Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- This article is about the TV show. For the quantum physics effect, see quantum leap.
Quantum Leap was a science fiction television program which ran from 1989 to 1993 on NBC. It followed the adventures of Dr. Samuel Beckett (played by Scott Bakula), a brilliant theoretical scientist who finds himself abruptly and uncontrollably jumping in time, temporarily switching places with diverse people at various times within his own lifetime, the second half of the 20th century.
Sam's unintended travels begin when his time travel experiment gets mysteriously co-opted by an unidentified higher power, which uses him (for unknown reasons) to avert tragedies in ordinary people's lives. Sam also suffers from an uneven amnesia, called Swiss-cheesing or (as a technical term in the show's universe) magnafluxing, which prevents him from remembering most of the details of his own life. His only link to his own time is a holographic projection of his friend Al (played by Dean Stockwell), who is usually visible only to Sam. The catch-phrase used at the beginning of every episode was typically: "Oh boy..." The show's ninety-seven episodes aired on NBC between March 1989 and May 1993.
The term holographic projection is taken from the program, although it is not the same as real holography. The show's "hologram" is a three dimensional projection; Al enters an Imaging Chamber in which the image of Al and anything he is touching, e.g., a person or cigar, are visible to Sam and Sam can hear Al speak, and correspondingly events in the past are visible and audible to Al. However, throughout the series, it has been found that animals and young children can see Al. This has been used to Sam's advantage on a few occasions, such as Al soothing a crying child or leading a dog away from Sam.
In early episodes of the series, it is unclear whether it is only Sam's mind that leaps (into other people's bodies) or if Sam's mind and body leap together. Subsequent episodes made it clear that both Sam's mind and body leap, and that an 'aura' surrounds him, making him look and sound like whoever he's leaped into (back home, the 'leap-ee' is suffused with a similar aura, and looks/sounds like Sam). Some examples of this include:
- "Nowhere to Run". Sam leaps in as a Vietnam vet who has no legs. However, Sam can still walk, and actually does so in the episode (to outside observers he appeared to be floating in midair).
- "Blind Faith". Sam assumes the life of a blind concert pianist. Sam, however, can still see, and must pretend to be blind in order to complete his mission.
- "8 1/2 Months": Sam poses as a pregnant teenage girl. Sam incredulously asks his friend Al how he could possibly be giving birth, to which Al replies that this is impossible - "it's your body, not hers".
- The conclusion of the 'evil leaper' episodes had a person leaping out, but nobody leaped back in to replace them - they appeared to vanish without a trace (bit difficult to do if it'd been only their mind that leaped). This also happened in the series finale with the character 'Stawpah'.
- If Sam leaps in as somebody who is physically a different size than is Sam's own body, Sam is 'refracted' and temporarily made larger or smaller to fit (similar to the effect of light being refracted through a prism). However a simpler explanation of this would be: simple dramatic license.
The series very rarely addressed real historical events, though it often used its "ordinary people" plots to address particular social, political, and spiritual issues. Many episodes depicted Sam dealing with issues characteristic of particular periods, such as civil rights, racism, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War. The series strongly favored messages of tolerance and understanding others, aided in large part by the story format, which had the protagonist literally walking in another man's (or woman's) shoes.
Only a few times did Sam "leap" into a known historical figure, the first being Lee Harvey Oswald and the last being Elvis Presley. All these leaps were in the fifth (final) season and were widely believed to be efforts to boost the show's ratings and looked down upon by some fans. However, throughout the series it was common for Sam to leap into a character or situation based fairly obviously on a real person or event. Also common were so-called "brushes (or kisses) with history" where Sam would briefly encounter someone famous or a well-known event in a manner usually irrelevant to the story. 
The series (created by Donald Bellisario) was somewhat unusual in that it had a science fiction premise, but little science or fantasy oriented storytelling, instead focusing on the personal journeys of Sam Beckett and those he encounters. Even in its final episode, the show refused to resolve many of its own technical and holistic questions, choosing instead to leave things open-ended and focus tightly on what is arguably the series' overarching message: that a single person can change the world one life at a time.
The final episode was in fact intended to be an end-of-season cliffhanger, but after the series was not renewed by the network, it was re-edited to function as the final episode. This may account for some of its ambiguous nature. The original ending had Sam leaping to tell Al's first Wife, Beth, that Al was coming home. His Vietnam-era picture begins to "leap" (This is were the final episode cuts off), and then we see a modern picture of Al sitting with Beth and their four daughters. This ending somehow made it out of the studio and has been circulated on the Internet.
Home Video Releases
In the 1990s, a few of the episodes were released on VHS. In the United States, these included "The Pilot Episode" ("Genesis"), "Camikazi Kid", "The Color of Truth", :What Price Gloria?", "Catch a Falling Star", "Jimmy", "The Leap Home", "Dreams", and "Shock Theater". In the United Kingdom, they were mostly released in pairs, selling as "The Pilot Episode", "The Color of Truth" and "Camakizi Kid", "Catch a Falling Star" and "Jimmy", "The Leap Home" and "The Leap Home Part II - Vietnam", "The Americanization of Machiko" and "What Price Gloria?", and "Dreams" and "Shock Theater".
In 2004, the first two seasons of the series were released on DVD. The Region 1 version of "Quantum Leap: The Complete First Season" came out in North America on June 7, 2004, much to the delight of the fans. Containing all of the episodes as they originally aired (except for "Play It Again, Seymour"), along with some bonus features, those who purchased the set were very happy and greatly anticipated the release of season two.
Unfortunately, Universal was unable to obtain music rights for some unknown reason, and many of the songs for "Quantum Leap: The Complete Second Season" were stripped and replaced with generic instrumental music. This outraged many fans and started a letter-writing campaign, demanding such a tragic error to be dealt with. The most devestating aspect was the removal of Ray Charles's Georgia on My Mind from the season-two finalé, "M.I.A.", while Al danced with his first wife, Beth. Many people fear that season three will endure the same unfortunate fate.
In an interesting nod to QL fans, when series star Scott Bakula arrived on the set of his most recent show Star Trek: Enterprise, he jokingly suggested that the middle name of his Trek character (Captain Jonathan Archer) might be Beckett...
See also: List of Quantum Leap episodes
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