Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con featured a Quantum Leap panel on the Main Stage on Saturday, October 28, 2017. The panel included Quantum Leap creator Don Belisario and Dr. Sam “Oh boy” Beckett himself, Scott Bakula!
Don Belisario said that he’s not surprised that the show is still popular 24 years after it went off the air, because “Leapers” were always big fans, and that of all the shows he’s done, Quantum Leap always had the most fans. Scott Bakula said they knew they were making a show that was honest and that people could relate to. He said that with a lot of sci-fi, if you can get people excited about the idea, then they’re with you forever.
When creating the show, Don said that he had a few ideas, and knew that if he wanted to do a time travel show, he would have to make it different than other ones, such as where the time traveler goes back to King Arthur’s time. That’s why he made it so that Sam would only be able to travel within his own lifetime, which caused a lot of it to happen in the 50s and 80s. Don talked about pitching the show to NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff, who then asked him to explain it to him again in 30 seconds so that his mother would understand it. So Don explained it again, but Tartikoff said, “I still don’t get it,” to which Don responded, “Your mother got it.”
Don didn’t set out to deal with social issues, but social issues came naturally to the show. Once they realized that, Scott wanted to do many social issues, including dressing up as a woman and addressing feminist issues. He hadn’t known going in that he would end up dressing up as a woman, nor did they ever consider that his character would go into the body of a test chimp. But they came up with different things to do every week, and the audience accepted it, which allowed them to hit on social issues, including Sam becoming an elderly African-American man in the deep South.
Scott recalled that he and Dean Stockwell (who played Al) tended to want to push social issues, but that Don always said what they’re doing first and foremost is to put on an hour of entertainment, and if the audience finds things within the episode to pull out to relate to, then so be it. He pointed out that Don was always about the relationships on the shows that he worked on, and everything else grew out of that.
When Scott came in and read for the role, as soon as he walked out the door, Don said, “That’s the guy! We gotta have him.” At the time, Dean Stockwell was very popular in movies, and they didn’t think they would get him, but he offered to play the role of Al. Scott recalled that he and Dean had good chemistry from the first time they read together, and Don pointed out that the two brought a lot of improvisation to the show. Scott talked about how Dean’s character brought balance to Sam’s character, in that he was “zany,” and Scott also revealed that Al was written in Don Belisario’s image. He said that he and Dean had a great time working together. Don commented, “Dean did everything that was politically incorrect and Scott did everything that was correct.”
Don talked about how there was always a lot of pressure on Scott because he had to prepare for the episode they were shooting the next week while they were shooting the current episode. For example, if he was playing a priest in this week’s episode, and an acrobat in the next week’s episode, he would have to train during lunch to be an acrobat! Scott remembered how tough it was, and that often he didn’t get scripts very far in advance, sometimes only a couple pages. He said it was the hardest job he’s ever had. Since he was the character who carried the show, he was always the first shot of the day, and he never got a break — except when he was Dean and Dean was him, which only happened twice. However, he said he would never regret a minute of being on that set, even though he would often get a script and say, “Alright, who’s trying to kill me this week?!” But he said he had great stunt people that helped keep him alive.
Scott also directed 3 episodes. The first two seasons, Don refused to let him direct. Scott said he was glad he got to do it, but talked about how stressful it was, and that it made for 3 weeks of insanity.
As for how tough it was to go to a different location every week, Don praised the team that they had to work with. Scott then praised Don for how much a stickler he was for detail, attributing much of the show’s success to how accurate the details were in each time period, from license plates to wardrobe and more. He said that the reason the team was so good was because they took their cues from Don, who wanted to make the show “as perfect as possible.” However, Don said sometimes it went a little too far. One time he had requested cala lilies to be in an episode, and he didn’t notice that they kept popping up in subsequent episodes. One day, the greensman came to him and said they weren’t able to find any cala lilies in the U.S., and would have to get them from out of the country. The greensman had thought he wanted the cala lilies in every episode, but Don had only wanted them in that one episode!
Scott talked about the final episode, where Don recreated his dad’s bar in Pennsylvania right down to every little detail. There was even a door that had been sealed off and painted over in the original bar that Don made them install and paint over in the set, even though it wouldn’t be seen on screen!
Speaking of the series finale, Don said he loved it. It was emotional for him because it was his home. Don didn’t want the show to end, but it had to. He said he was proud of that episode, and that everybody was. Scott pointed out that last episodes are always controversial. His own 11-year old son at the time was in tears and wouldn’t speak to him, saying, “I don’t believe you didn’t get to go home!”
Is there a chance of Quantum Leap ever coming back? Don revealed that he just finished writing “a Quantum Leap feature” but that he didn’t know what was going to happen with it. It wasn’t a story that had been in his mind for awhile, though. Don said that he writes much in the way that an audience watches: he just sits down and sees where it takes him. So he just put Scott and Dean in his head and went from there.
At that, the panel ran out of time, but Scott made sure to tell everyone that Dean says hello!
This was a really awesome panel for me to see, as Quantum Leap was one of my favorite shows when I was a kid, and I’ve enjoyed watching it on Netflix later on in life. It was probably one of the biggest influences on my interest in time travel and sci-fi in general, so it meant a lot to me to see one of my childhood heroes up close, along with the actual creator of the show, and hear them talk about a show that had such a big impact on my life.
After this panel, we walked around the Exhibit Hall for a bit, and later came back for one final panel: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Stay tuned for our recap and photos of that panel!
You can see more of our photos from the Quantum Leap panel in the photo gallery below.