Star Network 23 reporter, Edison Carter, is doing some fairly routine reporting when he's yanked from his story by the powers-that-be at Network 23. His computer controller, Gorrister, severs all connection with Edison, leaving him stranded. Bad move, as it turns out Edison is excessively high-strung and takes severe offense at being both yanked off the story and deserted by his controller. Gorrister quits in a huff and Carter demands that Murray, the somewhat ineffectual station manager, find him a better controller.
Meanwhile, Grossman, the head of Network 23, details the Blipvert problem to the board of executives. His Head of Research and Development, the brilliant, yet socially maladroit teenager Bryce Lynch, has managed to compress 30 seconds of advertising into 3 seconds, preventing viewers from changing channels during commercials. There's only one little problem: excessively slothful viewers build up an electrical charge and literally explode when exposed to these "Blipverts". Not to worry, however, for as Bryce points out: "The only people who are that inactive are pensioners, the sick or the unemployed." Grossberg mentions that Edison Carter came fairly close to uncovering the Blipvert problem, and Bryce suggests killing Edison to keep it secret. Grossberg thinks this is a lovely idea.
Back at control, Murray has managed to snag Theora Jones, ace computer controller, from World One. Carter promptly puts her to work by telling her to "access the inaccessible", namely, to hack into Network 23's own computers and figure out why he was pulled off the story. She finds a way in through the urinal drainage pipe and records a conversation between Grossman and Cheviot about Edison being "too damn close to the truth" already. Interesting.
Edison heads to the roof and intercepts Cheviot. The kindly mogul Ben Cheviot spills his guts about the Blipvert problem, off the record, to Edison. Bad move, as Edison gets it into his head to spend the rest of the evening breaking into Bryce's Research and Development Lab (and personal apartment) to view the Rebus tape - they physical evidence of Blipvert spontaneous combustion.
Theora hacks Edison into Bryce's lab (interesting note: Bryce's birthday is given as 7/10/88. Assuming he's 15 when the series starts, the show takes place around 2003). In Bryce's lab, Edison finds and views the Rebus tape. Theora suggests hitting the playback feature on the VCR, adding that she knows all about little boys. Edison responds with a sly "I just bet you do."
While Theora and Edison are busy breaking and entering, bathing beauty Bryce has been alerted to Edison's unwelcome presence. He flips up his frog phone and calls Breughal and Mahler, two violent, degenerate bad guys. Breughal and Mahler arrive and Bryce starts hacking into Theora's link to Edison.
Theora figures out that someone else is in the system and directs Edison down to the basement of Network 23. Edison steals Mahler's motorcycle and starts to head for the exit. Bryce turns on the sprinklers and lowers the "Max Headroom" clearance gate. Theora locks the gate up, only to have Bryce raise the ramp, causing Edison to smash into the "Max Headroom" sign at full speed.
Theora dashes to the basement, only to find a bloody sign and remnants of a motorcycle. She stands, dripping wet and utterly lovely, in complete despair. Bad first day on the job when your star reporter dies.
Meanwhile, Breughal and Mahler have brought the unconscious Edison back to Bryce. Bryce pays off Breughal and starts mapping Edison's mind into his computer. He calls Grossman up, showing him the computer generated head of Edison and telling him "This is the future; people translated as data." Bryce's plan is to kill off Edison Carter and have the computer-generated version reporting the news. Grossman is less-than-thrilled, as the CGI Edison looks nothing like Carter. Grossman orders Bryce to get rid of both Edison and his computer alter-ego immediately.
Bryce calls again on the trustworthy villains Breughal and Mahler. Mahler attempts to smash Edison's hand free of his video camera with a sledgehammer, but Breughal stops him ("Who's a silly boy? Hands are more valuable than cameras. Luddite!") They drop Edison off, barely alive, at Nightingale's Body Bank ("Tasty angle - live dead bodies"), and take the computer generated Max Headroom over to Big Time Television, a small-time renegade network.
At Big Time, Blank Reg and Dominique are trying to make ends meet. They're ratings are incredibly low, due to their lousy programming video kits (as Dominique points out to Reg, "Just because they're free doesn't mean they're any good, you know.") Reg reluctantly takes Max Headroom, but before they can haggle out a price for the odd equipment, Breughal and Mahler are called away by Nightingale's. Edison Carter has risen from the dead and escaped from the Body Bank.
Edison finds a deserted building and calls Theora from his camera. She directs him to her fantastic apartment, where he crashes for the night. Breughal and Mahler drive around the apocalyptic wasteland, waxing poetic ("'Tis now the very witching time of night when church yards yawn and hell itself breathed contagion upon the world") and questioning people as to the whereabouts of Edison. Theora hurries home to check on Edison.
Meanwhile, Blank Reg and Dom are delighted with Max Headroom ("Big Time Television: Where two's company and three's an audience"). They promptly put him on their show, and he's an instant hit with the homeless population. Blank Reg grows increasingly suspicious about the original owners wanting him back.
Bryce, meanwhile, has called Breughal and Mahler back to his apartment. He's seen Max on Big Time and snidely mentions that it wasn't what he had in mind for Max's disposal. Breughal intuitively mentions that Bryce should call his project "The Phoenix", as it would be very handy to have politicians stored in little boxes. A nonplussed Bryce realizes that he might have underestimated Breughal.
Network 23 is in the midst of panic ("Chaos is not helpful"). Cheviot has pulled the Blipverts and their viewers have taken a 2% ratings drop. Grossman reinstates Blipverts and curiously checks out the growing ratings of Big Time Television, where Max is entertaining the troops. Enraged, he contacts Bryce, who's with Breughal and Mahler. Breughal and Mahler agree to take Bryce and Grossman to Big Time Television to retrieve Max - for a fee. Bryce and Grossman take a couple of bodyguards with them - just to be safe.
En route to Big Time, Breughal passes the bright pink Big Time Television van heading in the opposite direction. Mahler starts to mention something about it, but Breughal cuts him off and stops the van. Mahler tells Grossman's bodyguards to close the van doors. When they oblige, he gives the nod to Breughal to smash into them with the back of the van. They professionally load the dead bodies, ignoring the now-terrified Bryce and Grossman.
Bryce and Grossman start backing away, only to be caught in a bright light. Edison Carter and Theora Jones are reporting live and direct from Network 23 about the Blipvert problem. Back at the station, Cheviot gives Murray the O.K. to broadcast the story, and credits roll..
While the credits roll, the pink Big Time Television van turns into a garage. At the end of credits, the now-bloodstained van of Breughal and Mahler follows Big Time into the garage, presumably up to no good.