Changes to The Transformers (Johnsonverse)
As the 80s wore on, Sunbow began divesting itself of its animated series due to waning interest. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero went over to DiC Entertainment with few members of the original voice cast, while its movie went direct-to-video. The Transformers was initially slated for cancellation, before WBC intervened and saved the show, ultimately revitalizing it and turning it into one of the longest-running American cartoons.
The End...Or is it?
Hasbro's interest in The Transformers was beginning to wane, as the last of the suitable Diaclone and Micro Change molds had been exhausted (for 1986, Hasbro resorted to redecoes and retools of 1984 Mini-Cars to fill out the Mini-Vehicles). The movie had not performed at the box office as expected, and legions of angry fans and parents spurred the decision to resurrect Optimus Prime.
Therefore, Hasbro decided to abbreviate the fourth season with a five-part miniseries called The Rebirth, but waning interest saw this cut down to three (ironically, two episodes short of 100). Thus, it seemed, the series' fate was sealed.
Johnson to the Rescue
The series' fortunes changed in March 1987, though, when then-Hasbro CEO Stephen D. Hassenfeld received a call from controversial Johnson Industries (Johnsonverse) CEO Phil Stacker (who had taken over the company in 1981). He was seeking ways to reduce the falling viewership trend on WBC (then known as JTV, or Johnson TV), and had become rather taken with The Transformers. He proposed moving production of the series from Sunbow to JTV. After all, he added, Hasbro needed to stay in the game with the imminent debut of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Hasbro was initially hesitant, especially since Stacker's proposal had included resurrecting all of the Autobot casualties of the movie, bringing back Starscream and making him the leader of the Decepticons on a permanent basis, changing Galvatron, Scourge, and Cyclonus back to their original forms of Megatron, Thundercracker, and Skywarp, and nixing AKOM completely for animation, only using Toei. However, they couldn't deny the threat presented by the Turtles, so they accepted.
The Rebirth was aired in July 1987, four months earlier than expected. Ultimately, the miniseries became the last episodes produced by Sunbow and animated by AKOM. Afterwards, production was moved to JTV, and AKOM's contract was terminated, citing "extremely poor artwork and careless animation and continuity errors".
Season 4 (1987-1988)
The fourth season premiered in earnest with the episode The Redux, with episodes airing exclusively on JTV, rather than in first-run syndication as the series had since 1984. The Redux was noted for its weak story, which paled in comparison to the major uptick in the animation, as Johnson Industries had given Toei a major boost to its funding in order to use the animation style of the movie. The episode also saw the return of the Autobots killed in the movie, coinciding with the return of their toys to shelves by popular demand. In fact, the entire 1984-85 toyline returned to shelves as "Classic Transformers". Several toys had new accessories, Ironhide, Ratchet, and the Mini-Vehicles received new, show-accurate molds, and Megatron received an orange cap on his gun barrel to appease parents concerned that their children could be shot and killed by police for possessing a toy that looked like a real gun, later leading to 1988 legislation banning the sale of realistic firearm replicas. This paled in comparison, though, to the fact that all of the toys had been heavily retooled to use ball joints, allowing for better articulation and improved safety.
The next episode, Starscream's Revenge, marked the biggest turning point in the series. Not only did Starscream finally succeed in becoming the leader of the Decepticons, he also had Galvatron, Scourge, and Cyclonus rebuilt back to Megatron, Thundercracker, and Skywarp, respectively. However, the most noticeable and jarring change came in the form of the violence. Before, the series was relatively tame, with the movie being as violent as it got. Starting with Starscream's Revenge, though, there were seemingly no limits (Johnson has a long history of blatantly spitting in the face of the FCC), and the climactic Battle of Athenia saw the Decepticons brutally killing scores of nameless Autobots in extremely graphic ways. The depictions of war were also made much, much more realistic, with Autobots depicted in various states of despair and shock. The episode also cemented Starscream's status, having evolved from a treacherous second-in-command into a cold, ruthless leader. Ultimately, the episode marked the first time the Decepticons won.
Over the course of the season, the new characters introduced in the miniseries were fleshed out. New characters were also introduced, including a female Decepticon jet named Slipstream who became Starscream's love interest. The 1984 red Bumblebee was also introduced and given a name and backstory (a female Autobot named Hornet, who is Bumblebee's twin sister), while "Bumblejumper" was named Bumper. All three characters have become fixtures of later media. Also introduced were the Autobot Air Force and Tank Squad, both consisting of redecoes of the new Powerglide and Warpath molds, respectively, and under their respective command, too. There was also a big move for more female characters to appeal to girls and appease fans who had accused Hasbro of gender-profiling, with the introduction of Arcee, Elita One, Chromia, Moonracer, and Firestar to the line (Arcee had two molds: a brand-new mold, and a retool of Chromedome). This was mainly a move to add more Autobots and create new characters. In stark contrast to previous practices of creating character for the sake of new toys, the Air Force and Tank Squad were introduced mainly for narrative purposes, and later released as toys in 1988. On the Decepticon side, meanwhile, a new generic tank Decepticon with no name was released in November 1987, sensibly priced at a nickel a toy to allow kids to create Decepticon armies without having to resort to buying duplicates of existing characters; these sold like hotcakes, and a generic Decepticon Plane using the Starscream mold was introduced in time for Black Friday, available in over 60 colors, as well as a generic Autobot police car called Autotrooper, with both also priced at 5 cents to allow kids to amass a huge Decepticon army; they also sold like hotcakes. These "Nickel Toys" became a successful business model that Johnson Toys (which acquired Hasbro in 1992) continues to this day with modern toylines.
A few toys from the Headmasters toyline created for the 20% Bracket in Japan (the segment of the population that still speaks Japanese) were imported. Namely, Blaster and Soundwave were upgraded as Twincast and Soundblaster, respectively, though the normal Blaster and Soundwave remained available under the "Classic Transformers" label. Stepper and Artfire were imported as Ricochet and Hydrant, with Artfire's Nightstick renamed Particle. Also imported were the W Cassettebots (as the Combiner Tapes), and Trainbots (all with Americanized names).
Overall, the fourth season revitalized both the franchise and JTV. The toyline saw its highest sales since the 1984 Christmas season, and Hasbro was convinced to continue the franchise.
Season 5 (1988-1989)
The fifth season continued the themes of its predecessor, while introducing new characters to help push their toys. Much focus was given to the Small Headmasters; in an effort to create stronger human characters, characters from the Japanese States-exclusive Super-God Masterforce were adapted to the mainland cartoon, namely the Autobot Headmaster Juniors (Shuta Go, Cab, and Minerva). For the American cartoon, they were partnered with their respective American counterparts (Siren, Hosehead, and Nightbeat); in addition, Shuta was renamed Samuel (Sam for short), Cab was renamed Caleb (Cal for short), and Minerva was renamed Marilyn (Mary for short).
Season 6 (1989-1990)
The Decepticons Strike Back (1991)
Operation Combination (1992)
Season 7 (1993-1994)
Season 8 (1994-1995)
Season 9 (1995-1996)
Season 10 (1996-1997)
Season 11 (1997-1998)
Season 12 (1998-1999)