It might not have arrived on screens until the final year of the 1980s, but Quantum Leap is still a classic of 80s television through-and-through. Starring Scott Bakula as Dr Sam Beckett and Dean Stockwell as his colleague Admiral Al Calavicci, Quantum Leap took a potentially confusing premise and used it as the basis for a highly accessible adventure series in which no two episodes were ever quite the same. In every instalment, Bakula’s Sam ‘quantum leaps’ into someone else’s body in another time and place within his own lifetime, in order to change history for the better.
Join us as we take a look back at the classic show with some facts you probably didn’t know about Quantum Leap…
20. Scott Bakula ad-libbed Sam’s “oh boy” catchphrase
As with so many popular TV shows from years gone by, Quantum Leap is closely associated with a memorable and highly quotable catchphrase. Almost every episode of the show ends with Sam Beckett, having successfully completed one mission, immediately quantum leaping into another body. Then, on finding himself in some entirely new guise – and often in an extremely awkward situation – Sam despairingly says, “oh boy!” Scott Bakula said this for the first time in the first episode, but it wasn’t scripted: the actor ad-libbed the line.
The producers of Quantum Leap liked it so much they made “oh boy” a catchphrase for the show. It proved to be a good hook for the series, as each “oh boy!” moment hinted at where things would go in the next episode. These teasing cliffhangers would encourage viewers to tune in again the same time next week.
19. Dean Stockwell suggested Al’s cigar habit as a way for the actor to get free cigars
Although his co-star Scott Bakula was largely unknown at the time, Dean Stockwell was well-established as an actor when he signed on to play Quantum Leap’s Al. Born in 1936, Stockwell had been an actor most of his life, taking his first film role aged nine. The Quantum Leap team were delighted to have such a seasoned pro on board, and were open to Stockwell’s suggestions for the character.
One key suggestion Stockwell made regarding Al was something which probably wouldn’t fly on a major TV show today. It was at Stockwell’s suggestion that we routinely saw Al smoking cigars whilst communicating with Sam. When asked why, Stockwell once admitted that it seemed like a pretty good way of getting free cigars for five years.
18. Dennis Hopper advised Dean Stockwell against starring in the show
Dean Stockwell joined the cast of Quantum Leap with over 40 years of film and TV roles behind him. Stockwell had garnered some illustrious credits in that time, and in the 80s his film career was still going rather well. The actor appeared in such films as Dune, Blue Velvet and Beverly Hills Cop II – and, most notably, he got an Oscar nomination for Married to the Mob. With all this considered, taking on a recurring role in a slightly goofy TV show may have struck many as a step in the wrong direction for Stockwell.
This wasn’t lost on Stockwell’s Blue Velvet co-star Dennis Hopper, who strongly discouraged his friend from taking a part in the show. Of course, Quantum Leap proved to be hugely successful and Stockwell would ultimately be nominated for several awards for his performance, so perhaps Hopper was wrong.
17. The show was first dreamed up as a Battlestar Galactica spin-off
A decade before Quantum Leap first hit screens, creator Donald P. Bellisario was a writer on Battlestar Galactica. Though fondly remembered as a classic of sci-fi television, Battlestar Galactica had a troubled production, and a short lifespan. When the show was abruptly cancelled in 1979 after less than a year, Bellisario and creator Glen A. Larson started working on ideas for a spin-off show. They hit upon the idea of the Galactica travelling back in time visiting different points in Earth’s history, to change things for the better.
This idea was eventually simplified to become Galactica 1980, which sent the ship and its crew back to what was then the present day. However, Bellisario loved the idea of a time-hopping series about correcting history’s mistakes, and this was the seed from which Quantum Leap would grow.
16. Season five’s last episode wasn’t intended as the series finale
While Quantum Leap had a devoted fanbase, it wasn’t necessarily that huge a ratings-grabber. Once they reached what proved to be the final season, viewing figures were getting progressively lower. As such, the producers were well aware Quantum Leap might get cancelled – but didn’t know for sure until the last episodes were aired. Because of this, the final episode of season five was intended to be just open-ended enough to provide a launchpad for a sixth series.
Initially, the plan had been for the episode’s climax to send Sam to the far future, with Al then becoming a leaper to rescue him. This was not to be, however, and instead a title card was added stating “Dr Sam Beckett never returned home,” which disappointed both fans and the makers of the show themselves.
15. An episode featuring a gay character lost the network $500,000 in advertising revenue
While Quantum Leap was very mainstream-friendly, it didn’t shy away from tackling challenging subject matter. Episodes frequently dealt with civil rights issues, confronting sexism, racism, animal cruelty, environmentalism and homophobia. However, one episode which prominently dealt with gay rights wound up losing TV network NBC a lot of money.
In the episode Running for Honor – June 11, 1964, Beckett visits a naval college to prevent homophobic classmates from killing a gay cadet. The TV network lost $500,000 because sponsors pulled out of advertising before the show was aired; however, this wasn’t just down to homophobia. The original script of the episode saw the cadet in question commit suicide. While this was changed in the broadcasted episode, the money had already been lost.
