15 Facts About Quantum Leap

NBC
NBC

For five seasons between 1989 and 1993, physicist Dr. Sam Beckett “leaped” from person to person to right epic wrongs and change the course of world history in Quantum Leap. Scott Bakula starred as Beckett, and in each episode he ended up inside a different person, ranging from a pregnant woman to Lee Harvey Oswald. Beckett’s snarky hologram sidekick, Al (Dean Stockwell), helped the doctor navigate the historical sequences. The show highlighted social issues and occasionally aired divisive episodes.

Magnum P.I. and NCIS creator Donald P. Bellisario pitched the show because he wanted to do an anthology with two characters and felt the time travel element would be attractive to legendary NBC president Brandon Tartikoff. (It was.) There were rules to Beckett’s time travel, though: He was born in 1953 and wasn’t allowed to travel outside of his age—though one episode did see him leaping into his great-grandfather’s body to experience the American Civil War. Also, Beckett could only see the person he possessed when he looked in a mirror, and it was up to him to figure out the problem that needed to be fixed.

Though it wasn’t a ratings juggernaut, for two summers in a row NBC aired episodes five nights a week to get more people watching. As a result, the show gained a cult status, and fans—who called themselves Leapers—held conventions throughout the years and even funded Stockwell’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Star. In 1993, the show met its demise when NBC abruptly canceled it. Here are some facts about the series, on the 30th anniversary of its debut.

1. The show's title came from a physics books.

Show creator Donald P. Bellisario explained the provenance of the show’s title to Emmy TV Legends. “I was reading a book called Coming of Age in the Milky Way and it took man from when he looked up at stars and all the way to quantum physics, and it gave the history of everything. And the quantum leap is a physical thing that happens that you can’t explain. That was it. I never explained who was leaping Sam—was it God, fate?"

2. Dean Stockwell's film career helped land him his role on Quantum Leap.

Dean Stockwell had toiled in movies and television for years, but his star was burning brightly after he appeared in David Lynch's Blue Velvet in 1986 and received an Oscar nomination for 1988’s Married to the Mob. “I had done television for years, but nobody was interested in me,” Stockwell told Emmy magazine. “After the films, things changed. I had been told I had no TV-Q, and now it didn’t matter. Quantum Leap came along. From the moment I read it, I thought it was perfect, that it was going to be a success.”

Once cast, Stockwell hoped the show would last a while. “My idea going into Quantum Leap was to get stranded in it for five or six years. Why not? I have done something like 60 films. I don’t have anything to prove in that area, and I don’t care to prove anything in theater.” The show ended up giving Stockwell four years of solid work.

3. Scott Bakula nailed his audition.

Bellisario’s casting director had Scott Bakula come in and read for the part of Dr. Sam Beckett. After Bakula read, Bellisario contained his excitement and calmly thanked Bakula for his great reading. “He walked out and the door closed. And I went, ‘That’s the guy,’” Bellisario told Emmy TV Legends. “I didn’t want to say it in front of him. Then they came to me and said, ‘How about Dean Stockwell?’ He just did Married to the Mob, his feature career is rejuvenated. They said, ‘He’d like to do it,’ and I said, ‘In a minute,’ and that was it. It was the only two people I had to cast.”

4. The chimp episode was a hit with animal rights activists.

In “The Wrong Stuff—January 24, 1961,” Beckett leaps into the body of a chimp that is trapped in a research lab and headed to space. The writer of the episode, Paul Brown, met with primate expert Jane Goodall. “She was so moved by the idea, she’s been sending him articles about the inhumane treatment of lab animals to help in his research,” Quantum Leap co-executive producer Deborah Pratt (and voice of Ziggy) told TV Guide. “I’ve asked Paul to show the necessity of using animals for medical research—as well as showing that inhumane treatment is wrong. We like to lay out both sides and let the audience decide what to think.”

