Quantum Leap is a time-travel-themed adventure series about a government experiment gone awry. Of course, anything involving the government is always going to spell disaster, so that shouldn’t surprise anyone. At its core, however, the sci-fi saga encourages viewers to be more empathetic towards their fellow humans. It asks the question: what if we had to spend a day in someone else’s shoes? That’s a philosophical notion most of us have contemplated at some point in our daily lives. In Quantum Leap, though, the main character experiences this idea in a literal sense.
Throughout Quantum Leap’s five seasons, which ran between 1989 and 1993, physicist Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) “leapt” from person to person, righting some of history’s epic wrongs in the process. Part sci-fi procedural, part social commentary, Quantum Leap commented on everything from disability to gender inequality, always in a way that was entertaining and thought-provoking. Unsurprisingly, Quantum Leap was among critics, winning a few Emmy nominations and two Golden Globes during its run. As the years have progressed, however, Donald P. Bellisario’s series has solidified itself as a cult hit that sci-fi aficionados still yearn for.
Quantum Leap was cancelled before some viewers were ready to say goodbye, a fate that’s befallen other beloved sci-fi series’ since then. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the factors that led to such an original gem being sent to the TV graveyard on the back of a cliffhanger for the ages.
Blame the Ratings
Critical acclaim and awards don’t always guarantee a show’s survival. Quantum Leap suffered declining ratings during its third season, which led to NBC almost cancelling the show then. However, as IMDB pointed out, the die-hard fans who stuck around started a passionate letter-writing campaign in an effort to keep the show going. This was enough to convince the network to renew Quantum Leap for two more years.
Unfortunately, the fan campaign didn’t result in increased viewership for Quantum Leap, and NBC eventually pulled the plug on the beloved sci-fi series. But at least Bellisario got the chance to end Quantum Leap on his terms, for better or worse.
Quantum Leap’s Finale Polarised the Fan Base
It’s never easy to say goodbye to the things we love, but having some closure helps. That was never going to be an option for Quantum Leap, though. The finale, “Mirror Image,” ends on an ambiguous note, with Beckett leaping into a tavern in the year of his birth. When he looks in the mirror, he sees himself as an adult for the first time in years. The tavern is full of people he’s helped over the years, and he has a conversation with a bartender who might be God himself. At the end of the episode, it’s revealed that Sam never made it home.
This was a controversial ending at the time, but the creators weren’t trying to anger fans. Going into the final episode, Bellisario knew he had to wrap things up in case the show never returned to the screen. That being said, the goal was always to leave the door open for Beckett to leap again.
“I wasn’t going to write a this-is-it kind of episode because I don’t think that Quantum Leap is finished,” Bellisario told the Los Angeles Times. “So I wrote a show that gives some of the reasons that he’s been leaping around. You find out who has been leaping him. It offers a philosophy for the series that I believe in: that we are all responsible for our own lives no matter how much we think fate or God or whatever imposes on us. Sam rights a wrong that has to do with his dearest friend, Al. That’s all very satisfying, I think, but at the end, it’s wide open as to what he’s going on to next.”
A Quantum Leap Revival Could Still Happen
Rumours of Beckett leaping again have circulated the pop culture sphere since 1993, but they’ve gained more steam in recent years. In 2017, Bellisario revealed that he’d written a script for a Quantum Leap movie. The creator didn’t provide much information on the story, though he did say that his writing process hadn’t changed. Then again, he also said that he’d “rebooted” the old protagonists, whatever that means.
In an ideal world, Scott Bakula would return to the fold for one last hurrah. The future of Quantum Leap might be a reboot in the modern sense, however. Earlier this year, the actor told TV Line that a new iteration with fresh characters could be inevitable. If it happens that way, he just hopes that the new series keeps the original series’ sentiments intact. “Sam was this naïve kid who just happened to be a brilliant scientist who stumbled on something and all of a sudden was thrown into all of these different lives and worlds and people and situations that he never could’ve imagined growing up in. I would just hope that they would try and keep that, but you know, I don’t know what they’ll do.”
In the same interview with TV Line, Bakula said that there have been pitches to expand the current mythology, as opposed to starting again from scratch. One idea that’s been discussed is to have Beckett’s child discover his father’s tech and set out to find him. Granted, it’s unknown if Beckett even has a kid, but a good creative mind could find a way to give him one.
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