The powers behind the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers are working hard to keep that money machine running at full tilt. That’s why the franchise will be relaunched as Power Rangers Zeo this month.
Producer Saban Entertainment has revamped the look of the show and its story lines. The Fox Children’s Network has ordered an unusually high 60 fresh episodes for 1996. And Bandai America has retooled the toy line, which is just now landing on store shelves.
‘We’ve entered the post-phenomenon phase of the Power Rangers,’ says Peter Dang, president of Saban Children’s Entertainment Group.
‘We’re not a phenomenon anymore. We’re just number one the number one toy line, TV show and licensed property. Everyone continues to make comparisons to the previous level, but it’s almost a non sequitur.’
Some people in the kids business criticized Saban two years ago for overlicensing the property and ultimately endangering its longevity. But, after pocketing a few hundred million dollars, Saban can afford to invest for the long term. That means investing money and effort to keep the show fresh.
It’s easy to juice up the show’s ratings for a brief while: Move characters in and out of the Ranger lineup and introduce new Zords, the Rangers’ dinosaur-esque fighting figures. Zeo will bring an elaborate reshuffling of the Rangers and their colors, as well as expanded powers, but Saban is going well beyond that, explains Dang.
‘To truly make a statement about freshening the show, we needed to do more. It’s part of our decision to launch the new season in the spring, to make sure it gets noticed.’
Saban has forked over for new music, sets, costumes, styles and looks.
‘You’ll definitely see it on the screen,’ says Dang.
Even the monsters, which used to look marginally better than hand-held puppets, have been upgraded. It’s a delicate balance, though.
‘People think we look like a Grade B Godzilla movie, and we try hard to establish that level of fantasy,’ he says. ‘Our monsters may be more fancy, but they’ll always be fanciful.’
Likewise, Fox has ponied up for 60 new episodes for what it calls the show’s fourth season, starting April 20.
FCN president Margaret Loesch notes a clear ratings pattern: They rise with new episodes and major events, and sink when the series g’es heavily into reruns.
‘We did a 10-part Alien Rangers story in February, and the ratings really popped,’ she says.
Fox is paying more per episode as production budgets have risen, she adds, with less stunt footage incorporated from the show’s Japanese version.
While ratings for Power Rangers remain strong it is still the top daily kids show it has lost about one-third of its share of the kids viewing audience, from a 54 percent share last season to a 35 percent share this season.
The show still pulls almost half of the audience of boys six to 11, but it held two-thirds of that demographic a year ago. Loesch thinks the show has held up better than expected, considering how hot it was in the heyday of Rangermania.
For media buyers at advertising agencies, the Power Rangers have slipped from a phenomenon to a commodity. Advertisers suffered this year when the show’s ratings dropped, and now buyers need to be convinced the Rangers have some upside left.
The relaunch ‘is not something I’ve thought much about,’ says the buyer for a major toy account. ‘If it helps, fine. If it doesn’t, let’s get on with something else.’
As with the TV show, the toy line needs constantly to be re-energized.
‘Even if the show were not making such revolutions, we’d expect a good year because the toys for ’96 are really fun toys,’ says Trish Stewart, associate vice president of marketing for Bandai America.
For example, the $8 Auto-Morphin action figures have been upgraded to Zord Morphins. Before, the figure’s head flipped between teenager and Ranger, but now the character changes into its new Zeo Zord. ‘It’s a much more dramatic transformation,’ she says.
Loesch hopes the relaunch will staunch the ratings erosion, while Dang says: ‘If we stayed at number one, we’d be fine.’
Meanwhile, he reports, ‘the Rangers are now being launched in South America for the first time. We’re still number one in Europe, and we’ll probably relaunch there next year.’
Like the Rangers in their fight against evil, Dang’s job is never done.