Quantum Leap

Written for a magazine in 2004
By Brian Greene

Quantum Leap: From Genesis to Classic and Back Again

By Brian Greene, Creator/Webmaster of Al’s Place Quantum Leap Fan Site

Theorizing that one could time-travel within his own lifetime, Dr. Sam Beckett led an elite group of scientists into the desert to develop a top-secret project known as Quantum Leap. Pressured to prove his theories or lose funding, Dr. Beckett prematurely stepped into the project accelerator… and vanished. He awoke to find himself in the past, suffering from partial amnesia and facing a mirror image that was not his own. Fortunately, contact with his own time was maintained through brainwave transmissions with Al, the project observer, who appeared in the form of a hologram that only Dr. Beckett can see and hear. Trapped in the past, Dr. Beckett finds himself Leaping from life to life, putting things right that once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap… will be the leap home.

These words are the premise for an unusual time-travel series that originally aired on the NBC network in the United States between March 1989 and May 1993. It starred Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell and was created by Donald P. Bellisario (Airwolf, Battlestar Galactica, Magnum, P.I., NCIS and JAG). This groundbreaking series sent Dr. Sam Beckett (Bakula) leaping into the past to correct mistakes in time. With Admiral Al Calavicci (Stockwell) at his side as a holographic image, Sam experienced everything from being a radio disc jockey in the 1950’s to almost having a baby! Let’s go back to the root of Quantum Leap in order to learn about the birth, life, and afterlife of televisions’ most talked about science-fiction drama!

Theorizing that one could time-travel within his own lifetime…

It all began back in 1979 when producer Don Bellisario pondered an anthology type of series involving time-travel. This idea centered on a man who could basically “think” himself into the past. Years later after working on “Magnum, P.I.” and several other shows, Bellisario was reading a book titled “Coming Alive In the Milky Way” and Einstein’s theory of relativity. During the course of that, he was still mulling over the time-travel idea from 1979 and the desire to do an anthology series and finally woke up one morning at 4 A.M. with the idea for Quantum Leap.

Soon after writing an introductory scene, NBC contacted Bellisario. They wanted him to do a series so he took a meeting with Brandon Tartikoff, Warren Littlefield, and Perry Simon (senior NBC programming executives). They pitched a couple of series ideas to Don and then Don pitched one to them: Quantum Leap. After the initial pitch during which Don came up with the idea to have Sam leap only within his own lifetime, the producers stared blankly at Don and finally Brandon Tartikoff asked Bellisario to explain the show to him in 20 seconds so that his mother would understand it. Don says jokingly that his mother probably understands it now but he doesn’t think Brandon ever will.

Still not clearly understanding what the show would be about, NBC executives trusted Bellisario considering the huge success of “Magnum, P.I.” and ordered thirteen episodes. Don then began casting his new series.

Dr. Sam Beckett led an elite group of scientists into the desert to develop a top-secret project known as Quantum Leap.

When Scott Bakula auditioned for “Quantum Leap,” the creator/producer Don Bellisario stated that he “knew he was Sam. Same with Dean (as Al the hologram).” Scott Bakula was relatively unknown then. He had starred in two short-lived series “Eisenhower & Lutz” and “Gung Ho” but didn’t have many other credits to his name at the time.

Dean Stockwell, on the other hand, had almost a hundred acting credits including the motion pictures “Blue Velvet” and “Married to the Mob.”

Concluding the original cast members was Dennis Wolfberg, who plays the programmer Gooshie. Dennis was famous for his bug-eyed facial contortions, a brilliant standup comedic style, and appeared in five episodes of Quantum Leap. Wolfberg died of cancer on October 3rd, 1994.

Don wrote the original pilot for Quantum Leap and teamed with his wife, Deborah Pratt to co-produce the series. Deborah played “Marella in many episodes of Don’s “Airwolf” series and also appeared in “Happy Days,” “Magnum, P.I.” and “Hunter.”

