DeFlip Side #122: Quantum Reboot

DS122.mp3

Welcome everyone. I’m Christopher DeFilippis, and this is Leap Month!

Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Dr. Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Leap Accelerator, and vanished...

Quantum Leap Saga Cell.mp3

Vanished. That’s a tempting word to describe the state of Quantum Leap these days, which has all but disappeared from the popular consciousness, except in the minds of diehard fans like me.

But that’s the problem with diehards; we never give up on anything. And Quantum Leap fandom is especially diehard because it is a diverse and multilayered show that spawned a diverse and multilayered fan base. Poll ten Quantum Leap fans about what made the show so great, and you’ll get ten wildly different opinions. But despite this, the same question seems to burn on the lips of all Leapers: Are there any plans for more Quantum Leap? How about a new TV show, or even a big screen feature?

And it’s a logical question, what with the current mania for reboots, remakes and reimaginings that have become the stock-in-trade of modern entertainment. But bringing Quantum Leap back in either film or television is a terrible idea, at least currently. And before you run me out of the Quantum Leap fan community with torches and pitchforks, hear me out. There’s a small matter we need to contend with, called reality.

First of all, NBC Universal owns the rights to Quantum Leap, and in order for it to go on in any way, they would have to get behind the project. I’ve experienced this first hand, because when I got paid for my Quantum Leap novel Foreknowledge it wasn’t Berkeley Publishing that cut the check, but NBC Universal. I even got notes from a Universal executive with concerns about some of the scenes in the book. So despite NBC’s seeming indifference to fans, the company is fully vested in the legacy and future of a potentially lucrative intellectual property and won’t lightly hand over the reins—not even to show creator Don Bellisario.

Bellisario said as much a few years ago at The Leap Back 09 convention that was held in California to commemorate Quantum Leap’s 20th Anniversary. In a joint appearance with Scott Bakula—along with Dean Stockwell who participated via telephone—each said that Quantum Leap was the best job any of them ever had and they’d all love to do more.

Scott and Don at The Leap Back 09

But then Scott offered this sobering remark:

“Years ago—Don may not remember this—but he had a big meeting at Universal and said let’s talk about Quantum Leap the movie, and they said we’ve talked to our marketing people and they told us that we can’t sell that name. So we’re not going to make the movie. We can’t sell it. So those are the kinds of things that you go up against.”

As a Quantum Leap fan, this isn’t exactly the kind of thing you want to hear, and especially not from Sam Beckett himself. If he can’t offer hope, who can? But one thing has changed since then to prove the stupidity of network marketers: there WAS a Quantum Leap movie, and it WAS successful. Only it was called Source Code. So maybe the time IS right to revisit the idea of a Quantum Leap film franchise. But again, Scott chimed in with yet another reality check:

“The reality is, and this is just being totally honest, if we were fortunate enough, if Don was fortunate enough, to get the rights to go and make this movie, the odds of Dean and I being in it would be very, very small. We might get some cameo thing or something, which would be cool. If there could be a Quantum Leap movie franchise it would be fantastic in any shape and form, as long as he’s driving the boat.”

The “he” Scott is referring to is Bellisario. But while Don might conceivably get an executive producer credit and final story approval for a movie, it still really wouldn’t be Quantum Leap, not without Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell portraying Sam and Al.

So if a movie is a bittersweet proposition at best, then what about a new TV show? That would be even worse, though it seems to be the more likely option. As Bellisario laid out at the convention:

“NBC still would like to do Quantum Leap for the Sci-Fi Channel, and they don’t want to screw around with a feature. And we don’t want to do a movie for TV.”

I found this on the interwebs. Authenticity: suspect.

I guess we can assume that statement is still accurate, since there have been no reports since to contradict it. But talk about ambiguous. Since NBC isn’t keen on a theatrical feature and Bellisario doesn’t want to do a TV movie, then a series is the only thing left. But the specter of a SyFy Channel series pretty much leaves Leap fans where we’ve been for decades now. For a while the Sci-Fi Channel was touting plans to produce a series called A Bold Leap Forward that would pick up where Quantum Leap left off, featuring a female Leaper, Sam’s daughter Sammy-Jo, who would pick up Sam’s mantle of putting right what once went wrong. But it never got beyond the initial announcements, and I’m glad to see any such idea remain withered on the vine. Here’s why.

The biggest obstacle to rebooting Quantum Leap these days can be summed up in two words: Battlestar Galactica.

Ron Moore’s reimagined version of Battlestar Galactica was so successful that it rewrote the playbook on how to retool an old TV series to make it resonate with modern audiences: Make it dark. Make it edgy. Make it morally ambiguous. In other words, make it Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. But I digress.

Actually, Battlestar just capitalized on a burgeoning television trend: the cult of the antihero. This paradigm shift started way back with the success of shows like Seinfeld and The Sopranos—which proved that characters didn’t have to be especially noble or likable to be entertaining and watchable—or, more importantly, to get ratings. These shows broke the television mold so thoroughly that it’s now almost impossible to find a compelling comedy or drama that doesn’t feature unlikable, selfish, or even sociopathic main characters: Dexter, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, Weeds, The Walking Dead. Television is becoming increasingly fixated on not-very-nice people doing not-very-nice things.

Now try to reconcile this with the notion of a modern Quantum Leap reboot. You’d be hard-pressed to come up with a concept more antithetical. Quantum Leap is fundamentally about a good guy helping ordinary people make their lives better in some small way. It’s all selfless, noble intent without a meth lab in sight. Any new Quantum Leap show would have to adhere to this darker dysfunctional aesthetic to even have a hope of getting off the ground. So what, you say. We can handle it, so long it means more Leap. Oh yeah? Time for another reality check.

Quantum Leap Season 5 Theme.mp3

Remember this little ditty? Leapers raged when this new theme song debuted. And if you couldn’t tolerate something this inconsequential, what makes you think you’d embrace a darker, edgier Leap? Just imagine the Evil Leaper being a series regular, and Sam not helping people so much as being torn over whose future to screw up the least in any given episode. Because that’s what it’d be. You’d be wasting your faith on moronic, bandwagon network executives to expect anything different. And if this is the likely shape of new Leaps to come, then what’s the point?

Let the programming pendulum swing back the other way before reviving Quantum Leap. Or better yet, leave well enough alone. Like Sam Beckett, we Leapers will never get home again. So let’s be content to celebrate our favorite show during Leap months like this and spread the Quantum gospel to legions of potential fans who have yet to don their Fermi Suits and step into the Accelerator Chamber. Any attempt to recreate the magic would be as lame and misguided as a souped-up new theme song—like trying to put right something that never went wrong.

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The interviews and photos of Scott Bakula and Don Bellisario featured in this episode were captured at “The Leap Back 2009: A 20th Anniversary Quantum Leap Convention” and are used courtesy of The Starlight Children’s Foundation and the Leap Back 2009 Committee. Click on the link above to purchase a DVD set of the entire convention. The suggested donation is $30.00 and all funds go directly to the Starlight Children’s Foundation.

Special thanks also goes to Brian Greene, webmaster of the Al’s Place Quantum Leap Fan Site, for his assistance in obtaining these permissions. Al’s Place is the premiere destination for everything Quantum Leap. Join your fellow Leapers there today!