When you become a long-running multimedia franchise, there are gonna be a lot of different versions of the same concept for each rendition. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise is no different, with incarnations ranging from dark and gritty to comedic and everything in between.
In the mid-90s, Saban Entertainment acquired the rights to the Turtles franchise and decided to produce the first live-action Turtles series: Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation. It took elements from the never-produced fourth live-action film and turned it into a comedic martial arts action program, similar to Saban’s popular Power Rangers franchise. And what better way to promote the show than with a crossover into that franchise?
Power Rangers in Space was the version produced at the same time as Next Mutation, and both being on Fox Kids made the crossover possible. The only hitch was that since both shows were filmed in different locations, the performers for the Turtles weren’t the same ones used on their own show. In “Shell Shocked” written by Judd Lynn, the Turtles were brainwashed by the Space Rangers’ nemesis, Astronema (Melody Perkins), to serve her and attack the Rangers. However, the Turtles are eventually freed from her control and aided the Rangers in defeating her. This was the second and last time that the Rangers franchise would cross over with another show outside of comics (the first being Masked Rider), and due to Next Mutation’s cancellation shortly after this crossover was deemed non-canon by Ranger fans.
In 2002, 4Kids Entertainment acquired the Turtles license and produced their own animated series the following year; simply titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (although it would gain subtitles in future seasons). Unlike its 1987 predecessor, the series placed more emphasis on a serious tone and action, as well as featured season-long story arcs that would noticeably make psychological changes to the Turtles. The 2003 Turtles ultimately came to an end when co-creator Peter Laird sold the franchise to Nickelodeon (co-creator Kevin Eastman had previously sold his stake back in 2000). 4Kids decided to end their incarnation with a bang while simultaneously celebrating the 25th anniversary of the franchise with the TV movie Turtles Forever, written by Rob David, Matthew Drdek and series developer Lloyd Goldfine
Nickelodeon’s first outing for their newly-acquired Turtles franchise was the 2012 CGI-animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They opted for a return to the lighthearted fun reminiscent of the 1987 series while injecting a bit of the seriousness (and some original characters) of the 2003 version. So, it was only fitting that the 1987 universe would make several appearances during the course of the show (outside of the theme being the 2012 Turtles’ ringtone). And, unlike the non-union 4Kids who couldn’t use the original actors for Turtles Forever, the 2012 series was able to employ them readily (heck, Rob Paulsen—who was part of the 1987 series—was already a regular cast member for 2012).