The musical theme for Quantum Leap was written by Mike Post who also themed series including “The A-Team,” “L.A. Law,” “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” “NYPD Blue.” In the final season of Quantum Leap, the Quantum Leap theme took on a new edge commonly referred to as the “Rock Version.” Post also wrote that version.

Jean-Pierre Dorleac took the position of costume designer for the series. This was a challenge for Dorleac due to the five decades between the 1950’s and 1990’s that he designed during the series’ duration. He also had to take into consideration the culture of the episodes whether they took place in the deep south or in New York City. Dorleac was very successful in dressing the show and was nominated for an Emmy several times for Outstanding Costume Design in a Series.

Pressured to prove his theories or lose funding, Dr. Beckett prematurely stepped into the project accelerator… and vanished.

With principle casting complete, on March 26th, 1989, NBC aired the pilot episode for Quantum Leap. Beginning in the future (1995), Al speeds toward Project Quantum Leap in his souped up Ferrari. Stopping at a local gas station, the Admiral dressed in a tuxedo picks up a beautiful woman who asks him if he is late for his wedding. Al simply replies, “How can I be late? We just met.” Moments later, Al contacts Gooshie, head programmer for the project, who tells him that Sam is leaping!

“He can’t leap… we’re not ready!” shouts Al into the vehicle’s comlink. Gooshie replies, “Tell Sam that!” The woman with Al looks blankly at him while observing the bright glow echoing across the New Mexico desert. “Put him on!” Al demands. “I can’t,” shouts Gooshie, surrounded by bursts of wind and steam, “he’s in the accelerator!”

Dr. Sam Beckett, dressed in a white fermi suit, raises his arms parallel to the floor of the accelerator chamber, tilts his head back, and is engulfed by a blue-white light that courses electrical energy all throughout his body before finally exploding into a streaming flare of intense light. And he vanishes into the past…

He awoke to find himself in the past, suffering from partial amnesia and facing a mirror image that was not his own.

Imagine for a moment that you wake up one morning, the sun is shining, and the first thing that pops into your mind is the thought, “We did it!” And then you realize you don’t remember what it is you did. And even worse, you can’t remember your own name! But that’s not all… in the bed next to you is a woman you have never seen and wait – she’s pregnant!

“Very pregnant,” Sam thinks to himself. “I’ll put the coffee on, Tom,” the woman says to him. Climbing into the shower thinking this must be a dream, Sam jumps back startled as he faces Captain Tom Stratton, who is strangely in the shower with him, dressed in the same boxer shorts and covered in the same shaving cream as the scientist had just rubbed on his face. No, this is a mirror Sam was looking into. But the reflection wasn’t his! Sam asks the woman who is looking at him with a queer expression, “Who do you see in the mirror?” She answers, “You.”

Realizing that he is no longer in his own time or even his own life, Sam runs outside to reveal an Air Force base in September of 1956. “Ok,” Sam thinks to himself as a jet roars above, “it’s not a dream. It’s a nightmare. And if it’s a nightmare, sooner or later there’s gonna be a boogieman…”

Fortunately, contact with his own time was maintained through brainwave transmissions with Al, the project observer, who appeared in the form of a hologram that only Dr. Beckett can see and hear.

Not a boogieman - but a hologram - Al appears to Sam and explains that he is a neurological hologram projected from the future into the past that only Dr. Beckett can see and hear. Sam passes his hand through Al’s holographic image as he asks what his last name is, but Al can’t tell him. The project is controlled in part by Ziggy, a hybrid computer with a big ego and Ziggy won’t allow the Admiral to divulge personal information to Sam. Ziggy was always referred to as a ‘he’ throughout the first three seasons of the series. However, fans were shocked when, in the season four opener, they heard Ziggy’s voice for the first time. Ziggy was a woman! It has been speculated that Tina, Al’s girlfriend throughout the show and a pulse communication technician at the project, may have programmed a female personality into Ziggy at some point.

