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But might the series have been an even bigger hit with a different name? It’s a question creator Donald P. Bellisario was asking himself when the show was axed due to flagging ratings in 1993.
In a 1993 interview with the Los Angeles Times after the original series was cancelled, Bellisario was reflecting on everything that could’ve been and might still be, fresh off the show ending with an infamous title card noting Sam never returned home and kept on leaping. Bellisario borrowed the title Quantum Leap from real science, but says the network had warned the title could alienate some general viewers who might not be able to look past the title to find the human drama at the heart of the show.
“I remember when we started, Brandon Tartikoff (then chief NBC programmer) told me to name it anything but ‘Quantum Leap' -- 'Travels With Sam’ or ‘Beckett’s Folly' -- 'because you will turn off a big hunk of the audience that doesn’t like sci-fi.’ And I said, ‘But I can turn on a big hunk that does.’ In retrospect, maybe he was right. I think about it,” Bellisario said.
Though Beckett's Folly or Travels With Sam would've certainly been more accessible, there's no doubt Quantum Leap is more recognizable with the benefit of hindsight. A sci-fi series by any other name, right?
The original series was a solid and beloved hit on NBC, but saw its ratings dip throughout its five-season run, until the network finally dropped the axe at the eleventh-hour once production had wrapped on Season 5. The creative team had thought the series would return for Season 6, but when it was clear the show was cancelled, they re-edited the final episode to end with the title card and at least bring some closure to the story (even if that “closure” was the fact that the story would keep going off-screen).
With the show finally returning with new adventures, which will pick up 30 years after the original finale, Bellisario’s take seems almost prescient, as he notes the show and concept still had plenty of life left in it. As the new Quantum Leap prepares to pick up the action this fall, we’d argue he’s (still) right.
“You make a series and, like anything in life, it comes full circle and it’s time for it to end. But that time is not even close for this show,” he told the L.A. Times all those years ago. “It’s too innovative, too different, and it really has a great following. This is especially sad for me because it feels like it is being cut off in its prime. Someone dies at 95, you say, ‘OK, it was time.’ But this show hasn’t even reached middle age. It feels to me like watching someone young die. That’s why I believe it will live on.”
The Quantum Leap revival picks up the action three decades after Sam (Scott Bakula) never returned, with Dr. Ben Seong (Raymond Lee) as the new Leaper, with a support team led by Herbert “Magic” Williams (Ernie Hudson) and Addison (Caitlin Bassett). The new Quantum Leap premieres this fall on NBC. To catch up before then, be sure to tune into the original Quantum Leap running all day Fridays on SYFY for SYFY Rewind.