5. Quantum teleportation may be a real thing.

The phrase quantum leap entered the dictionary in 1956 and is defined as “an abrupt transition of a system described by quantum mechanics from one of its discrete states to another, as the fall of an electron in an atom to an orbit of lower energy,” or “an abrupt change, sudden increase, or dramatic advance.”

In 2014, the University of Geneva teleported a photon “to a crystal-encased photon more than 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) away.” There’s a lot of scientific jargon in the article, but basically this means that maybe, someday, more than just particles will be transported through optical fibers.

6. One episode featured a young Donald Trump.

Not the real Donald Trump. In a play on It’s a Wonderful Life, “It’s a Wonderful Leap—May 10, 1958” saw Beckett playing a New York City taxi driver. An angel shows up, but that’s not the real kicker of this episode: at one point, Beckett picks up a boy and his father and begins talking to the kid about real estate and what life will be like in the future, and makes specific mention of the glass tower being constructed next to Tiffany’s. In essence, giving Young The Donald the idea for Trump Tower.

7. Jennifer Aniston appeared in an episode.

Two years before Friends debuted and turned Jennifer Aniston into a household name, she starred in the season 5 episode “Nowhere to Run – August 10, 1968,” playing a volunteer at a hospital that aids Vietnam veterans. In the episode, Beckett leaps into the body of a soldier who has lost his legs. Aniston doesn’t have just a cameo, either—she’s in most of the episode.

Besides Aniston, several other future stars appeared on the show, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 1991, and Neil Patrick Harris, who was already making waves on Doogie Howser, M.D.

8. The show received pushback for an episode involving a gay character.

One of the best things about Quantum Leap was how it tackled social issues, though that didn’t always sit well with viewers. In the 1992 episode “Running for Honor—June 11, 1964,” Beckett visits a naval college to prevent homophobic classmates from killing a gay cadet. NBC reportedly lost about $500,000 on the episode, because many sponsors pulled out of advertising before it aired. In an earlier shooting script, the gay cadet committed suicide, but that was softened for the final version.

The network didn’t want to cause a fuss over the episode, so they marketed it as “Sam’s life hangs in the balance when he’s accused of betraying his country” and eschewed mentioning the gay plotline. Before it aired, the writer of the episode, Robert Harris Duncan, received criticism from the Los Angeles chapter of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). “I’m upset with [the alliance] because I think the script does not slur gays,” Duncan, who was openly gay, told the Chicago Tribune. “I have the opportunity of getting on prime-time television a story on gay bashing and outing. My own group of people is slamming my script down.”

9. The series finale polarized fans.

Because NBC hadn’t told Quantum Leap’s producers whether they planned on renewing the show for another season, Bellisario had to wrap up the last episode of season five the best way he could, and write it as if they weren’t coming back. “Mirror Image—August 8, 1953” ended with Beckett deciding to keep leaping and not return home. Some fans felt the episode didn’t give a proper resolution to the show, but Bakula liked the ending.

“[Bellisario] left doors open. He wrapped some things up, he made people feel good, there was a ton of emotion in it—it was just a metaphor for the show that continues and lives on to this day,” Bakula told Zap2It. “I think it’s a beautiful ending. It was challenging, it was difficult, but I think it was the only answer. I like it. I like that Sam’s out there, and I like that Al got to make his life right.”

10. Donald Bellisario recreated his dad's bar for the show's final epiosde.

Al’s Bar in the series finale is actually a recreation of Bellisario’s father’s bar from 1953. “I created Quantum Leap, my dad created me, so I made it in my dad’s bar,” Bellisario told Emmy TV Legends. “We recreated that bar to every detail that I could remember or find in photographs. I even had the taps from the bar and we used those. The ice cream cooler was the same; the back bar was the same. I did it as an homage to my dad and I did it because I wanted to sit there and be back there.”

11. Fans turned Sam Beckett's name into an acronym.

Akin to “What Would Jesus Do?” (WWJD), Sam Beckett’s choices influenced his fans. “I had a funny thing happen in San Diego last year,” Bakula told Chicagoist in 2012. “This guy told me how he used to watch Quantum Leap with his mom, and as he was growing up, he would call her, and if he was having a tough time with something, he said she would use an expression that always made him feel better: WWSBD. I looked at him and I was like, ‘What is that?’ And he said, ‘What Would Sam Beckett Do?’ And he meant it very sincerely, and I thought that was so very sweet. That moment really stands out to me.”