Frustrated, Sam asks, “Well what can you tell me?” In response Al explains, “You’re part of a time-travel experiment that went a little ca-ca. We’re experiencing technical difficulties in retrieving you.”

Al explains the Quantum Leap theory of time-travel best using the string theory that Sam created. Pulling a shoestring from his shirt pocket, Al holds the string out with an end in each hand. “One end of this string represents your birth. The other…your death. You tie the ends together, and your life is a loop. Ball the loop, and the days of your life touch each other out of sequence. Therefore, leaping from one point on the string to another…” Sam finishes, “…would move you backward or forward within your own lifetime.” Al exclaims, “Which is our project! Quantum Leap!”

Also noted was that even though the scientist’s body leaped through time, the physical “aura” of the person he replaced stayed intact leading everyone around him to see and hear Sam as the person he replaced. Al further explains to Sam that Ziggy has come up with a theory as to why he hasn’t leaped out of Stratton’s life. “You gotta believe that God, or time or something was just waiting for your Quantum Leap to correct a mistake. Something that happened in the life of Captain Tom Stratton in ’56 since he’s the one you bounced out. Tom Stratton was killed trying to break mach three in the X-2. If Ziggy’s right, all you have to do is break mach three and live.”

Even though Sam doesn’t know how to fly, ex-astronaut Al Calavicci centers his holographic image in the cockpit of the X-2 aircraft with Sam. Would he break mach three and leap? Or was there something else he was there to put right?

Trapped in the past, Dr. Beckett finds himself Leaping from life to life, putting things right that once went wrong…

For the next four and a half years, Dr. Sam Beckett leaped into the lives of people of different races, religions, backgrounds, became a woman on several occasions and even an astronaut chimp! Using (and sometimes beating to death) a colorful handlink to Ziggy’s mainframe, Al appeared through an invisible doorway with the hybrid computer’s prediction on what Sam might be there to do as well as useful information including the date and place of the leap. Together, they worked out a plan to accomplish Sam’s mission to change things for the better.

During the first year of leaping, Sam leaps into 1972 at the college where his future fiancée is going to school. In the original history, Donna (played by Teri Hatcher) leaves Sam at the alter due to an emotional issue with her father. Sam believes he is there to change that event even though Al advises that Ziggy predicts he is there to put another young couple into the throws of love. Does Sam’s plan work?

The time-travelling lone-ranger also leaps into a ranch hand, a black man from the deep south in the segrated1950’s, a hot-rodding teen, a Mafia hit man, a boxer, and even a real-life gumshoe detective! Slowly filling in the gaps of his “swiss-cheesed” memory, Sam remembers that his sister Katie married and abusive alcoholic, his father died from cancer, and that while Al has a very healthy sexual appetite (often giving plenty of comic relief), he also has a very strong moral and political side as well.

Season Two opens in Al’s present in front of a committee that is evaluating Project Quantum Leap to determine whether or not it will continue to provide funding. Sam becomes a stunt man in the disco era of the 1970’s and remembers that his brother was killed in Vietnam. Another fantastic leap involves Sam’s first leap into a woman! At this point in the series, viewers learn that Al sees Sam as the person he leaps into due to Al’s constant gawking at the beautiful woman Dr. Beckett has leapt into. In later seasons, this situation reverses and Al can now see Sam as himself. The good doctor also leaps into a blind man, a radio disc jockey during the birth of the rock-and-roll era, a mentally retarded young man named Jimmy, and even plays Don Quixote in a production of “Man of LaMancha!”

There were many other great episodes from season two but most fans agree that the most touching was the season finale, “M.I.A.” At this point in the series we know that Al has been married five times, has had dozens of one-night stands, and occasionally cheats on his current girlfriend, Tina back at the project. However in this episode, we discover a very emotionally hurt Albert Calavicci. Sam leaps into California in 1969 where Al tells him that he is there to prevent a woman named Beth from declaring her missing-in-action naval husband dead and marrying another man. Dr. Beckett discovers that Al is Beth’s husband and while the rules of Quantum Leaping prohibit him from allowing Al to change his own future, Al does get one last dance with the love of his life before Sam leaps into season three.

