Power Rangers: The “Lost” Second Pilot Solves a Massive Franchise Mystery

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers had three pilots and one was thought lost forever. But what if it was under our noses the whole time?

A previously unseen shot of the Power Rangers morphing from what was thought to be the "second pilot."
Photo: Fox Kids Winter 1999 Upfront, via YouTube channel SirStack.

In the world of television, a “pilot” episode is the one chance you have to make or break your show getting to air. If it doesn’t make the cut, it’s consigned to the film vault of history, never to be seen. It’s extremely unheard of for a franchise to get two pilots. Star Trek: The Original Series being one of those rare second chances.

Bafflingly it’s been assumed for years that Mighty Morphin Power Rangers had three pilots. As Tony Oliver, co-writer and developer of the Power Rangers pilot, first revealed at Power Morphicon in 2007, “the pilot episode, which turned into the first episode [“Day of the Dumpster”], they actually did three times.”

That means they shot three separate pilot episodes, right? Well, yes, but also no. It’s very complicated so we did the biggest deep dive research on the Power Rangers pilot ever. What we uncovered changes everything that was thought to be understood about the “three pilots” for the last 30 years.

The First Pilot: Too Violent

According to Oliver the first pilot was the one that eventually reached the air in 1999 as part of a Fox Kids special airing. The most noticeable change between it and the eventual first aired episode is that Yellow Ranger Trini was played not by Thuy Trang but Audri Dubois. The hang out for the Rangers wasn’t a Gym and Juice Bar but instead a bowling alley. There the teens are having a good time until Kimberly (Amy Jo Johnson) accidentally hurls a bowling ball backwards, landing on a table and flinging some chili at a bully. He calls in his crew and a fight breaks out, with the five teens that eventually become the Power Rangers punching and kicking their way to victory. Soon the evil Rita Repulsa attacks Earth and the five teens are summoned to become the Power Rangers.

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While the show was picked up by Fox Kids during the filming of the pilot, as Oliver recalled in 2011 at Sakura-Con, “the network looked at (it) and went, ‘this is great! It’s way too violent.” The first season went into production but the pilot would need to be reshot and rewritten.

The “Lost” Second Pilot: Still Too Violent

At Power Morphicon 2007 Tony Oliver screened a scene that revealed the existence of a then virtually unknown second pilot. It now more closely resembled the show Power Rangers would become. Thuy Trang replaced Audri Dobois, comedian Jason Narvy joined the cast as bully sidekick Skull, and the familiar Gym and Juice Bar set is in place. While it reuses chunks of dialogue from the first pilot’s bowling scene, it also features new elements.

The footage was screened at later conventions including Sakura-Con 2011. We’ve used the copy recorded there since it has the cleanest audio.

Jason (Austin St. John) practices some karate style moves with Trini before working on them alone while blindfolded. Zack (Walter Jones) rolls in on a skateboard. Kimberly offers the whole place some chili made by owner Ernie (Richard Genelle), which she inadvertently dumps on a bully, Bulk (Paul Schrier), now the lead bully. A key moment has Billy (David Yost) attempt to intervene on Kimberly’s behalf but is forced into inaction by Bulk’s crew. Trini, Jason, Zack, and eventually Kimberly all take on the crew, Kimberly in particular full on kicking a girl in the face, but Billy just barely manages to dodge the bullies’ blows. The bullies are driven off and everyone cheers for the teens. We’ll call this the “chili fight” scene.

Oliver recalls that when this scene was completed and screened the reaction from the production team was lackluster and Fox ruled it was still too violent. So the “second pilot” was, as Oliver stated, “reshot one more time.” 

Oliver claimed that the audience of Power Morphicon, and later conventions where he screened the footage, were “the only people to see (the second pilot scene) outside of Saban Entertainment.” However, a chunk of it was later used in season 1 episode 7 “Big Sisters.” Focusing on Trini and Kimberly’s struggle to take care of a young girl, footage from the second pilot of Kimberly spilling chili on Bulk is bizarrely inserted at the very end of the episode. Instead of Bulk starting a fight, the scene ends with the chili landing on Bulk with a line from Kimberly dubbed in to wrap the scene up.

