Contrary to our expectations, the Haim Saban profile in this week’s New Yorker is a killer read. We had no idea that the man’s empire began with a spectacular insight about cartoon music royalties, or that kiddie-show billionaires have such awesome pull with world leaders. And there is at least one classic reporting detail, in which the author describes Saban crediting his palatial Beverly Hills pad’s existence to “five retards in spandex.”
That uncouth remark refers, of course, to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, the cheesy show that Saban developed in the early 1990s, and which eventually helped land him in the billionaires club. The profile sort of glosses over the show’s birth and early success, choosing instead to focus on the behind-the-scenes maneuvers that led to Saban’s brief alliance with Rupert Murdoch. That’s understandable, but a shame, because there’s a forgotten Power Rangers anecdote that reveals a lot about Saban’s ruthlessness. It’s behind a paywall, so we’ll just quote the essence:
There’s always a happy ending to each episode of the top-rated kids show “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.” But several cast members who hired a manager to boost their low wages are in danger of becoming orphaned morphins.
While the Fox show has morphed into the most popular and profitable kids show on TV and become a merchandising juggernaut worth an estimated $ 1 billion, the six stars are upset they’re not sharing in the riches. Each is pulling down an estimated $60,000 or so a year — not a lot for actors involved in a runaway hit series that can’t produce enough toys to keep shelves stocked. (Cast members make no money from the massive merchandising blitz.)
Three of the kids hired a manager, Ingrid Wang, who pressed for more bucks. Now the show’s producer, Haim Saban, has set up a large-scale casting call for new rangers.
Some felt the message was clear that the cast would be replaced if they didn’t play ball.
The six rangers — Austin St. John, Walter Jones, Thuy Trang, Amy Jo Johnson, David Yost and Jason Frank — all are around 20 years old and were unknowns when cast for the series. They also won’t make a huge payday if they appear in a feature Fox will distribute theatrically in early 1995.
Elie Dekel, vice president of marketing, acknowledged that casting calls would be taking place shortly in New York, Los Angeles, Orlando and Dallas to scout fresh talent. He also noted that the storyline requires that each kid lose morphing power upon graduation from high school.
As you might expect, Saban did end up replacing Power Rangers who refused to play ball, to no ill effect. The real genius of the show was that the heroes did their do-gooding behind masks, so it was easy to swap in cheaper unknowns when a star got too big for his or her britches. And the built-in expiration date that Dekel mentions ensured that Saban would always be negotiating with teenagers desperate for their Hollywood breaks, rather than seasoned acting veterans who were in positions to make demands.
On the plus side, the ousted Power Rangers will always be able to make a pretty penny at Power Morphicon.