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M-m-Max Headroom On DVD! Plus More Still-Unreleased Gems

Max Headroom

20 minutes into the future…

Rejoice, TV nerds! Max Headroom – ABC’s expansion of the original short film explaining the origins of the UK video presenter and ubiquitous 80’s Coke pitchman, a “digital” character actually portrayed by Canadian national treasure Matt Frewer under tons of latex – is finally out on DVD. The estimable Shout Factory are behind the new box set, which means that the show’s 14 episodes (two of which never aired on ABC) will get beautiful treatment on disc, allowing fans to geek out over it once more. Not to mention giving Joe Q. Public the chance to at last rediscover one of the best cult series of the 80’s. One which, though it suffered a tiny bit from a clearly limited budget, beautifully combined sci-fi with socio-political relevance and humor. Its dystopian future context in which the disenfranchised underclasses are addicted to television like a drug, and relatively early pop-culture instances of cyber terms like “firewall” and “nanotechnology,” was so wonderfully ahead of its time. (Plus, as if you needed any extra incentive, it’s got Jeffrey Tambor. Everything that features Jeffrey Tambor is GOOD. This is a scientific fact.)

Max Headroom, prior to its DVD release, was without question high up on the list of beloved series (some cult-y and short lived, others very popular in their day) that remained unavailable on disc for a long, long time.  Every year that list gets a bit shorter, yet like the Susan Luccis of home video liberation, some shows just keep getting passed over for one reason or another. Some of the best and/or most egregious ones follow; let’s hope, like Max, they make it to the shelves some day:

Batman: It’s a classic push-pull rights scenario: 20th Century Fox owns the episodes of the Caped Crusader’s campy 1960’s TV outing, but Warner Bros. (in its deal with DC Comics) owns the characters now. Until these two sort out their copyright snafu, no one’s getting a shiny DVD set of Adam West and Burt Ward in their spandex anytime soon. Which is a shame if you are of a certain age and look back fondly on the camp, remembering a time when it was okay for Batman not to be morose and broody and, y’know, true to his comic book roots or anything. (And for young female wannabe crime fighters, you know you gave a cheer any time Batgirl sped by during the opening credits.)

The Tracey Ullman Show: Haven’t really been able to figure out what the holdup is here, though one might assume it has something to do with rights for the original Simpsons shorts that debuted on the show. (Even though it aired on Fox, which also owns the Simpsons… anyone? Bueller?) At any rate, it’s a terrible shame that Ullman’s brilliant first U.S. comedy series – the one which also featured the likes of Julie Kavner and Dan Castellaneta pre-Springfield  – is still the only Fox network flagship show not on disc. We’ve got 21 Jump Street, but not this?! Tragic. Tracey & Co. were breaking out into song long before musicals were popular again.

Fernwood 2 Night: The 1977 Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman spin-off starring Martin Mull and (recent Nerdist podcast guest!) Fred Willard as two hapless hosts of a small-town, late-night chat show ran for just two months, was briefly re-incarnated as  America 2 Night, then has sporadically turned up on places like TV Land on very rare occasions ever since. Meaning many have yet to experience its goofball genius, incorporating classic late-night shtick (Dig real-life TV composer Frank DeVol leading house band “Happy Kyne & the Mirth-Makers”), oddball local “talent” and the occasional true great like… Tom Waits?! Awesome.

You Can’t Do That On Television: Oh, this one really stings because it nearly was released! Early in the 00’s, Nickelodeon launched “Nick Rewind,” sets of their beloved vintage shows like The Adventures of Pete & Pete and Clarissa Explains It All.  Arguably the cornball-yet-hugely loved Canadian kids’ sketch program that introduced the network to its trademark slime (Not to mention Alanis Morissette, during one of its later seasons) was the most anticipated title yet. YCDTOT was next to be released and then Nick pulled the plug on the whole DVD series, citing poor sales. What, they expected Spongebob numbers?! It’s enough to make us cry all over our Barth burgers.

The Wonder Years: I know, I had the same reaction: What the?! How?! Why?! Again, it’s a rights issue, this time with regard to the dozens of 60’s rock and pop songs that peppered the soundtrack of one the most beloved coming-of-age series of all time. Many shows, like Freaks & Geeks (also released by Shout Factory) and Spaced have overcome music clearances to make it to DVD, but those shows usually had a relatively short run; The Wonder Years ran for six seasons ABC, so that’s a big tab that someone’s going to have to front to get it to release.  Here’s hoping someone with deep pockets steps up soon.  I mean, who could possibly forget where they were when Kevin kissed Winnie for the first time?

There are many other still-not-on-DVD shows fighting for a chance to gobble up your dollars – what are some other worthy titles? Sound off below.

Image: ABC/Shout Factory

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  1. deb says:

    Wow, some more good stuff added since I last was here!
    I know it came up during the BBC America discussion, but I really wish there was a way to own the hilariously naughty GREEN WING, and I have adored Alan Cumming since THE HIGH LIFE was briefly aired years ago….
    And to make a perhaps bizarre addition to my U. S. titles, I have never heard of THE CHARMINGS being released on DVD; and going Canadian: CHECK IT OUT! with DON ADAMS…. (Silly/cute!)

