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Media Musing Counter Factuals: Power Rangers Turbo and the changeover that wasn't

By Charles EP Murphy

Incoming new Rangers Cassie and TJ are excited to have the torch passed, in Power Rangers Turbo

By the time of 1997's Power Rangers Turbo, the show had been running for almost four years. Ratings were on the way down. The cast couldn’t really play ‘teenagers with attitude’ anymore, not with the natural progression of time, and it was harder and harder to find new plots to do with the characters while keeping them as sparkly-toothed good guys. Jason David Frank was looking to move on and Steve Cardenas already had, being replaced by child actor Blake Foster (possibly due to the ratings success of Big Bad Beetleborgs, where the sentai team are all kiddies).

The crew hit on the obvious solution: recast the rest of the team too!

And so, just over a third of the way into Turbo, the four older Rangers left and were replaced by new characters: Cassie (Patricia Ja Lee), Carlos (Roger Velasco), Ashley (Tracy Lynn Cruz), and TJ (Selwyn Ward), who was the first black Red Ranger in the franchise.

But the way it ended up happening was very different to how it was meant to, and that change has repercussions all through the franchise… or does it?

The Fast Saga

The original plan, by Doug Sloan and Ann Austen, was to gradually introduce the new Turbo Rangers as supporting characters before suiting them up, while the newly graduated Rangers began looking towards their adult lives. It was a plan that had already worked quite well for Mighty Morphin when Kimberly was replaced as Pink Ranger in a ten-episode plotline, and it was certainly better than bringing Blake Foster’s Justin in by saying “so Rocky hurt his back in the second minute of the Turbo film and this kid you never knew he knew showed up to replace him”. Three of the new characters would be introduced in three different episodes as people the Rangers know and semi-mentor, while the character of Ashley would come in as a friend of new guy Carlos who helps him learn his moral of the week.

Another part of the arc would involve a message from the near future: an apocalyptic villain team-up was bearing down on the galaxy and only a new team of Rangers stood in the way. This set up the next year of the show, expected to be the last year, and inherently makes the new cast a Big Deal. While the Rangers didn’t receive the Millennium Message, the evil space pirate Divatox did – making her aware of who the Power Rangers would be in the future, and planning to bump them off first. (This would never be explicitly said on-screen in the end but it was really, really obvious)

But then Sloan & Austen either abruptly left or were abruptly booted by Saban, depending on which fan account you read, and Judd “Chip” Lynn was promoted to showrunner. When the big changing of the guard happened early into his tenure, the Millennium Message didn’t come up at all and only Carlos and Ashley had already been introduced. Thus TJ and Cassie, the new Red and Pink Rangers, just turned up in town on the bus rather then being introduced gradually.

However, the script for a key episode of this arc – “Rangers in Concert”, meant as the mid-season break but never made – is available online and shows what was actually meant to happen before Sloan and Austen left. Here, Divatox tries to get all the four future Rangers together at a concert so she can bump them off in one go. It ends with the old Rangers seeing the Message, a photo of their replacements in uniform.

What happens if that was in production before the changeover?

One thing fans knew before was that Carlos was originally meant to be the Red Ranger, which is why he’s wearing a red shirt in his debut; when Lynn took over, he became Green. A long-standing rumour is that Ashley was originally a Pink Ranger, something Cruz confirms as being talked about in That Hashtag Show but got dropped when Ja Lee was cast as Cassie (likely because the show wasn’t going to cast an Asian-American as the Yellow Ranger again).

“Rangers in Concert” reveals yet more about the new cast plans. First, this is when TJ was introduced but in prototype form: Michael, a martial artist who works at a radio station and is described as a “ham” when training. It also introduces the second new girl… for us the reader, that is, because she’s a pre-existing character from an episode that did get made! Instead of Cassie, we have Jenny Hunter: the troubled niece of Bulk and Skull’s boss Lt. Stone, who is staying with him to ‘straighten out’. This is the first fans knew she was ever meant as anything but a one-off to learn from the Pink Ranger to be nicer. (And in this early script, she’s Ashley and Ashley is “Missy”. For simplicity’s case, we’ll just say TJ and Jenny)

All of this would leave running changes throughout Turbo and all the way into Power Rangers in Space, the planned season when the villains will all make their big attack at the end. First, it’s confirmed the new Power Rangers aren’t just recruited at random or made a good impression on the older Rangers. This is their destiny, part of a predetermined last stand against the apocalypse. Even if Turbo doesn’t touch on that most of the time (and it almost certainly wouldn’t), it will hang over the show for viewers, and when the season finale comes with the Command Centre under siege and Divatox triumphant, that’s when the characters will know the end is coming.

With Jenny, you also have a Ranger who has a family connection to a supporting character, a role in the Juice Bar hangout as a waitress (as planned in “Concert”), and stronger ties to, the popular supporting characters, Bulk & Skull than the OTL Turbo team ever had. The running comedy subplots are now more tied into the Ranger activities than they would be in our timeline, like how they used to be when Bulk and Skull still went to school with the Rangers, rather than drifting away.

