment of writing the Christmas episode. And this time I went to town. Wrote the story, rewrote the story, wrote the teleplay, revised the teleplay. “Xmas” was the title of the episode, and it got as far as pre-production…
And then the show was cancelled. Rather suddenly and unceremoniously, I must say. America was spared from celebrating Xmas with Max.
Ah, but with strange aeons even death may die… and like all good writers, I never throw anything away. So as part of our Jean Cocteau M-M-M-Maxathon, the world will meet “Mister Meat” and “Xmas” for the first time. “Mister Meat” is just a short treatment, so I will be reading it myself on the third day of the marathon, in the slot it would have filled if it had been filmed. Come and hear the episode that ABC deemed too offensive and disgusting for Ronald Reagan’s America.
As for “Xmas”… hell, we have a whole finished script of that one, so we’re going to be performing it, live, on the tiny little stage at the Jean Cocteau. Lenore Gallegos will direct, and the parts of Edison Carter, Bryce, Theora, Blank Reg, Max himself, and all the rest of the gang from Network 23 and the ZikZak corporation will be performed by a fearless cast of local actors… whoever ends up playing Max will HAVE to fearless, to play the part with Matt Frewer in the audience.
May 20. Be there, or forever rue your absence.
Oh, and as usual, the screenings will all be FREE.
((But we will charge admission for the performance of “Xmas”))
May 13-14-15-16-17-18-19-20. Don’t m-m-m-miss it.