14. Scott Bakula often had to work seven days a week on the show
Quantum Leap was unusual among long-running TV shows in that there were only two actors who appeared in every episode. As the lead character and focal point, Scott Bakula’s Sam Beckett typically featured in almost every scene in every episode. As a result of this, the actor (who was 34 when the show began, and 38 when it ended) often had to work seven days a week. The role of Sam Beckett was physically demanding too, with Bakula having to enact all manner of activities depending on which bodies he leaped into.
Throughout the course of the series we saw Sam fight, participate in various sports, sing and dance, and more besides. Bakula was once quoted as saying, “I always likened that show to running a marathon: you just tried to get through the season in one piece.”
13. Show creator Donald Bellisario has written a Quantum Leap feature film
Ever since Quantum Leap ended on a rather divisive note in 1993, fans have long hoped it would be in some way revived. The Sci-Fi Channel announced plans for a Quantum Leap TV movie in 2002, but this never came to fruition. However, this hasn’t stopped all talk of a Quantum Leap movie, and according to the show’s creator Donald Bellisario, a script for such a feature film does exist. Bellisario said in 2017, “I just finished writing a Quantum Leap feature. I don’t know what’s going to happen with it, but I did write it.”
Unfortunately for fans, little more has been heard on the subject since, although Scott Bakula indicated in February 2020 that he would be keen to revisit the series, remarking on TV’s The Talk, “there are so many things going on right now that need to be put right… [Sam] would be very, very busy.” However, Bakula’s co-star Dean Stockwell (now in his 80s) has officially retired from acting, so it’s looking less likely that any new take on Quantum Leap would get the old gang back together.
12. The show broke its own time travel rules more than once
Quantum Leap may have been a sci-fi fantasy show, but the premise had a number of strict rules. The key rule was that Dr Sam Beckett could only quantum leap into the bodies of people who existed within his own lifetime. As such, he couldn’t travel into the future, or go back any further than 1953, the year he was born.
However, in a bid to keep things interesting, the show broke its own rules more than once, most egregiously in the final season episode The Leap Between the States – September 20, 1862. This episode sent Sam back into the American Civil War, which was explained away as being due to a genetic similarity between Sam and his great-grandfather. Things got even more bizarre in other episodes such as It’s a Wonderful Leap (which featured an angel), and Blood Moon (which featured vampires).
11. There was almost a Magnum, PI crossover with Sam leaping into Thomas Magnum
Some of Sam Beckett’s leaping adventures got a bit crazy, such as when Sam leaped into Lee Harvey Oswald and a Kiss-style 70s rock star. However, some of the more outlandish ideas never got made – such as a Magnum PI crossover episode. As both shows were the creation of Donald Bellisario, at one point they hit on the idea of having Sam Beckett leap into Hawaii private investigator Thomas Magnum himself.
Although Magnum PI was already off the air when Quantum Leap began, the idea of a crossover was seriously considered. Reportedly Magnum PI actors Tom Selleck, John Hillerman and Roger E. Mosley were all approached and agreed to appear. Alas, for better or worse, this was one episode of Quantum Leap which never came to pass.
10. Malcolm McDowell auditioned to play Al
As we’ve established, Dean Stockwell was a seasoned and respected screen actor when he was cast as Al. However, Stockwell was by no means the only big name actor to read for the role. Another perhaps surprising contender for the part of Al was Malcolm McDowell. The esteemed British star of A Clockwork Orange was one among a number of actors who came in to read alongside Bakula, who had already been cast as Sam Beckett.
However, the producers felt there was more chemistry between Bakula and Stockwell, hence McDowell was turned down. McDowell’s subsequent TV work has included recurring roles on The Mentalist, Mozart in the Jungle and most recently Truth Seekers.
9. The show came from the creator of Magnum, PI and Airwolf
Donald P. Bellisario had already enjoyed some significant TV success before creating Quantum Leap. As a writer, he had worked on some popular shows of the 70s, most famously Battlestar Galactica. Then, alongside Battlestar Galactica creator Glen A. Larson, Bellisario co-created Magnum P.I. This detective series starring Tom Selleck became a huge hit, but Bellisario didn’t stop there.
Independent of Larson, Bellisario created action-adventure series Airwolf, which developed a huge fanbase in the 80s. After Quantum Leap, Bellisario went on to create two more hits in legal drama series JAG and its spin-off show NCIS.
8. The theme music comes from the composer of The A-Team, Magnum PI and more
One key member of the creative team behind Quantum Leap had already made a big impact on the TV shows of the 80s when he started on the sci-fi series. The Quantum Leap theme music was composed by Mike Post, a prolific composer for the small screen. Throughout the 80s and 90s, Post provided a number of the most memorable theme tunes in TV history.
These included the theme tunes for The A-Team, Hill Street Blues, Doogie Howser M.D. and Blossom, among many others. Post had also provided the theme tune for earlier Donald P. Bellisario production Magnum, PI. Post is also a music producer, and has worked with such varied artists as Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton and Van Halen.