With the character development now firmly in place, the third season of Quantum Leap takes off with a leap into Elk Ridge, Indiana in 1969… Sam’s hometown. Sam has leaped into himself as a teenager! His dad and brother are still alive and Sam realizes that he now has a chance to change their doomed future. This episode won an Emmy for makeup as Scott Bakula plays the dual role of himself and as his own father! After making a failed attempt to warm his brother Tom of his upcoming fate, Sam leaps into Tom’s navy seal squad in Vietnam the day before his brother’s death. Tom was originally killed during a P.O.W. rescue mission and when Al located the P.O.W.’s, Sam has to choose between saving his brother or rescuing the prisoners of war.

An episode which has been turned into an urban legend of fan lore is titled “The Boogiem*n.” From the moment it first began airing, “The Halloween Episode” (as fans who value their lives call it) seemed to have the highest incidence of VCR/cable/local station failure than any other episode aired. This columnist has opted not to even spell out the name of this episode completely here for fear that you, dear reader, may experience hardship simply by reading the title!

The third season finale, “Shock Theater,” leaps Sam into a depressed mental patient who receives an accidental overdose of electroshock therapy. This fills in Sam’s swiss-cheesed brain with the personas of various people from previous leaps, leading these personalities to emerge from Sam including Samantha Stormer from “What Price Gloria?”, Jimmy from the episode “Jimmy”, and Jesse Tyler from “The Color of Truth!” Discovering that the mentally handicapped, animals, and young children can see Al in the past, Calavicci must complete Sam’s mission as well as convince Dr. Beckett to take another shock treatment in order to leap before they lose contact permanently.

A bolt of lightening during the season three cliffhanger causes Sam and Al to switch places in the fourth season opener, “The Leap Back.” Al leaps back to 1945 as a returning Army war hero with Sam as his holographic aid! After some trouble getting the door to the Imaging Chamber open, Sam finally returns to the Project Quantum Leap Control Room and to the viewers surprise, his wife… Donna! However this reunion is short-lived as Sam has to make the choice to switch places again with Al in order to save his friend’s life. After Sam leaps and Donna realizes that Sam remembers nothing about his return home, Sam’s wife instructs Al to keep their marriage a secret so that Sam can continue to act freely in order to complete his missions. There were many debates among the fans about the fact that Sam is now married, yet even though he doesn’t remember his wife, he still acts in romantic settings with the women he must. This is the first episode in which mind-merging begins to occur between Sam and the leapee. In several very funny scenes, Sam takes on Al’s sexually lecherous persona and Al acquires Sam’s moral ethics!

Continuing the fourth season, Sam leaps into a woman who has been raped, a rainmaker, an old gunfighter out west, and a soap opera star who is kidnapped by his number one fan! “The Wrong Stuff,” an episode of much controversy leaps Dr. Beckett into an astronaut chimp that will be killed in a brutal helmet test. Also leaping into the real-life news including CNN was the episode “Running For Honor,” in which Sam arrives as a possibly gay young man who attempts suicide in the original history. Many NBC sponsors pulled their advertising from the episode’s time slot as homosexual themed shows were very uncommon on television at the time. We learn that Al has a slight phobia of homosexuals when, after he notes that Sam has asked for tea instead of coffee, Sam replies, “I don't like coffee, I like tea. I mean, is every tea-drinker in the entire history of the world gay to you? Is that it? What about the Boston Tea Party? Was that like some kind of a gay boat festival or something?

What would happen if Sam altered the life of someone integral to the project in his own time? We find out in the fourth season finale, “A Leap for Lisa” when Dr. Beckett leaps into a young Naval officer named Al Calavicci! Changing history, Al disappears, replaced by another holographic observer who is oblivious to Al’s existence!

