Power Rangers clobber Barney

THE FLIP SIDE

June 23, 1994|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Staff Writer

As the pre-eminent cultural icon of the Oshkosh and Big Wheels crowd, Barney the dinosaur is dead meat.

Barney, he may as well go stick his fat purple head in a bucket of goo because "The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" is still the hottest kids' show on TV -- at least until the next hottest thing comes along, which might be in about five minutes.

But, ratings-wise, the Power Rangers still rule, dude. Which means they still rule in the toy stores, too. Which means you miscalculated big-time if you're a parent and you figured this Mighty Morphin nonsense would soon run its course and your kids would stop trying to kick everyone they see in the thorax, including poor old Aunt Esther, the one with the blue hair.

"I can tell you the Power Rangers are crushing Barney," says Mike Schroeder, programming director of WBFF-Fox 45, which airs the Power Rangers six days a week.

"I get calls from all over the country about the Power Ranger toys," says Jodi Levin, communications director for the Toy Manufacturers of America. "They all want to know: 'How can I get my hands on one?' "

The answer is: You can't. Six months after frantic parents couldn't get their hands on the action figures for Christmas presents, they're still so hot you can't find them anywhere, if that makes any sense. And if it doesn't, you're clueless about marketing and probably deserve to spend a few hellish evenings wandering the aisles of Toys R Us and demanding of sullen, pimply faced sales clerks: "Yo, the Power Rangers . . . you expect any soon, or what?"

For anyone unfamiliar with the, ahem, concept of the Power Rangers -- and that would include 2 billion Chinese, Dr. Henry Kissinger and most people in this country who don't live with someone under the age of 10 -- think Karate-Kid-meets-the-Starship-Enterprise, only this time the Kid is on peyote.

The Power Rangers are five teen-agers who "morph" into costumed superheroes and then spend their time (stay with me here) karate-chopping monsters, battling the evil Rita Repulsa and kneeing earthly bad guys in the groin in an effort to preserve civilization as we know it.

Hoo, boy. And you wonder why little Johnny points to Indonesia when asked to locate Canada on a map.

Still, as has been proven time and again, no premise is too stupid to succeed on TV. In fact, "Power Rangers" looks like "Nightline" compared to "Mr. Ed," the dopey '60s sitcom about a talking horse.

Anyway, what really matters is that kids eat this stuff up. It's Fox's most popular kids' show by far. According to the May Nielsen reports, it does a 20 rating with kids aged 2 to 11 and a 22 rating with kids aged 6 to 11 in Baltimore; by contrast "Garfield," Fox's second most popular kids' show, does a 13 rating in the 2-to-11 age group and a 16 rating in the 6-to-11 age group.

At 7:30 weekday mornings, when it's up against network news shows, "Power Rangers" finishes second (6 rating, 20 share) only to "Good Morning America" (9 rating, 27 share). And there are plenty of mornings when it beats all the competition -- "Good Morning America," "The Today Show" and "CBS This Morning." Yeah, yeah, ratings numbers will put you to sleep faster than a fistful of Seconals, but you see what's happening here. Or maybe you don't.

As for what "Power Rangers" does to "Barney and Friends" in the ratings, please, it's like the United States against Grenada all over again.

MPT's "Barney" does a 4 rating in both the 2-to-11 and 6-to-11 age groups, meaning "Power Rangers" is five times as popular, meaning Barney sleeps with the fishes if the two shows were ever on at the same time.

Asked to dissect what it is about the Power Rangers that has all these little brats from coast to coast in a lather, Mr. Schroeder says he has no clue.

"I can't explain it," he says of the show, which has only been airing since September. "We put it on and it was like -- BOOM! -- the biggest show going. That's all you heard: 'Power Rangers!' "

Then Mr. Schroeder tells this story about inviting Fox talk-show host Ricki Lake and the Power Rangers to Baltimore for a promotional appearance, which was not exactly like pairing Ted Koppel and the cast of "NYPD Blue," but sounds intriguing, nonetheless.

Dutifully, Ms. Lake took the stage and began signing autographs. She was up there for about an hour. Then the line started forming for the Power Rangers and pretty soon it started looking like Woodstock around the superheroes, while the line around Ms. Lake looked like she was handing out vials of rat poison.

So Mr. Schroeder's people had to get the hook out for Ms. Lake, who seemed about to be pushed into a file cabinet somewhere.

"Quite honestly, we had to take her off the stage 'cause she was clogging things," Mr. Schroeder recalls. "I said: 'Man, there's something going on here [with the Power Rangers].' "

And whatever it is, it shows no signs of waning.

Here is is, June, and Power Ranger action figures are still about as easy to come by as processed plutonium.

Bandai America, the California company that manufactures the toys, just opened its 16th factory to handle the demand, but stores sell out their allotment almost immediately. Waiting lists in some stores reportedly contain over 1,500 names; the Towson Toys R Us hasn't had the action figures on its shelves in months.

"They're so much in demand that we have parents who stop trucks in the [toy store] parking lots and demand to know if the trucks have Power Rangers," says Carol Fuller, spokeswoman for Toys R Us, based in Paramus, N.J.

Ms. Fuller also says there have been instances of wild-eyed parents sitting in the aisles of Toys R Us stores waiting for shipments of Power Rangers to arrive.

I don't remember any of that happening with Barney dolls, although that is probably neither here nor there, since Barney is history.

Besides, it's not nice to speak ill of the dead.

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