12. Quantum Leap was novelized.

From 1992 to 2000, Berkley published the show in book form—18 novels in total. Universal asked Berkley to hire writers, like Ashley McConnell, to write whatever they wanted. “When Universal saw the synopsis, the only feedback I got was, ‘Make sure Sam and Al interact,’” McConnell told Starlog. “I never got anything else. They’ve given me all the rein in the world.” Her book, The Novel, was the first in the line of books, which entailed historical stories of the Berlin Wall and Sam leaping into the body of a priest.

13. The show was also turned into a comic book series.

Akin to the novelization of the show, Quantum Leap stories also graced the pages in several graphic novels. Innovation Publishing obtained the rights from Universal and used different writers per issue. In 1991, the first comic was published. Throughout the 13 issues that were published between September 1991 and August 1993, Beckett visited the Stonewall riots, tackled the 1950s quiz show scandal, and, in Freedom of the Press, leaped into the body of a man who’s about to be executed—just like in the episode “Last Dance Before an Execution—May 12, 1971,” which aired a few months before the comic book was released.

14. There have been rumblings of a reboot.

John Shearer, Getty Images for TV Guide

The creators and stars of the show constantly get asked if the show will ever be rebooted. In 2002, the Sci-Fi Channel (before it was changed to Syfy) stated that they planned on developing a two-hour Quantum Leap TV movie, but that never came to fruition. Eight years later, at Comic-Con in 2010, Bakula said that Bellisario was working on a script for a possible Quantum Leap movie. And in 2017, Bellisario said that the script had been completed:

"I write things exactly the same way. I just start writing and I let them take me wherever it’s going to take me. I’m entertained the same way the audience is. So I just put Scott [Bakula] and Dean [Stockwell] in my head, kind of rebooted them, and went from there."

As for whether a reboot will ever happen: stay tuned.

15. Bakula knows what he'd do if Quantum Leap were real.

Even today, Bakula is regularly asked what he would do if he were really able to leap back to any point in history. “I wish, certainly, I could go back and change the course of any of the World Wars that have caused so many losses,” he said in an interview with The Reel Word. “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.”

The original version of this article ran in 2016.

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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Feel Nostalgic With the New Hello Kitty-Themed Tamagotchi

Bandai America/Amazon
Bandai America/Amazon

Back in November 1996, Bandai released the cult favorite Tamagotchi, a tiny virtual pet that users could feed, play with, give medicine to, and more. The name itself is actually a combination of two Japanese words, tamago and tomodachi, meaning egg and friend—and it was the toy's egg shape that was key to its distinct design. They could fit in pockets, on keychains, and inside the backpacks of any kid who wanted a distraction during the school day.

According to NME, more than 82 million of these egg-shaped digital pets have been sold since their initial release in the ‘90s, with 10 million of those coming within the first year alone. Now, the handheld pets are back again in the form of a collaboration with another famous Japanese creation, Hello Kitty.

Hello Kitty first took over hearts starting in 1974 when a Japanese company called Sanrio put the design on a vinyl coin purse. More than 45 years later, Hello Kitty (her real name is actually Kitty White) has been developed into video games, cafes, hospitals, wine, and more. This new Tamagotchi is the perfect mixture of two of Japan’s most famous brands, both of which have reached a global audience.

Bandi America/Amazon

In these new editions, Hello Kitty will help you raise your Tamagotchi. You’ll be able to feed them Hello Kitty’s favorite foods, like apple pie or milk, and play a balloon game and piano game. Based on how well you raise your Tamagotchi from an egg to an adult will determine which of the seven surprise characters you receive.

These new Tamagotchis will be released on December 1, 2020, and are available to pre-order in red and white on Amazon for $20.

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