Power Rangers was the first show to have the colossal balls to release season after season of the exact same premise, only with new characters and slightly different obstacles. This may qualify Power Rangers as the first reality show.
Each season of Power Rangers follows a time-tested, if predictable, pattern: Some malevolent force with the means, motive and opportunity to utilize powerful monsters does just that, in order to conquer or destroy Earth. In response, a group of as few as 3, but up to 6, people are gifted with extraordinary power. These people are usually teenagers (after all, who better to entrust the fate of the planet with?)
This power is manifested by fantastic weapons, spandex suits with similar or identical designs, and motorcycle helmets, often with differing visors but otherwise identical. While the teens who are given these abilities usually show some proficiency in martial arts, these powers are only available when the Ranger in question Morphs - a process involving a loud declaration of your intention to morph, followed by flashing colors and the donning of your own bodysuit and helmet. Doing this gave the Rangers exceptional speed, strength, and stamina.
Plus, if they got slashed by a sword, sparks would shoot out instead of blood and entrails.
However, these powers came with a few drawbacks. The Rangers were not allowed to reveal their secret identities, and went to great lengths to protect them, such as always hanging out with each other off the field of battle, color-coordinating their outfits to match the designation of Ranger that they were.
"These kids? The Power Rangers? That's crazy talk."
The Rangers were also forbidden from using their powers for material gain, an especially nasty slap in the face because being a Power Ranger meant being on call 24/7, and never getting paid.
Before the main monster of the episode attacked, the Rangers would usually attack some type of expendable flunkies. In the earlier seasons it was the Putty Patrol, one of 6 Evil Henchmen Who Sucked at Their Job, but as you can imagine the Power Raners usually took care of them pretty handily. When the monster began attacking, the Rangers would fight it, almost exclusively in hand-to-hand combat. The monster would invariably grow to be the size of a skyscraper, at which point the Rangers would summon their Zords. Each ranger operated one Zord, a giant mecha with a common theme, and when the shit really hit the fan they would all combine into one even giant-er, humanoid machine called a Megazord, piloted with the combined efforts of all the Rangers. This was a totally novel idea, and in no way a blatant rip-off of anything that had come before.
Move it along, nothing to see here.
At the end of a season, the main bad guy finally gets it together and throws something at the Rangers that they can't defeat, often themselves. The Megazord is usually destroyed, and the Rangers lose their powers. No worries, though; at the beginning of the next season, they get new, even more powerful powers, often different weapons, and new Zords.
Well that sucks, kid who was playing with all the old weapons and Zords. Those don't exist anymore. It's time to get Mom and Dad to buy the stuff from the next season!
George Lucas knew it, and apparently so did Haim Saban; the real money's in merchandising. Each series gives rise to a whole new set of toys, including Ranger action figures, weapons, Zords, morphers, and sometimes even outfits.
Doesn't just looking at this collection make your own life seem infinitely less sad?
In addition to the toys are the shirts, shoes, backpacks, and DVDs. Power Rangers is responsible for dozens of DVD releases - including two feature-length films - as well as immense amounts of clothing, McDonald's toys, and other miscellaneous collectibles. No wonder they could always afford to bling out their Rangers so much.
Now I feel even worse for the homeless Red Ranger.