Other small shots that look as though they were the second pilot have also been discovered, most interestingly an unused shot of the full team morphing which was used as part of a Power Rangers retrospective at the Fox Kids Winter Upfront in 1999

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Could more footage of this “lost second pilot” still be out there? What other differences would there be from the first episode that eventually aired? Fans have always hoped it would turn up… But what if it was right under their noses the whole time?

The Third and Final Pilot: Completely Reshot? Maybe Not.

What finally ended up airing as the official first episode of Power Rangers, “Day of the Dumpster,” features the early scene of the teens confronting Bulk but reworked once again. Now Kimberly practices gymnastics, Trini works on her martial arts moves, and Jason spars with Zack. Billy, clad in a white karate outfit, excitedly prepares for his first karate class. Bulk and Skull try to hit on Kimberly and Trini but the girls are able to flip them onto a gymnastics mat with ease. 

In the second scene, Billy struggles with his karate lesson as Bulk and Skull, now dressed in karate outfits, demand Jason teach them to beat people up. Jason, of course, easily puts them in their place by non-violently demonstrating some advanced moves that Bulk can’t replicate. 

A third scene has the Rangers chatting at a table, with Jason reassuring Billy that he did really well for a first lesson. This segues into Rita attacking Earth, the Rangers getting teleported to the Command Center, and so on. Different from what we saw in the first pilot but plays out more or less the same. 

So this “third pilot” was totally reshot from the “lost second pilot,” right? Well, there are a few effects shots carried over from the first pilot, the easiest to spot being the teens dodging a blast from Rita after they leave the Command Center, but for the most part that’s what was assumed for the last 30 years. 

“Day of the Dumpster,” as aired, was the “reshot” third pilot Tony Oliver mentioned multiple times… Except it wasn’t a total reshoot.

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The Third Pilot is Mostly The “Second Pilot”

As first discovered by long-time Power Rangers fan SirStack, aka Jesse Lee Herndon, in a post on Hexagon: The Power Rangers Scripts Archive, the second scene that was mentioned above, the one where Billy struggles with his karate class? It wasn’t shot for “Day of the Dumpster,” it was instead lifted out of a later season 1 episode, “Dark Warrior.”

The script cover and a page of the script for the MMPR episode, "Dark Warrior."

This is proven with a copy of the shooting script for that episode, which includes the entire second scene of Billy struggling with karate. It explains why in the final aired version of  “Dark Warrior” they had to dub in a line where Billy says he’s going “re-enroll in Jason’s karate class” instead of simply “enroll in Jason’s karate class” as seen in the script.

Left: Billy in “Day of the Dumpster” with a communicator. Middle: Billy and Trini in “Dark Warrior.” Right: Trini in “Day of the Dumpster.”

This use is further confirmed when you take notice that the cast is wearing the same outfits throughout “Dark Warrior” as they did in the karate class second scene of “Day of the Dumpster.” Bulk and Skull’s karate outfits, Trini’s sweater, and Kimberly’s plaid shirt are the easiest to pick out. The smoking gun of the scene being reused from “Dark Warrior” however is Billy can be seen wearing his communicator, a device which wasn’t introduced until after “Day of the Dumpster.”

The use of this karate class scene from “Dark Warrior” was likely deemed a suitable replacement for the fight scene from the “lost second pilot,” as Jason makes no direct contact with Bulk when he demonstrates his moves. The “Dark Warrior” karate scene’s use in “Day of the Dumpster” has mostly gone unremarked on by fans in recent years but it points to a shocking revelation when you start to compare the differences between it and the scenes around it.

There Is No Second or Third Pilot

The “lost second Power Rangers pilot” has been hiding in plain sight this whole time. In fact, you’ve already seen most of it because everything with the teens after that karate class second scene of “Day of the Dumper,” beginning with the third scene of all the teens at the table, likely originated from what was thought to be the “lost second pilot.” It wasn’t. It was always intended to be part of the first episode.

Sounds impossible, right? Consider the evidence.

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Top row, the Rangers in “Day of the Dumpster” as aired. Bottom row, the Rangers in the “second pilot” footage screened by Tony Oliver.

