By Tony Sokol
Max Headroom, the show that starred that Wayfarers wearing cyberpunk, was set in the not-so-distant future. Really not so distant, twenty minutes or so. We here at Entertainment 2morrow can appreciate that, as it’s kind of our bread, butter and jam. In the eighties there were rumors running around that Max Headroom was some kind of brainwashing delivery device and so are we here. ABC pulled Max Headroom before its final two episodes ran and began a f-f-flurry of conspiracy theories.
Episode two Super Deluxe’s Unknown series, “The Max Headroom TV Hijack Mystery,” takes a longer look into one of them. Episode 1, “Polybius,” told about the urban legendary arcade game that brainwashed teens for about a month in 1981. A supposedly unknown videographer looked at the video intrusion starring Max Headroom and wants to know “Was This The First Troll?”
On November 22, 1987, a man in a Max Headroom mask blocked the broadcast signals of two Chicago TV stations. First, he interrupted the 9 O’Clock news on WGN-TV Channel 9 for 20 seconds. Two hours later he broke into a broadcast of the Doctor Who episode “Horror of Fang Rock” on PBS affiliate WTTW Channel 11 for about a minute and a half.
The airwave hijacker delivered one of the first hacking rants, including mocking WGN pundit Chuck Swirsky and WGN’s call letters, which was an acronym for World’s Greatest Newspaper, with the phrase “The Greatest World Newspaper nerds.” He made fun of New Coke’s advertising slogan “Catch the Wave,” which Max Headroom shilled for, while holding a Pepsi. He sang a few bars of “Your love is fading” and hummed the theme song to the early sixties TV series Clutch Cargo, complained about his piles and yelled “They’re coming to get me! Come get me, bitch!” The still-unknown and at-large interloper did it in front of a makeshift Max Headroom background and ended the broadcast by mooning the camera while being spanked with a flyswatter by someone wearing a French maid outfit.
Engineers couldn’t stop the intrusion. WTTW, which maintained the transmitter that was set on top of the Sears Tower, was able to find copies of the hijacker’s telecast with the help of Doctor Who fans who had been taping the show. After the incident, WMAQ-TV stuck clips of the hack into a newscast during a sports highlights show. HBO had suffered a similar broadcast signal intrusion 19 months earlier from someone calling himself “Captain Video.”
When I was little nothing really scared me like UNSOLVED MYSTERIES,” Brook Linder wrote to his Facebook page.. Maybe it was Robert Stack, or the haunting theme song/title intro, or maybe it was about imagining there was more to the segment – a truth behind the staged reenactments (sometimes with the very people that were actually involved in the mystery!!). Essentially, something terrifying is happening in your neck of the woods and you can only see it’s shadow.
You can read about this and so much more about Max Headroom at Den of Geek.