Teenagers With Attitude (and Spandex): Behind the Scenes of the "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers"

Big in Japan

In the late 1980s, Haim Saban and Shuki Levy of Saban Entertainment came to the U.S. from France in hopes of establishing their production company. After a few years spent composing theme songs for TV shows like Inspector Gadget, and adapting and dubbing Japanese cartoons like Maple Town into English, Haim Saban stumbled upon the Japanese superhero series Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger, which would become the basis for the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.

Shuki Levy: A French producer Saban and I were friends with asked if I could compose the theme song for a show called Inspector Gadget. Before long, every studio that did animation for Saturday mornings began approaching us, and if we weren't approached, Haim would reach out. Through that, Saban discovered the basis for Power Rangers during one of his visits to Japan.

Saban brought some of the tapes and toys from the show back to Los Angeles. He said to me, "We gotta do something with this. It's so big in Japan, but nobody else around the world is looking at this stuff." The first idea was to dub it. At the time there was a similar show—not heroes and costumes, but something similar—a Japanese show that did really well in France, dubbed into French.

We decided to keep the Japanese footage for the action and create an American show for the rest. I wrote the script, directed, and scored the pilot, but it never aired. Haim shopped it around for at least five years, but nobody wanted it. People laughed. About six years later, Fox Kids came into existence, and Margaret Loesch, who was the president at the time, met with Haim and she greenlit the series for 13 episodes. Then it took off.

When it finally got to air, the main challenge was, because all of the action in the show came from Japanese footage, we were obligated to follow that storyline. For example, we'd get an episode where they were fighting some type of rubber-looking pig. We had no idea what the story was about, and so had to build our own around the Japanese footage.

This also created challenges for the merchandising department because we'd get a new episode and then the new episode would introduce a new bad guy who would turn out to be a semi-regular on the show. Meanwhile, there were no toys of this character. In time, we got more in sync with the Japanese, and when they saw the success of the show in the U.S. they started adjusting their work patterns to accommodate us.

The casting was enormous. It was an open call to start with and hundreds teens showed up. We had in mind what we wanted, but as always in casting, you don't know until you see the person and you go, "That's it." 

 

Haim Saban shopped the show around for at least five years, but nobody wanted it. People laughed.  —Shuki Levy

 

Jason David Frank: Five cast members were already cast and then they were looking for an additional Ranger, the Green Ranger. I was fortunate to go in there and there wasn't really that much competition. I did my speaking bit and then they asked me to do karate.

When I went to the call back, that's when I booked it. I was the only guy there that day. They were looking to rebook the Yellow Ranger. So I was thinking, "Is the Green Ranger a girl or a guy?" Nobody knew what it was.

Amy Jo Johnson: I was a gymnast, not Olympic bound, but a pretty good one. I'm sure that's what landed me the role of Kimberly. I'd been in L.A. for six months when I got the part. 

David Fielding: I moved to Los Angeles at the end of the summer of 1992, and I believe it was late September or the beginning of October, when a college friend of mine who was working for Saban Entertainment at the time called me and said, "This company is putting together a kids television show and I think you'd be great for the role."

When I went to Saban, I was told to go up to one of the upper floors, and when I got there, it was just me and another guy in the room. We both had our lines and our sides. He was across the room from me and I was listening to him and he was listening to me. He went in first to the room where the regular group of producers and all the kids playing the Rangers were. He was there for half an hour. When I got in, they had me stand on a table so I appeared to be above them while I was doing the voice of this third-dimensional, mentor-like character.

My take on the character was what ended up on screen. My inspiration was a mythical character like Zeus or Oden, so that's the voice I was projecting when I was doing the audition.

I remember the young kid playing the Red Ranger, Austin St. John, said, "I think we found our Zordon." I went home and half an hour later they called me and said, "You got the part."

The original name was Zoltar, but I think someone brought up the fact that Zoltar was the arcade game from the movie Big. I think they found that the name had a copyright on it, and so they changed it. 

Barbara Goodson: I worked for the company a couple years prior to that. I met them when word got out that there was a new small studio set-up where they were looking for people who did cartoon voices. I ended up being the voice of all their little boys at the time—Bobby Bear, Macron, Tom Sawyer. That was before Power Rangers.

When Power Rangers came to be, I was part of their stable of actors, and was given the job of Rita. They said they needed a Wicked Witch of the West-like voice, so I did exactly what they asked. What happened was, they fired me. They took a poll and said I wasn’t scary enough. I asked them if I could try something else, but they said they would open it up to other people. And at the point, I had already done the pilot. So I said, “Come on guys, let me audition at least.” I was pissed off. I said, “You want it scarier?!” [In hoarse Rita voice.] I came up with that voice out of being annoyed, and it lasted for five years.

After they brought in the Lord Zedd character to replace Rita, there was some rumor that Rita was coming back. I thought, “Well, I’m doing the voice. Let me audition for her.” I just saw it the other day, when I was looking at some old footage, I have my audition was Rita in the costume. It’s pretty good actually. I’m not Asian, but I think I did a good job. I couldn’t believe how heavy that costume was. So in a way, it was like, “Do I really want this job?” [Laughs.]

Anyway, the producers hired a woman that looked like the original Rita, Machiko Soga, but younger, so Carla Perez took the job. They made a storyline where Rita took a youth potion and she got younger. It was a smart idea because she was able to work for years.

Ron Wasserman: At the end of 1989, Saban had me come in for one weekend to work with some of the composers. I noticed that for the first seven hours, those guys smoked dope, and worked hard the last hour. They got $150 each for every piece they did, simple stuff. The most I ever made was close to $450 a week back then, and if I sold something then, it was a super lucky week. I decided that was what I wanted to learn how to do, so I lived at that studio for a couple years, writing when it was open and getting paid to engineer for other composers.

Saban had come in with a few other previous ideas for a show like Power Rangers. I think one was called Metal Man, so I did some hard rock for that. That idea just died. Then one night, they said they have this show called the Mighty—I thought they said "Morphine"—Power Rangers.

Saban gave me a rough cut of what they had for the opening, so I banged out the theme song in two and a half hours. They said, "If you can, use the word go," and the reason being that they had such success 15 years prior with Inspector Gadget with "Go Gadget Go." I think they considered it a lucky word. The next day, Fox heard it and loved it, and then the show took off. I ended up working on that show day and night, and became the go-to-guy.

It was an astronomical amount of work, so much so that by the end of 1995, I went in and said to the company—this is the deal with Saban and everyone understood —"Just about all of your writer's share went to the company."  I asked for an equal share, they said no, then I said, "See ya." It wasn't on bad terms; they understood and it was just time for me to go.

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