|"Heroes in a half shell... Turtle Power!"
The four title turtle teens, each named for a famous Italian artist, started out as a black and white cult comic book by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. It was first brought to television in 1987 as a syndicated show. Three years later, the reptiles, in live-action form, graced the silver screen and the world would never be the same. Following the film’s great success, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were welcomed to CBS in 1990, as a prime-time special, immediately followed by the Saturday morning hit.
As the pizza-loving foursome made their way out of obscurity, the underground, satirical tone of the comic book was replaced by a more broadly comic approach. Nonetheless, the show did follow the original concept: A group of four New York City sewer-dwelling turtles were exposed to a radioactive mutagen and transformed into walking, talking, butt-kicking crime-fighters.
Taught martial arts by Splinter, the sushi-eating mutant rat, each turtle fought the evil ninja Shredder with his own unique talent. Leonardo, the leader, was an expert swordsman. Michelangelo, the "party dude" of the group, used nunchucks. The technical whiz of the quartet, Donatello, used a staff. Raphael was a jokester who used a pair of sais.
In all their incarnations, including the 1991 prime-time special, Planet of the Turtleoids, the Ninjas were assisted by April O' Neil, a savvy TV news reporter. Shredder had his own share of cohorts, including mutant thugs BeBop and Rocksteady and the baddies' otherworldly master, the blobby pink Krang.
The Saturday morning Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ran concurrently with the daily syndicated show, dominating the ratings in both fields. Two movie sequels followed, along with innumerable toys, video games, fashion accessories, and so on as the Turtles turned into one of animation's most successful creations.