As ‘Quantum Leap’ Turns 30, We Look Back at the Show with Scott Bakula, Dean Stockwell and Don Bellisario

Time travel has been a staple of the science fiction genre for decades, whether it’s used to stop the rise of the machine (Terminator), inadvertently prevent your parents from falling in love (Back to the Future), ironically using the whales to save us (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home), helping a couple of dudes graduate so their band can be the inspiration for the perfect society (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure — whoa!), or stopping Jack the Ripper from doing his thing in modern day San Francisco (Time After Time). Yet even with all of that, you would be hard-pressed to come up with as unique an approach as the one taken by the Scott Bakula series Quantum Leap, which is celebrating its 30th Anniversary.

The concept is brilliant: time experimentation by Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott) goes wrong, resulting in his bouncing around in time, every week leaping into the body of someone else whose life he has to impact, making right what once went wrong. To everyone around him — and in mirrored reflections of himself — he looks like the person whose body he’s occupying, while the audience sees him as Sam. Accompanying him on this journey through time is a hologram of project observer Al (Dean Stockwell), who only Sam can see. As he shifts from time period to time period, the hope is that someday he’ll make the leap back home.

Think about this setup. From week to week he could be — and was — a boxer, Rabbi, Mafia hit man, a pregnant woman about to give birth, a mentally challenged adult, a soldier in Vietnam, a chimpanzee undergoing lab experimentation(!) … you get the point. Such things are what acting careers of made of, yet Scott managed all of the above and much more in the four years the show was on the air.

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Quantum Leap made me very flexible as an actor and allowed me to approach each week’s character from as fresh a place as possible,” he explains. “Because of the series’ nature, I wasn’t wrapped up in some identifiable character, so the word got around the industry that I could do many different things. I liked the sense of being in the hot seat and having to put up or shut up. It’s easy to get distracted by the technical aspects of the show if you really want to get into the time travel and quantum physics and all those theories involved — you could easily get lost. To me, it’s a show about relationships — somebody who finds himself in a strange place and gets involved with the people that are there in his life. And this guy becomes kind of like a classic American hero, caring about the people and doing good things because he wants to do them.”

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