One of the most controversial Power Rangers seasons among the fandom is Turbo. It was PR's third installment and fifth season overall. The first 20 episodes of Turbo are particularly unpopular. So what was it about Turbo that turned it into such a failure? Justin, a twelve year old who was selected to replace Rocky during Turbo, is single-handily blamed by some fans for Turbo's failures. However, when taking a closer look, we can see that Justin wasn't the only mishap during this season. First, lets look at the past seasons leading up to Turbo.
Previous PR Seasons
MMPR S1 and S2 were monster hit seasons that allowed Power Rangers to become the biggest kids show during the mid-90's. It was so popular that after just two seasons, the series got a movie (MMPR The Movie), which received a respectable $66 million in revenue. However, it was after this point that PR's ratings started to decline. MMPR S3's ratings saw a dip that continued into Zeo. Some fans became bored with Power Rangers, particularly the constant cast changes.
Zeo, while a good and generally popular season among PR fans, had some hiccups that did its share to lead to Turbo's failures. The most notable was the Dear John Letter sent to Tommy by Kimberly, and the subsequent relationship between Tommy and Katherine. While some female fans liked this relationship, it was unpopular among male fans (the bulk of the fandom) and was seen as forced. As mentioned above, fans were already getting tired of the continuing cast changes, although Jason's return in Zeo was very well received.
Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie
Before analyzing the movie's impact on Turbo, I will say that as a movie, Turbo wasn't a bad movie. Not the greatest, but it is watchable. However, due to being in continuity with the season, there were several mishaps in this movie that started the free fall in PRT's ratings. Saban and the production crew recognized that PR's ratings were gradually declining since MMPR S3. As a result, they tried to revive the series by changing the suits, zords, and villains in Zeo (this also doubled as a cost-cutting measure). However, while Zeo was respectable in the ratings department, it was still lower than MMPR S3.
The next move was to make a second movie, which was the Turbo movie. This movie flopped in the box office, grossing out just $9.6 million in comparison to MMPRTM's $66 million. Furthermore, the movie did a terrible job of transitioning from Zeo to Turbo. There was no good explanation given as to why the Turbo powers were needed and what happened to the Zeo powers and the zords. There's been some speculation that Billy, who departed at the end of Zeo, created the Turbo Powers and that the original script of the movie also involved Divatox destroying the Zeo Zords. However, none of this speculation has ever been verified. There is also the infamous hoax episode Scorpion Rain which was suppose to explain what happened to the Zeo Zords as well as Lord Zedd and Rita, but I won't go into that since it is a hoax.
Behind the Scenes of Zeo and Turbo
Besides the gradual decline of the ratings, the Dear John letter in Zeo, and the Turbo movie failures, there was the behind the scenes drama going on at the end of Zeo and the beginning of Turbo. Starting off with Zeo, David Yost (the actor who played Billy) left the show just before Zeo's ending. It was speculated for years that he left due to either pay reasons or because of his reduced role. However, recently, Yost revealed that he left due to constant homophobic remarks made towards him about his sexuality.
Stephen Cardenas, who played Rocky, also had to leave the show due to being injured while attempting a stunt during Zeo. This would lead to the controversy with him being replace by Justin, which I will discuss in a minute.
Also at the time of Turbo, the producers and writers had planned to bring back Lord Zedd and Rita as the main villains in Turbo, but were unable to because the voice actor of Lord Zedd, Robert Axelrod, was unavailable.
Also at this time, Jason David Frank (Tommy) and Catherine Sutherland (Kat) wanted to leave the show to pursue other career opportunities. They both eventually agreed to stay for 20 episodes to allow the writers to write them off. However, the head writers (Douglass Sloan and Ann Austin) would leave the show as well during the first half of the season.
Handling of the Carranger Footage
One of the major missteps behind the scenes was the handling of the Carranger footage. In Japan, Carranger was a big hit that was seen as the savior of Sentai after the failures of Ohranger, a dark season at the wrong time in the midst of a terrorist attack and a big earthquake in Japan. Carranger was known for its wacky, slapstick humor and ridiculous monster suits. The writers and producers of Turbo were split between making Turbo a dark, apocalyptic season and embracing the slapstick humor of the Carranger footage. What they got was something in between that was horrible, which is putting it lightly.
Justin and the First Cast Change
Then, there's Justin. Justin, who was played by Blake Foster (who was 11 at the time), replaced Rocky after his actor, Stephen Cardenas, suffered an injury during Zeo. This is perhaps the most unpopular cast change ever in PR's history. Although, Saban wasn't entirely to blame for the cast change. Seeing PR's decline in the ratings, Fox Kids executives demanded Saban to replace Rocky with a child character in an attempt to appeal to younger audiences, which was PR's original fanbase. So basically, this was forced by Fox Kids. What Fox Kids and Saban didn't realize was that PR's fanbase was aging and was older than it was during MMPR S1 and S2. Casting Justin did nothing to appeal to younger audiences and alienated the older audience. Older audiences didn't like how he acted like a little kid (even younger than his actual age) during the first half of the season, and found him annoying.
As well as Rocky being replaced by Justin, two other popular characters, Zordon and Alpha 5, were replaced as well. They were replaced by Dimitria and Alpha 6. This change was equally as unpopular among PR fans who found both of them annoying.
As if all the behind the scenes drama, Justin, and the Carranger footage weren't bad enough for PR fans, the villains in Turbo are also unpopular among fans. Both Elgar and Divatox are viewed as some of the worst villains ever in PR's history. Elgar was viewed as pathetic, especially after getting beat by an 11 year old unmorphed Justin, while fans found Divatox to be annoying.
The Second Cast Change and Second Half of Turbo
After the mess that was the first season came the second cast change, as well as a change of writers and producers with Jonathan Tzachor becoming the executive producer and Judd Lynn becoming the executive writer. While some fans didn't like the second cast change (partly because the two part episode Passing The Torch is unpopular and partly because Tommy departed, the ratings went up during this time, and is viewed by some for saving Power Rangers for at least one season. Unlike previous seasons where the writers had failed to develop new cast members early on, the new cast quickly received development. The quality of the writing improved during the second half of the season, while Lynn embraced the Carranger footage, and managed it much better. Still, even with the improvements during the second half of the season, Fox told Saban to make the following season (Power Rangers In Space) its last season. However, In Space was successful where Zeo and Turbo had failed, and restored the ratings that MMPR had, which allowed Power Rangers to continue.