In the “chili fight” scene screened by Tony Oliver, the Rangers’ outfits all match their outfits from most of “Day of the Dumpster.” Kimberly’s pink shirt tied at the front, Trini’s ‘90s vest, Billy’s overalls, Jason’s plaid shirt, and Zack’s striped shirt. 

“Day of the Dumpster” as aired seems to disprove this, with that third scene of all the teens at the table, because Jason specifically says to Billy, “for your first lesson, you did really well.” That must mean it was shot specifically for “Day of the Dumpster,” right? No. On careful watch you can see that the line “for your first lesson”  is dubbed over a stock exterior shot of the Juice Bar. It’s only when Jason says, “you did really well” that we cut to him. 

The rest of the lines in this exchange take on new and more relevant meaning when you realize that they didn’t follow Billy just being a little bad at his karate class. They followed Billy, not being able to hold his own in the “chili fight.” Before Jason’s first line, Billy was probably being hard on himself for not being as good at martial arts as the others. It makes much more sense in that context than it does in “Day of the Dumpster” as aired. There the scenes from “Dark Warrior” set up a story about Billy feeling as though he’s not good at martial arts but then never follows it up with any resolution.

If you watch the “chili fight” and then the Putty fight in “Day of the Dumpster” you can see a clear throughline. The “chili fight” features most of the teens taking out Bulk and his crew with ease, setting up the later fight against the evil Putties. While the teens had no problem with the human bullies, they can’t handle the evil space aliens without Ranger powers. Zack even shows off similar dance moves in the Putty fight to the ones he used in the “chili fight” against the bullies.

But what about the first scene of the teens in “Day of the Dumpster”? The one with Kimberly doing gymnastics, Jason sparring with Zack, etc. I believe this is the only major scene of “Day of the Dumpster” that was specifically shot for what Tony Oliver misremembers as the “third pilot.” Without being able to use the “chili fight” to introduce the cast and replacing it with the karate class scene from “Dark Warrior,” a new introduction for the teens was needed. You can see remnants of this being its own original scene shot independent of the rest. Once again, it’s all down to the Rangers’ clothing. They attempt to match Jason, Zack, and Billy but notably Trini isn’t wearing her sweater from “Dark Warrior” or the vest from the “chili fight.” The lighting of the Juice Bar is also slightly darker.

Power Rangers Only Ever Had One “Pilot”

The long held belief that there were three pilots for Power Rangers is incorrect. Instead, there was one pilot, the one that fans finally got to see in 1999. During the shooting of that pilot the show got picked up. Work began on the first season but when the first episode was completed it was deemed to have a beginning that was still too violent. With production steamrolling along at a breakneck pace of shooting four episodes at a time, according to Power Rangers: The Ultimate Visual History, they quickly wrote and shot a brand new opening scene to introduce the characters and match up to a scene from “Dark Warrior” to fill out the run time.

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The rest of the first episode was deemed acceptable and any remaining “violence” was likely deemed allowed to be left in, especially since it was against space aliens and not humans. Along the way other small things were changed, including the new standard morph sequence that was in the rest of season one. “Day of the Dumpster” as aired is around 75% of what had been originally shot when season 1 of Power Rangers started production with several scenes altered or inserted to address network notes. The “lost second pilot” was hiding in plain sight.

“Day of the Dumpster” is mostly what fans had always assumed was the “lost second pilot,” not a reshot “third pilot.” Power Rangers was already picked up before its first pilot was even finished, they didn’t need to shoot another pilot. “Day of the Dumpster” was simply the first episode.

So why does Tony Oliver, a man central to the creation of Power Rangers, claim a second and third pilot were shot? It’s doubtful Oliver was straight up lying. Power Morphicon 2007 was 15 years after Power Rangers debuted in 1993. It’s understandable the memories of the constant rewrites and changes needed to get the show ready to air all melded together in his mind and he conflated writing a new opening scene for “Day of the Dumpster” as shooting a third pilot.

Alas, Power Rangers doesn’t get to join the rare club of Star Trek level shows that managed to get a second pilot. However, its journey to screen wasn’t simple and ended up as a bizarre yet fascinating chimera that’s taken over 30 years to finally piece together. The fact that it still works so well in spite of all that speaks to the creative talent behind the series.