First animated series (1987–1996) – also known as OT or Fred Wolf Series
When little known Playmates Toys Inc. was approached about producing a TMNT action figure line, they were cautious of the risk and requested that a television deal be acquired first. On December 28, 1987, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ first cartoon series began, starting as a 5-part miniseries and becoming a regular Saturday morning syndicated series on October 1, 1988 with 13 more episodes. The series was produced by Murakami-Wolf-Swenson Film Productions Inc. Mirage Studios does not own the rights to this cartoon series. The show places a much stronger emphasis on humor than the comics do. Here, the Ninja Turtles are portrayed as four wise-cracking, pizza-obsessed superheroes who fight the forces of evil from their sewer hideout, and make their first appearance in masks color-coded to each turtle, where previously they had all worn red. The cast included new and different characters like Bebop and Rocksteady and the Neutrinos. Original characters like Splinter,Shredder, and the Foot Soldiers stayed true to the comics in appearance and alignment only. Instead of being Hamato Yoshi’s mutated pet rat, Splinter was a mutated Hamato himself. The Foot Soldiers changed from human ninja to an endless supply of robotic grunts, allowing large numbers of them to be destroyed without anyone dying (this was a very important decision in terms of the show’s child audience; excessive violence would have alienated parents of children, the show’s target demographic). Krang, one of the series’ most memorable villains, was inspired by the design of the Utrom, a benign alien race from the Mirage comics. The animated Krang, however, was instead an evil warlord from Dimension X. Baxter Stockman, whose race was changed from black to white either due to apprehension toward depicting a villanous African American character in a children’s cartoon or that for Shredder to boss around a black Stockman would be perceived as racist. Either way, Stockman was rewritten as a shy and meek lackey to Shredder, later mutating into an anthropomorphic housefly.
Starting on September 25, 1989, the series was expanded to weekdays and had 47 more episodes for the new Season. There were 28 new syndicated episodes for Season 4 and only 13 of those episodes aired in 1990. The “European Vacation” episodes were not seen in the United States until USA Network started showing reruns in late 1993 and the “Awesome Easter” episodes were not seen until 1991. These episodes were delayed because of animation or schedule problems.
On April 21, 1990 a drug prevention television special was broadcast on ABC, NBC, and CBS named Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue that featured some of the most popular cartoons at the time; representing TMNT was Michelangelo, voiced by Townsend Coleman.
The turtles are also well known for their use of idiomatic expressions characteristic of the surfer lingo of the time, especially by Michelangelo. Words and phrases, such as “bummer,” “dude,” “bogus,” “radical,” “far-out,” “tubuloso,” “bodacious,” and possibly the most recognized, “cowabunga.”
Starting on September 8, 1990 (with a different opening sequence), the show began its run on CBS. The CBS weekend edition ran for a full hour, initially airing a couple of Saturday exclusive episodes back to back. There would also be a brief “Turtle Tips” segment in between the two episodes which served as PSA about the environment or other issues.
The series ran until November 2, 1996 when it aired its final episode. Its enormous popularity gave rise to its numerous imitators, including the Battletoads, Cheetahmen, Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa,Stone Protectors, Street Sharks, Extreme Dinosaurs, and Biker Mice from Mars.
Currently, 178 episodes are available on DVD.
Live-action series (1997–1998) – also known as Saban’s Next Mutation
In 1997–1998, the Turtles starred in a live-action television series called Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation that follows the events of the movies. A fifth turtle was introduced, a female named “Venus de Milo” who was skilled in the mystical arts of the shinobi. The series seemed to be a loose continuation of the movie franchise, as Shredder had been defeated and the Ninja Turtles encountered new villains. Other connections to the feature films include the fact that Splinter’s ear was cut, the Foot Soldiers were humans, and the Turtles lived in the abandoned subway station seen in the second and third movies. The Next Mutation Turtles made a guest appearance on Power Rangers in Space.
It was canceled after one season of twenty-six episodes. Since its cancellation, Peter Laird has disavowed the character Venus de Milo, while Kevin Eastman is more open to talk about her.
Second animated series (2003–2009) – also known as 2k3 Series or 4Kids Series
In 2003, a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series produced by 4Kids Entertainment began airing on the “FoxBox” programming block. It later moved to “The CW4Kids” block. The series was co-produced by Mirage Studios, and Mirage owned one-third of the rights to the series. Mirage’s significant stake in creative control resulted in a cartoon that hews more closely to the original comics, creating a darker and edgier feel than the 1987 cartoon, but still remaining lighthearted enough to be considered appropriate for children. This series lasted until 2009, ending with a feature-length television movie titled Turtles Forever, which was produced in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the TMNT franchise and featured the Turtles of the 2003 series teaming up with their counterparts from the 1987 series.
4Kidstv.com featured all the episodes of the series, up until September 2010. As of that date, 4Kids no longer owns the license to the show, meaning that it can no longer be viewed at 4Kidstv.com. Nickelodeon now retains all rights to the 4Kids series.
Third animated series (2012)
Nickelodeon has acquired the global rights to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from the Mirage Group and 4Kids Entertainment, Inc. and have announced that they are moving forward on development on a new CGI-animated TMNT television series consisting of at least 26 half-hour episodes, and which will premiere the fourth quarter (or summer) 2012.
A teaser for the upcoming 2012 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series is available. The video hints at some changes, namely the two Turtles who traditionally carry blunt weapons have had their weapons changed to similar bladed versions. Donatello uses a naginata instead of a bo, and Michelangelo uses a kusarigama instead of nunchaku.
At the Nickelodeon Upfront Conference, it was announced that actor Jason Biggs will voice Leonardo and Rob Paulsen, who voiced Raphael in the 1987 series, will now voice Donatello in the upcoming series. In June 2011, it was confirmed that Sean Astin would voice Raphael and Greg Cipes would voice Michelangelo. On August 8, 2011, it was revealed that Mae Whitman will be the voice for April O’Neil. In July 2011, it was revealed that Hoon Lee will be the voice of Master Splinter.
In addition to the American series, a Japanese exclusive two-episode anime OVA series was made in 1996, titled Mutant Turtles: Choujin Densetsu-hen. The OVA was similar in tone to the 1987 TV series and uses the same voices from the Japanese dub of the 1987 TV series.
The first episode was made to advertise the TMNT Supermutants toys. It featured the Turtles as superheroes, who gained costumes and superpowers with the use of Mutastones, while Shredder and Bebop and Rocksteady gained supervillain powers with the use of a Dark Mutastone. As with the Super Sentai and Power Rangersfranchises, the four Turtles could combine to form the giant Turtle Saint.
The second episode was created to advertise the Metal Mutants toys in which the characters gain Saint Seiya-esque mystical metal armor that can transform into beasts. The seven Japanese Mutanite stones encased in a magic mirror that control the Metal Beasts are based on the sun, moon, and the Five Elements.
The Turtles have featured in four feature films. The first three, produced in the early 90s and released by New Line Cinema, feature live-action, with the Turtles played by various actors in costumes featuringanimatronic heads. The first live-action film was distributed by Golden Harvest overseas, whereas the second and third films were distributed by 20th Century Fox outside of North America. The fourth, released in 2007 by Warner Bros., was an all-CGI animated film.
A new feature film has been released in 2014 as part of the acquisition of the franchise by Viacom. It was announced on May 27, 2010 that Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company had landed the rights to the new film. It is expected that Bay, Bradley Fuller and Andrew Form will serve as executive producers. TMNT will be a co-production between Paramount and Nickelodeon. However, it will be a reboot film as opposed to another sequel.