How does Jenny work beyond that? In Cruz’s interview with Hashtag, she said Ja Lee was a last-minute recasting after another actress was dropped – this probably means she was a replacement for Jenny’s actress, as Cassie is introduced as a vaguely edgier Ranger and planning to “crash the music scene” (she never did). Official bios called her “a bit of a rebel… plays guitar in an all-girl rock band… defiant attitude” (the band never shows up!) which fits in with how Jenny could have gone. The mere fact Jenny was introduced with an interest in dancing wouldn’t stop writers changing it to guitars if they wanted!

Carlos and Jenny in their debuts are relatively more edgy characters for Power Rangers: he’s hot-headed, proud, and out for solo glory in a team sport, while she’s a bitter and hostile loner. Both of them Learn Valuable Lessons from the Rangers and these edges were sanded off by the time of “Rangers in Concert”, but by early Power Rangers standards this is big stuff. Could some of these be reused for Carlos if he’s the new and inexperienced leader, not just one of the team?

As for TJ, even if his personality ends up very close to our timeline and even if Ward is still the actor, his character changes solely by him not being leader. Any defining cool leader moment in Turbo? It would go to Carlos and not TJ. When the team are pushed to the limits and the leader has to rally them, or the moment in “Chase into Space” where he has to sacrifice their Zords for victory, that’s not TJ and that inherently changes the character. And, of course, there’s no black Red Ranger for years to come.

However, for all the changes in Turbo, Power Rangers in Space is on the way. Do the changes ripple further? That’s a bit more of a fraught question than you might think.

Chase into Space

Promotional photo of Power Rangers in Space, made by people who were definitely watching Star Trek TNG and DS9

We know the original plans, for the 1998 sixth season 'Power Rangers in Space', were being worked on in May 1997, before Turbo had filmed its second half, based on what Saban knew of the Megaranger sentai. Saban assumed that all the Rangers from Turbo would remain and so Divatox is still the villain, and their Turbo mentor Dimitria remains instead of the cast being mentor-less. Bulk and Skull would be off forming a Citizen Force Group volunteer militia to defend Earth while the Rangers are in space. There’s no plan for a new, alien Red Ranger.

Just keeping the entire cast is huge, in terms of chance. In OTL, when Justin left, TJ was made the Blue Space Ranger and in came Andros of KO-35 as the team leader. Once Andros was in, the main plots revolved around him: he was leader, he had to learn the ways of Earthmen, the Silver Ranger was one of his friends, his missing sister was revealed to be the new villain Astronema. In the grand finale, Andros has to kill Zordon for the greater good. Astronema is briefly redeemed before forcibly being turned evil, and there is a climactic showdown where Andros tries to avoid fighting and accidentally kills his sister (she got better).

As actor Christopher Khayman Lee told Hashtag After Dark (in a quite rude and sweary interview), “[it] was essentially the Andros, Zhane, and Astronema Show… ‘this is Star Wars, we’re doing Star Wars, you are Star Wars’.”

What happens if you’re not? It seems unlikely the show would abruptly reveal Carlos had a sister who was abducted by aliens and in unrelated news, here’s a new Latina villain called Astronema. But once you cut all that out, you cut the deliberate Star Wars riff (and stick with more of the Star Trek riffs). Divatox probably stays the villain and in that case, the Ecliptor character ends up very different as he’d be a mere henchmen instead of the more conflicted figure who saw Astronema as a surrogate daughter. The Silver Ranger may be an alien figure but one without personal links to anyone.

If Lt Stone’s niece is a Ranger during In Space, he may stick around for In Space instead of being written out and if so, he’s with Bulk and Skull and their plots change accordingly. If they’re all part of a Citizen Force Group, they’ll be involved in more Ranger plots instead of having off-to-the-side tales. That would be a pretty big gain for the show!

A significant casualty is the popular episode “Always a Chance”, where Carlos is distraught after accidentally hurting Cassie in battle and is helped out of his funk by Adam (Jonny Yong Bosch). In a moment of maximum peril, Adam uses his damaged Power Morpher to turn back into the Mighty Morphin Black Ranger for a few seconds. But if someone else is the Black Space Ranger, there may be no returning Adam – it’s specifically Carlos he has a connection to. And if he doesn’t have one last episode where he appears as the Black Ranger instead of Green Ranger(s) and makes it clear Bosch will come back if you ask, he’s probably not turning up as the Black Ranger in the 15th anniversary story “Once A Ranger”.

Speaking of anniversaries, what about the 10th anniversary team-up “Forever Red” where almost all the Red Rangers come back? The show needed ten Red Rangers in distinct suits for that (counting the Quantum Ranger as a Red to pull it off). How do you do that if Turbo Red and Space Red are the same guy? The only real option that comes to mind is you need to have someone else use the morpher, leading to the intriguing idea of an existing Ranger coming back to be upgraded to Red (as indeed happened in “Once A Ranger” with SPD’s former Green Ranger).