7. Bellisario decided on Bakula on his first audition
Before his casting on Quantum Leap, Scott Bakula had been working professionally as an actor since 1977. The Missouri-born actor started out working in the theatre before landing a handful of small-screen roles. Bakula’s pre-Quantum Leap TV work included the sitcoms My Sister Sam, Gung Ho, Designing Women and Eisenhower and Lutz. While he wasn’t necessarily a big name when he came in to read for Quantum Leap, Bakula proved to be exactly what producers were looking for.
The show’s creator Donald Bellisario only just managed to contain his excitement and calmly thank Bakula for his great audition. “He walked out and the door closed,” Bellisario reminisces, “and I went, ‘That’s the guy.’”
6. Scott Bakula’s Source Code cameo is a reference to the show
Quantum Leap had a big impact on a generation of young sci-fi fans, among them a young Duncan Jones. Jones, the son of rock legend David Bowie, grew up to become a major filmmaker in his own right with such movies as Moon and Warcraft. In 2011, Jones directed the sci-fi thriller Source Code, a film which deals in an unusual way with time travel.
Acknowledging one of his inspirations, Jones took the opportunity to subtly pay homage to Quantum Leap in the movie. He did so by casting Scott Bakula as the father of the film’s lead Jake Gyllenhaal. Bakula is not seen, but we hear his voice during a telephone call. And what are the first words we hear Bakula say in Source Code? That’s right – Dr Sam Beckett’s iconic catchphrase, “oh boy.”
5. A pre-Friends Jennifer Aniston stars in one episode
In 1992, Jennifer Aniston had no idea she’d go on to star in one of the most successful sitcoms of all time. At the time, the most notable work the young actress had done was appear in a key role on the short-lived and largely forgotten TV spin-off of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. However, this didn’t exactly send Aniston’s career sky-rocketing, so an appearance on the popular Quantum Leap certainly didn’t hurt her professionally.
In the season five episode Nowhere to Run – August 10, 1968, you can spot Aniston playing a volunteer at a rehabilitation centre for Vietnam War veterans. The following year, Aniston would make her big-screen debut in the notorious schlock-horror movie Leprechaun. Then, in 1994, Aniston signed on to star in Friends, which most people would agree turned out to be a good career move.
4. Unseen alternate footage from the series finale appeared in 2019
For years, the idea that Quantum Leap’s sixth season would have seen Al become a leaper was nothing more than a rumour. As no one within the show’s cast and crew would attest to its veracity, it was for a time thought to be just a fan theory. However, in 2019 the rumours were proved true when previously lost footage from the finale was recovered. This confirms that the discarded scene would have paved the way for a sixth season, as Dean Stockwell’s dialogue confirms that Sam Beckett has leaped somewhere beyond their reach, this time as himself.
Then, encouraged by his wife Beth (Sam having saved their relationship through his last leap), Al decides to enter the Quantum Leap accelerator himself in search of Sam. Scott Bakula has confirmed that this was one of a number of alternate endings shot which would have set up the show’s sixth season.
3. Scott Bakula says he would use Quantum Leaping to stop the World Wars and 9/11
It’s hard to watch Quantum Leap without imagining just what might be done if the technology featured in the show really existed. Sam Beckett actor Scott Bakula has of course been asked this question many times, and he is enthusiastic about the idea. The actor has stated, “I wish, certainly, I could go back and change the course of any of the World Wars that have caused so many losses.”
“And of course, more recently when we think about 9/11 or things like that, if we could have had knowledge to stop some of those things, you’d want to do that. You know, it would be fun to go back to the days of yore and the courts of such and such, but I always tend to think more about the huge world events that have happened and if there was some way we could have prevented these big disasters.” Of course, in 2019 Quantum Leap was one among a slew of time-hopping TV shows and movies that were dismissed as inaccurate portrayals of how time travel would work in mega-blockbuster Avengers: Endgame.
2. Dean Stockwell and Scott Bakula re-united in Enterprise and NCIS
The screen chemistry between Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell was so great, just one TV show wasn’t enough to contain it. In the years since Quantum Leap ended, the two actors have reunited in two further shows in which Bakula played the lead. In 2002, Stockwell appeared alongside his old co-star Bakula in an episode of the Star Trek series Enterprise.
Bakula headlined the series, a prequel to the original Star Trek chronology, from 2001 to 2005. Then, in 2014, Stockwell reunited with Bakula once again in an episode of NCIS: New Orleans. That episode of NCIS: New Orleans was one of Stockwell’s last credits before his 2015 retirement; Bakula, meanwhile, headlines the drama to this day.
1. There was a series of novels and comic books
Like a lot of sci-fi fantasy TV shows with an enthusiastic fanbase, Quantum Leap has expanded beyond television. The time-hopping adventures of Sam and Al continued in a long series of official Quantum Leap novels. The first Quantum Leap novel was published in 1993, and it proved to be the first of many.
A further 19 official Quantum Leap novels were published, the last of which reached bookshelves in 2000. On top of this, there was also a comic book from Innovation Publishing which ran for 13 issues while the show was still on the air.