It is the day after tomorrow, and television networks rule the planet. The TV sets themselves do not turn off, and the programming is designed to keep citizens in a state of complacency. Society is in a shambles, with poverty rampant. In the shadows of the Networks, untold millions live on the streets with only a TV to their names, and many can only make their living by selling dead bodies on the organ transplant black market. The one ray of hope is Edison Carter, investigative reporter for Network 23. Edison covers the stories that matter, and he is the voice of the people who have no other. Edison, of course, winds up on the wrong side of some very bad men who try their best to have him killed. An attempt to find out what he knows by reading his brain with a computer inadvertently creates a stuttering, manic computer simulation of Edison that calls itself Max.
Rival Network 66 attempts to defeat Network 23 in a ratings-based election by introducing a ""watch while you sleep"" device into its programming to cause people to leave their TV sets on all night.
Edison Carter is on the trail of some rather dark people who are stealing babies from the baby pods where they are grown while Bryce carefully considers working for Grossberg and channel 66.
Zik-Zak introduces Neurostim, a device to directly stimulate the brain and bypass the need to use television for advertising.
The Vu-Age Church is running a phony resurrection service, claiming to be able to store cortical scans of its members and keep them on-line for the day when cloning is perfected and their personalities can be placed in new bodies. Edison is reluctant to pursue the story because Vu- Age's leading televangelist, Vanna Smith, is an old flame.
As the ""blanks"" -- undesirables with no computer records -- are rounded up and arrested, the networks face permanent cancellation by hackers who threaten to crash the city's entire computer system if their companions aren't released.
Network 23 becomes the victim of signal zipping - illegal interruption of their satellite feed. When Bryce tracks the zipping to Big Time Television, Reg is arrested and sent for trial by gameshow on ""You the Jury"". Meanwhile Edison and Theora trace the real zippers to the Academy of Computer Sciences, and Bryce's old schoolfriends.
Carter is accused of credit fraud and becomes a fugitive after delving into the hostile takeover of Security Systems, the world's most powerful corporation.
Breughel and Mahler are stealing live bodies from the Fringes and selling them to Nightingales Body Bank. The wealthy Plantaganet wants pituitarys from the bodies for an operation which could save his aging mother. While Carter races to save a Fringer girl's life, Cheviot is more concerned that Max is offending Network 23's biggest sponsor, ZikZak, who have decided to buy him.
In the middle of a global ratings sweep programmer packager Frank Braddock tries to sell Network 23 a package covering the activities of a terrorist group, the White Brigade. Edison and Murray become suspicious when Breakthru TV, who have bought the package, start broadcasting terrorist bombings as soon as they occur.
In the near future, when TVs can't be shut off and ratings are all that matter, investigative reporter Edison Carter and his computer-generated alter ego Max Headroom battle to keep the "blank" generation informed. In the opener, Carter stumbles across his own network's cover-up of a sometimes deadly new form of TV advertising called "blipverts".