  2. spinninmarty says:

    I would like to see “Whiz Kids” and/or “Beans Baxter”. I personally own a bootleg of “It’s Your Move”, which I will happily replace if it is ever released legit.

  3. Eldric Bach says:

    For what it’s worth – I’d like to see the show “The Wizard” with David Rappaport on DVD. Used to catch that when it was on back in the day and just found it so uplifting and fun to watch back then. It’s a pity that nobody ever released that on DVD. =/

    Oh, and wouldn’t mind “The Hat Squad”, “VR 5”, and “Mann and Machine” – those were good times!

  4. @Mark – My Max DVDs are LATE! (Nice going, *grumble*) But as soon as they arrive, I’m totally holding the ceremonial chucking-my-old-VHS-copies-in-the-dumpster event.

    @Craig W – All such scientific facts are actually based in *theory*, you realize. 😉 That said, I’d totally watch a shitty show that featured both Tambor AND Lithgow. Or at least give it a chance.

    Also, re: Rex – I KNOW. And it’s a shame that pilot didn’t go to series, because it would have meant Tennant was in LA on a semi-permanent basis. Making the likelihood that Chris might land him on the podcast increase about 500%. Damn shame.

  5. PutnamEco says:

    I’m hoping for Big Blue Marble, Second Noah,and more than just the “best of”the original Zoom.

  6. Craig W says:

    “Everything that features Jeffrey Tambor is GOOD. This is a scientific fact.”
    “Huh, I never realized Dr. Phil was on Max Headroom.”

    First of all, everyone KNOWS Dr. Phool stole the mustache from Tambor (some reports say literally; I’ve seen a police report).

    But EVERYTHING? Two words that prove that even JT is fallible: “The Ropers” And most everyone has tried to forget “Twenty Good Years” with John Lithgow I think the rule of thumb is that in his worst roles his character’s name was “Jeffrey”. But if you look at his IMDB page you’ll find a lot more than even devoted Tam-Bros may remember: “Superhero Movie”? (there was a treasure trove of icons gone slumming in that one: Leslie Neilsen, Marion ‘Happy Days’ Ross, Brent Spiner, Robert ‘Airplane’ Hays, Dan Castellanetta, Pamela Anderson… you can’t get more ‘mixed bag’)

    And there’s a recent unsold pilot in there that made my jaw drop: “Rex Is Not your Lawyer” with DAVID TENNANT in the title role (a lawyer whose panic attacks force him to work behind the scenes), plus Tambor, Jane Curtin and Jerry O’Connell in the regular cast. AND NBC PASSED ON IT? That network is doomed. (end mini-rant)

  7. kade_zero says:

    It’s about time 🙂

  8. Mark says:

    I had been transferring my old VHS copies of Max Headroom to digital. Thankfully, that tedious process can end now. Amazon delivered my DVDs yesterday.

  9. NeuroMan42 says:

    Amanda Pays… DROOL!!!

  10. deb says:

    I must agree with Iron Chef–and I was already thinking of “old” favorite Doctor,Doctor! I have suggested The Phoenix in a comment previously on Nerdist, and there are SO many others!
    –I cannot help but wonder if Back At The Barnyard will be released; sorry, but I love it! (Not JUST Chris, but Maria, Wanda….)
    One big surprise to me has been no release of COSBY (not The Cosby Show, which is out)! Were the rights affected by the tragic loss of the brilliant Madeline Khan? Doug E. Doug was fantastic as “Griffin.” And those excellent episodes built around guests William Shatner, Tom Poston and Dave Thomas…I could go on!!!

  11. Derek says:

    Huh, I never realized Dr. Phil was on Max Headroom.

  12. We’re still waiting on Pete & Pete season three.

  13. Lisa G says:

    OMG OMG OMG Max Headroom on DVD?? YAY!! I must add Isaac Asimov’s “Probe” and that other Matt Frewer vehicle, “Doctor Doctor” to the give-us-the-DVD list. It’s 20 years later and I can still quote lines from episodes I saw just once. Each of those shows ran for just one season, so what’s the holdup??? *frustrated grumble*

  14. @Jay – I’d LOVE that. There were about nine months there when I and everyone I know was obsessed with the original English Iron Chef dubs.

    Best drinking game ever, too. (If Kishi insults a dish, take two drinks. If the secret ingredient is NOT fish, take three drinks…)

  15. Jay Fralick says:

    IRON CHEF – I want the Japanese mock game/real cooking show on DVD with the English dubs of everyone except Chairman Kaga. It must also include the original theme song by Hans Zimmer, not the crap they have replaced it with on the Cooking channel. Unfortunately, Food network doesn’t play it anymore, but the Cooking channel does, allowing “go ahead, Ohta” and “allez cuisine” to become part of everyday vernacular once again. Kenichi rules!

  16. Mike says:

    Still waiting for the original 1960s Dennis the Menace to make it to disc — or at least a high quality copy.

    Found glitchy VHS copies a few years ago, and you’d be surprised how well the comedy holds up.