12/22/1986 at 01:00 AM EST
Steve Allen. Jack Paar. Johnny Carson. Merv Griffin. Mike Douglas. Dick Cavett. Joey Bishop. David Letterman. Alan Thicke. Joan Rivers. You can say one thing for them: They're human.
Max Headroom isn't. Oh, yes, he starts out as flesh and blood in the form of 28-year-old actor Matt Frewer. But then makeup artists turn his skin into mutant polyester and his hair into slippery vinyl, while computer nerds turn his soul into so many stuttering video dots. By then, Matt is Max and Max is a machine more neurotic than HAL, more talkative than My Mother the Car, more feared than the Terminator.
Max is the Ultimate Talk Show Host. Unhampered by fear or guilt, he can do for celebs what Art Linkletter once did for kids; get them to say the darnedest things. "He asked me, 'What do you think of hair under the arms?' " recalls one guest, coif king Vidal Sassoon. "That's not normally said in an interview. But immediately I said, 'I'm far more interested in hair between the legs. Pubic hair will be heart-shaped this year.' " There's the proof that Max's show is like no other—thank goodness. Of course it was Max who set the tone of the program with his introduction of Vidal: "I never thought I'd have VD so soon on my show."
Since Max was introduced on England's Channel 4 and America's Cinemax 20 months ago, his cult has spread like an epidemic. This year he'll earn more than $2 million for Chrysalis, which licenses him, and he's expected to double that next year. Max is a spokesmachine for Coke ("Catch the wave," he says); Max is an author (Max Headroom: 20 Minutes Into the Future and Max Headroom's Guide to Life); Max is a videotape star (Max Headroom: The Original Story, the movie in which he was created, sold 125,000 copies in the U.S.); and Max has a line of watches, T-shirts, lunch boxes, greeting cards and skateboards. There's more: Max has a Christmas special on Cinemax Dec. 19, and Max is making a pilot for ABC. Catch the wave indeed.
True, Max could max out in the future, but that won't alter his page in the history books or his card in the trivia games. He is one of the most ingenious creations to be seen on TV since the invention of color. Max didn't have to catch the wave. Max was the wave.