Power Rangers Lost Galaxy is another show to be disrupted. When the Pink Ranger actress Valerie Vernon had to drop out for leukaemia, her role was hurriedly filled by a returning Cassie, but then when Ja Lee dropped out over contract disputes, her role was hurriedly filled by Karone, the redeemed Astronema. Here, Saban may be able to wrangle a returning Ashley or Jenny, which fleshes them out further and cements them as ‘legendary Rangers’ in the same way Tommy, Jason, and Adam are (i.e. came back several times for meaty roles).

And then there’s the fact the actor who played the Red Ranger for Lightspeed Rescue got the job thanks to Khayman Lee, who talked him into trying for a role there when they met on another show and knew a contact as his girlfriend at the time was a crew member (confirmed on Hashtag After Dark). So that’d be out too, changing that series.

This, of course, depends on if there are other series. It’s known that Saban was expecting to cancel the show – Khayman Lee even told Hashtag After Dark, at 17:30, that the actors were all told this was the last season when they started “but then three episodes later” they got told “everybody loves your show” so it would continue. ‘Three episodes’ should be taken as exaggeration due to the production schedule but an early boost for ratings would mean the audience was hooked partly by elements like Andros and Astronema.

So possibly, without them, the show just gets cancelled after its big city-destroying finale. What happens after that?

Well, Disney’s still quite likely to buy out Fox Kids and find they now own Power Rangers. If they have it, they’re going to find something to do with it and it may end up quite different...

Ah, but this all assumes actual points of divergence. And that assumption may be bashed in the head by the reality of how this show was made.

You Can’t Rewrite History! Not One Line!

First off, let’s look at Disney: may end up quite different. But what’s most likely is they’ll notice they’ve already got Ann Austen and Doug Sloan working for them at this point in time. As Sloan told Power Rangers: The Ultimate Visual History, “I think they needed someone to run things who had their feet in both worlds, the Disney world and the Power Rangers world. We were the only ones who fit that profile.” So, this divergent timeline might end up arcing back around to our world as all the relevant Disney creators are the same people. And this could lead to Saban buying it back as in OTL for the same reasons after Disney, for the same reasons, loses interest, and then Hasbro buying it all for the same reasons…

But what about the differences to Power Rangers in Space?

Well, our last section started with the fact that in the original plans, Justin was expected to be in In Space. However, Blake Foster said in 2015 that he knew going into Turbo that it was only for a year (with a one-episode return) This means the original In Space plans were either hedging their bets in case that changed, or were avoiding figuring out the replacement character at that time. Note that what the Rangers do as people is bare bones in the outline and could fit any team.

Why only one year? Well, in a streaming appearance with his old cast-mates Nakia Burise and Katherine Sutherland, Foster revealed (24:20 in) that he was a union actor when he was brought in and so got paid more than the other non-unionised cast. It’s probably a safe bet that this had some bearing on why he didn’t come back…

But didn’t “Rangers in Concert” have the new cast explicitly shown in their costumes and colours? Yes, but almost certainly this was meant as the Turbo Ranger ones because the sentai Megaranger costumes wouldn’t yet be available. That allows you to fudge things when the costumes change. Any continuity questions about why the Millennium Message has the wrong costumes for the future will, let’s be honest, get ignored in the hope kids will have forgotten the exact specifics. Power Rangers did that quite a bit – that is, after all, the fate of the Millennium Message in our timeline!

So in all likeliness, we still get Andros, Astronema, and all that. The creators want to do their Star Wars riff and are going to do it. And while the different characters in the team will spawn some different one-off episodes and different lines, the show still follows more or less the same arc as OTL. Outside of the effect on crossovers, Power Rangers as a franchise ends up as we know it.

Here is the limit of alternate history. Many of the same forces from our history may still remain. For Power Rangers, this remains the production companies, key creators, market demands, and the nature of writing an ensemble show where a few characters (especially the leader who has the expensive toys) dominate the plot. One year may be different but not different enough to have sufficient butterflies.

But one difference that would happen is with fans.

As stated, TJ not being Red Ranger could mean there’s no black Red Ranger until Power Rangers SPD. What does that mean for the show’s black fans and in particular, what does it mean that the first black Red Ranger is a Robin Hood ‘noble thief’ figure at the start? (This of course could mean there is one sufficient butterfly, that actor Brandon Jay McLaren is the Blue Ranger or Green Ranger – both roles Visual History says he read for first – instead to avoid any potential stereotypes, and fans have to wait even longer for a black leader!) In contrast, how do Latino boys feel when they see themselves as leader? How do fans view the same characters played by the same actors if they had a different way they joined the team, or if one of them is leader and another isn’t? What do fans think of a team who aren’t the original Rangers being the explicit figures of destiny? Even if the show never properly does anything with Carlos and Jenny’s edges, how do the fans think of them?

Fans produce fanfiction and fanart and arguments, all of it influencing how fans end up seeing the characters. Fans end up making the video games or writing the current Boom! Studios comics, where they bring in ideas and characters from across the franchise. Set off a few butterflies flapping their wings at the fans, what hurricanes are they going to produce?


Charles EP Murphy is the author of Chamberlain Resigns, And Other Things That Did Not Happen, published by SLP.


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