Unsatisfied with director Oliver Stone’s version of the JFK conspiracy, series creator Donald Bellisario answered back with Quantum Leap’s fifth season opener, “Lee Harvey Oswald.” In this two-hour television movie Sam leaps for the first time into a real historical figure as the infamous Oswald. Bouncing around several times in the life of Oswald, Sam’s mind merges with the accused assassin until finally reaching the window of the Dallas Book Depository holding a rifle! This episode was in the news many times with both Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell receiving Emmy nominations.

A notable episode from the final season, “Killin’ Time,” gives a look into what would happen at Project Quantum Leap is the person in the “Waiting Room” escaped! We also got to see a UFO encounter, the women’s lib movement, the world of a vampire, and what it would be like to become a bigamist. In three episodes, Sam discovers another Leaper, who seems to be putting wrong what Sam had previously put right! And in the fan-favorite trilogy of episodes simply titled, “Trilogy,” Dr. Beckett leaps along three generations of one family, which results in a daughter for the scientist.

With much pressure from NBC on the show to get higher ratings, Bellisario made the decision to leap Sam into even more real-life people from recent history. Sam leaped into Elvis Presley, Dr. Ruth Westheimer and was even the chauffeur for Marilyn Monroe! In one of the final three episodes, all the rules of the string theory are broken when Dr. Beckett travels along his own DNA line back to the civil war in 1885 as his own great grandfather!

But even with all of these fantastic and interesting leaps into real-life figures, ratings still slumped. Over the course of the series, NBC had moved Quantum Leap from one night to another so many times that only the die-hard fans could keep up. NBC executives decided that in order for Quantum Leap to be renewed for a sixth season, Sam would have to travel into the future, possibly with a teenage sidekick to grab the younger target audience. Donald Bellisario didn’t agree with this approach, so on May 5th, 1993, NBC aired the final episode of Quantum Leap. Still the most debated episode after a decade off the air, “Mirror Image” put Sam face-to-face with the person who may have been leaping him through time! Was it God, Time, Fate, or something they never even thought of? Regardless of who this mysterious figure was, Sam was finally able to correct a wrong in Al’s life before the final words from this fabulous series faded onto our television sets: “Dr. Sam Beckett never returned home.”

and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home.

In the years following the cancellation of Quantum Leap, fans of the show that call themselves “leapers” continue to support the series. Syndicated episodes currently airing in mini-marathons on The Sci-fi Channel in the United States and on other networks in many countries bring back veteran leapers and new ones alike. Quantum Leap is still shown today in dozens of countries throughout the world and has accumulated a significant audience in the United Kindom and Great Britain! France, Canada, Italy, Germany, and Australia also a large amount of fans.

A series of novels was published along with a line of comic books. A limited number of episodes were released on VHS and laserdisc as well as the soundtrack album! Fan-created newsletters called “Fanzines” continue to circulate the globe today and online auction sites can always be searched for Quantum Leap merchandise and memorabilia.

Numerous fan websites have kept the show alive over the years, many featuring everything from photos, sound clips, and videos to in-depth episode guides, messaging forums, and chatrooms. A notable fan-fiction website titled, “Quantum Leap: The Virtual Seasons,” continues the series where it’s television counterpart left off, leaping Sam into hundreds of scenarios and propelling the world of Quantum Leap into the next generation!

With the announcement of a brand new Quantum Leap telefilm by the Sci-Fi Channel as well as the DVD release of Season One on June 8th, 2004, Quantum Leap is making a comeback! Leapers can be found all over the internet discussing the classic series and searching for information on the possible new venture tentatively titled, “Quantum Leap: A Bold Leap Forward.” This new pilot episode may include a female leaper to give the series a fresh revival for the 21st century!

Will Dr. Beckett finally return home? Will this new leaper be the one to bring him back? Only time will tell in television’s most loved time-travel series, “Quantum Leap!”