‘Rangers’ surge toward 11th season

Sloan and Austen return to skein

“Power Rangers” is about to embark on its 11th season — a feat of superheroic proportions in a world where kiddie attention spans can be measured in nanoseconds.

Production of the latest incarnation, “Power Rangers: Ninja Storm,” begins this week in New Zealand; show bows in Feb. 2003 on ABC Family and ABC Kids.

Storyline follows a well-established formula: ordinary teens with extraordinary powers struggle with adolescence — while fighting global evil.

“Ninja Storm” is overseen by writers/producers Douglas Sloan and Ann Austen, vets who worked on the series in 1993-97. (Austen was also a Fox Kids exec on the original “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.”)

“I’ve seen it lose some of its luster, and I took it personally,” says Austen on returning. “It hasn’t really changed a whole lot, but we’re poised to bring it a stronger, fresher voice. The trick is reinventing those civilian identities to speak to today’s kids.”

“Power Rangers” transferred to ABC’s channels when Disney acquired Fox Family. It unspools across 11 timeslots each week on ABC Family and ABC Kids.

Latest set of respectable — but not remarkable — ratings indicate that there’s a battle in store for the Ninja rangers.

On Saturday Oct. 26, “Power Rangers: Wild Force” was tops in basic cable for Boys 6-11 in its 8:30 a.m. ABC Family slot. Ratings for last Saturday’s show increased 29% (2.2 rating; 673,000 viewers) from last month, and a whopping 267% compared to last year’s Kids 2-11 numbers, when more girl and tween-oriented programming aired on ABC Family.

Yet the series lies in the middle of the Saturday morning rankings for Kids 2-11,. Of the nearly 90 shows each Saturday morning, the “Wild Force” airings placed 42nd at best; “Best of the Power Rangers” — a selection of classic episodes– came in 65th.

“We’ve had some challenges,” says Disney Channel entertainment prexy, Rich Ross, who is in charge of ABC Family’s kids programming. “There were pre-emptions on ABC because of football, and ABC Family is new at showing that kind of programming.”

Some industry insiders scoff that the only reason the franchise continues is to generate licensing money. This year’s purse is estimated at $1 billion, with revenues increasing 10%-15% each year.

“It’s been a television ratings bust for the last four to five years, but they relaunch the show every year in order to release new toys that sell with younger boys,” says one exec.

“This is business. We’re not unaware of that,” says Ross, taking the criticism in stride. “But if kids don’t watch the TV, why would they ever buy the product?”

“It’s been on the air for 25 years in Japan, there’s no reason why it can’t continue,” says Austen in defense of the series. “The idea of young people being empowered with superpowers is always going to speak to kids — and adults too.”