When the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers first hit American TV screens with “Day of the Dumpster” 20 years ago today, no one would have expected over 4 million faithful viewers to be tuned-in by the end of its first season—a number that ballooned to 6.9 million by the end of season two.
But fans loved it. The mash-up of Japanese-inspired action and US-produced drama—not to mention brightly-colored spandex—created a pop-culture phenomenon, one that many major networks at the time chose to turn away from. In fact, Fox was the only network that took a chance on the new series, which has arguably had its share of ups and downs over the nearly 800 episodes that have aired.
Still, the kids series created merchandise heaven for retailers, amounting to nearly $1 billion by 1995. The brand was eventually bought up by Disney, where it languished, cycling through themes that included Power Rangers as space cadets, ninjas and race car drivers—all of which ate away at the original brand’s success. In 2010, the original owner, Saban Brands, bought it back from Disney with a mission to revive the characters and series.[more]
“When it premiered 20 years ago, it went on to redefine what was possible in a kids’ show in terms of ratings, global appeal, pop-culture relevance,” Elie Dekel, the president of Saban Brands, told Time. “All those things kind of reset when Power Rangers got to the marketplace.”
The show is back airing on Nickelodeon—and tapping into some 90s-era marketing ploys to buildup fanfare. “We pulled out our playbook from the ’90s in terms of marketing and promotion,” Dekel said. “We rekindled a lot of those strategies, including a focus on grassroots marketing—having Power Rangers–costumed characters appear at local market events on an ongoing, regular basis. We believed in the power of new episodes.”
And the comeback strategy seems to be working. In 2011, the show averaged 2.3 million viewers on Nick, and Power Rangers toys have started selling again, bringing in $40 million 2011 and doubling that in 2012. The company hasn’t gone completly old-school though. Saban has adapted to the new tech-driven era with more digital offerings, such as an interactive game on Nick.com as well as games for the iPhone. And it isn’t just kids who are engaged with the brand. Saban maintains a Facebook and Instagram accounts celebrating the classic Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and fans are also reportedly planning their own Power Rangers convention for next summer. Star Trek who?