THE YEAR OF MAX AND FOX
Max Headroom was the title character of his own TV show, which began airing on ABC in March. Set in a near-future dystopia, the series told the story of TV reporter Edison Carter and his computer-generated alter ego, the stuttering, sarcastic, media savvy Max Headroom.
Max Headroom was originally created for British TV and made his debut with a TV film, 20 Minutes into the Future. The ABC pilot largely recreated the plot of the original film, which showed Max’s origin as having been created from Carter’s memories after an accident; his name came from the last thing that Carter saw, a sign that read MAX HEADROOM 2.3M.
Max became a real-life star in his own right, appearing in Coke commercials and on actual talk shows. The series became a cult hit, and helped introduce cyberpunk concepts into popular culture.
Max Headroom Incident
On November 22, two Chicago TV stations had their broadcasts interrupted by an unknown person wearing a Max Headroom mask. The still-unknown interloper mumbled nonsense while his rear end was spanked with a flyswatter while a homemade background rocked back and forth as he talked. The culprits were never caught, and the incident went on to attain a degree of cult myth about it.
The Fox TV Network Debuts
This year marked the first time since 1955 that there were four networks on the air. The network debuted with Married…With Children and The Tracy Ullman Show, which also featured the debut of The Simpsons as a series of shorts.
Geraldo Rivera’s first, self-titled daytime talk show made its dubious debut in 1987. Geraldo, who had gained fame as an investigative reporter in the 1970s and for the infamous opening of Al Capone’s vault, would go on to become associated with “trash TV” before going back into a more journalistic role in the 2000s.
In The News
The Jim Bakker Scandal
In March, televangelist and co-host of The PTL Club, resigned from the show’s network following revelations that he had paid off Jessica Hahn to keep quiet about allegations that he and another minister had raped her, and also his own finances, which he had used to live a lavish lifestyle. Bakker was replaced as head of the organization by Jerry Falwell, who called him “the greatest scab and cancer on the face of Christianity in 2,000 years of church history.” Bakker and Tammy Faye were later divorced, while Bakker himself served time for several counts of mail fraud.
The Iran-Contra Hearings
The Iran-Contra hearings were held as part of the investigation into the Iran Contra scandal, which involved the sale of weapons to Iran in order to free American hostages in Lebanon and provide covert funding for anti-Sandinista rebels in Nicaragua known as the Contras.
The hearings made a national figure out of Lt. Col. Oliver North, who had come up with a plan to sell weapons directly to Iran and use all of the proceeds for the Contras. The scandal evoked memories of Watergate, and eroded public confidence in the Reagan administration.
Beginnings and Endings
This year marked the last seasons for:
Simon and Simon
Hill Street Blues
This year marked the debuts of:
Tour of Duty
A Different World
My Two Dads
Star Trek: The Next Generation
In 1987, Star Trek returned to TV for the first time in nearly twenty years. Set nearly a hundred years after the original series, the new show featured a new, much bigger Enterprise, along with a bigger budget for more sophisticated special effects, and a new cast, headed by well-known Shakespearean actor Patrick Stewart, who played Starfleet veteran Jean-Luc Picard. Also in the cast were Jonathan Frakes (William T. Riker) Marina Sirtis (Councilor Deanna Troy) Denise Crosby (Lt. Tasha Yar) Michael Dorn (Lt. Worf) LeVar Burton (Geordie LaForge) Colm Meaney (Miles O’Brien) Gates McFadden (Beverly Crusher) Brent Spiner (Lt. Commander Data) and Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher). Like the original, the new series dealt with themes of exploration, and sometimes interstellar conflict, both with old enemies such as the Romulans, and new ones like the Borg and Cardassians. Reflecting the changes that were taking place in the 1980s, the Klingons were no longer the enemy but instead had become allies of the Federation, which allowed Worf to serve on the Enterprise. Other changes included new technology such as the Holodeck, where holographic fantasies came to life (literally, in some cases.)
Although greeted with skepticism by some fans in the beginning, the Next Generation developed into a successful series in its own right, resulting in three television spin-offs and a series of feature films.
Show Spotlight: 21 Jump Street
21 Jump Street was one of the first hits for the fledgling Fox Network. It was about a group of young police officers whose youthful looks allowed them to get into high schools and go after suspects that other cops couldn’t.
The show’s ensemble cast featured Richard Grieco, Peter DeLuise, Holly Robinson, and future film star Johnny Depp. Their original boss, the hippy-ish Captain Renko, was replaced early on by the more by the book Captain Fuller (Stephen Williams). As the show was geared towards a younger audience, many of the episodes dealt with themes that young adults could identify with, such as drug abuse. The show ended in 1991.