‘Quantum Leap’ Reboot Showrunner Teases What’s Next in Ben’s Trip Through Time
After nearly three decades off the air, Quantum Leap is back on TV — but this time, it’s led by a new time traveler, Raymond Lee’s Ben Song, and a new showrunner, Martin Gero. And in order to tackle the time tripping concept for a new generation, Gero looked to the past iteration, while making sure Leap worked for modern television.
“We want them to be able to leap every episode, and have a great adventure, make right where once went wrong,” Gero told Decider. “But I think audiences now, they’re looking for a greater sophistication in the serialized aspect of the show, and also a serialized character story, as well.”
Spoilers for the Quantum Leap premiere, “July 13, 1985”, past this point, but in the first hour we meet Song as he’s preparing to test some new ideas with the Quantum Leap program, the same one that lost Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) in time decades earlier. After a party celebrating the team’s success, Ben — for some reason — heads into the quantum leap accelerator, and jumps back to the past. Thrust in the middle of the crime of the century in 1985, the now memory-less Ben has to work with his modern-day team to figure out how to leap out of 1985, while also trying to piece together why he leaped in the first place.
As Gero describes it, this is a mix of the “anthology” structure that made the original series so successful, with an ongoing mystery that doesn’t just involve Ben… It also includes the daughter of Al (the late Dean Stockwell). To find out more about that, what to expect as Ben’s trip through time continues, and the challenges of making what is essentially a different pilot every week, read on.
Decider: First, and most importantly, why, “Oh, shit,” instead of, “Oh, boy?”
Martin Gero: [Laughs] Well, “Oh, boy,” is… That’s Sam’s. Scott Bakula, if he doesn’t, should own the trademark on, “Oh, boy.” And that’s his, and we’re trying to be our own show. Unfortunately, honestly, because of standards and practices, it’s really just going to be like, “Oh,” and then that’ll be… You can’t even do a “shh,” I found out. I thought we could do a “shh,” but you can’t, you got to just do, “Oh,” and then that’s it.
So, it was just kind of a fun nod. It’s not a catch phrase going forward, but we just thought it was kind of our way of… Everyone was kind of waiting for a version of that, and we didn’t want to step on Sam’s toes.
Okay. But potentially, not to spend too much time on this, but potentially we won’t see him going, “Oh, shh,” in further episodes.
The aired version will just be “Oh,” and that’s it.
All right. Great. That’s all I needed. Thanks so much for your time.
Absolutely. Okay. Heading out.
Goodbye. No, but more seriously, procedurals and TV have evolved dramatically since 1993. So, this is a very broad question, but when you were first getting into it, what was important to change when updating Quantum Leap? And what was vitally important to keep from the original?
I think it’s interesting. I consider this more in the anthology TV zone, than it is a procedural. It absolutely is a procedural, but it basically is like Twilight Zone, also. So, for us, we wanted to be able to maintain that anthology aspect of it, to have every episode be… Well, the show is called Quantum Leap, so we want them to be able to leap every episode, and have a great adventure, make right where once went wrong.
But I think audiences now, they’re looking for a greater sophistication in the serialized aspect of the show, and also a serialized character story, as well. Obviously, Sam and Al had a character arc, but it was done very slowly over the course of five seasons. So, for us, it was important to be able to create a version of that, where we could have all those plates spinning, where we could still be doing the awesome leaps every week, but that we could have a big mystery as to, “Why did he jump? Why now? Why didn’t he tell anyone? What the fuck’s going on?”
The modern day stuff allows us to tell those stories, to have a fuller cast, and then occasionally give Ray a day off, and be able to tell a bigger story.
Not that it wasn’t an issue back then, but matters of identity have become a huge part of the conversation in 2022. So, what does it mean to have an Asian man hopping through time, wearing different faces? And how will the show address that, if at all?
The show at its core, is about empathy. It’s about literally walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, and how that changes you, and how that potentially changes the people around them. So, the show has always been about identity. And what our perception of identity is has gotten so much more complex and rich, in such a wonderful way. The show hopes to explore all of that, over the course of not only this season, but beyond, if we’re so lucky.
Why was Raymond Lee the right guy to step into the central shoes here?
Short answer, because he’s fucking so amazing. I don’t know if I could swear on decider.com, but he’s such a unique talent… Deborah Pratt, one of the co-creators of the original show and one of the executive producers, who was also an executive producer on this version, said that, “The four tenets of Quantum Leap were always hope, heart, humor and history.” And I’ve never met an actor that better embodies hope, heart and humor, more than Ray.
He just has that kind of radiance, that deep empathy in himself, a tremendous amount of heart. And he’s also so funny. To have those gears, where you can go from… Because the show, tonally, is so wildly different week to week. To be able to have somebody that is comfortable in all of those genres, and can still create a consistency with that character… I was a fan before. Now, I’m some sort of weird, super stalker fan of his. I should not have his phone number, that’s how big a fan I am. I’m just so impressed with what he and Caitlin [Bassett] and the entire cast, are doing on the show.
Every character is different, but in particular, what makes Ben a different character than Sam Beckett?
Yeah, that’s a great question. I think obviously, his connection with his present, so to speak, is so much more tactile. We got to know a little bit about Sam as we went through the show, or a lot as we went through the show. But we’re getting so much upfront right now, a sense of who [Ben] was before this, and how that is going to affect and inform how this journey is going to be for him, and quite possibly why he went on this journey. The relationship between Ben and Addison is instantly so much more complex and has so much more drama, honestly, then the Sam and Al stuff had up front. It’s just great fodder.
That was the next thing I was going to ask you about. With Addison being the show’s Al, how does it change the dynamic to have the two romantically involved? Or at least one of them romantically involved, and the other one not remembering that they’re romantically involved?
It’s really tricky. It’s the world’s worst long distance relationships. If you thought New York to LA was a bad time zone, time difference, this is big time difference. The fun of that is right here. It’s not the fun of it as characters. But the fun of that as writers, is all of this conflict it adds. And inner conflict because, “Should she tell him? Should she not tell him? Once he eventually does remember, how much does he remember? What do they do about it? Should they continue a relationship? Should they go their separate ways?” It just brings up all sorts of great episodic things that we need to talk about.
It supercharges that dynamic in a way that gives us so many grip holds as we’re writing these episodes. And it gives frankly, Caitlin also, so much more to play than just a talking computer in the past. She’s dealing with some pretty heavy emotions on top of all that.
The big cliffhanger, or one of the big cliffhangers at the end here, we introduce that their overarching mystery may include Al’s daughter, among other characters. What can you tease about that, if anything?
The Calaviccis are going to play a big role in this season, and Janis especially, played by Georgina Reilly. And again, it was one of those things that we wanted to… It was important for us to be connected to the old show, while maintaining no barrier for entry for new viewers. So if you’re a fan of the old show, then there’s going to be some things that are way more resonant to you. But, if you’re a new viewer, you won’t notice. It’s just like, “Oh, what a cool story.” But yeah, that’s a big part of the season.
I did want to ask you about some of the other characters on the home front. Since the pilot has to do so many things, beyond establishing the premise, the cast, everything… At this point we know Jenn is in charge of security. We know Ian is the tech guy. Are we going to be exploring their back stories more? Are they going to get more focus on them in different episodes?
Yeah, absolutely. Obviously, that stuff trickles in over the season. We get to know a little bit more about them every episode. And then absolutely, they have some bigger episodes coming up, where we learn more about Magic. We learn more about Ian and Jenn. Yeah. They’re critical to the success of the show, I think. So, we absolutely want you to know them.
And you’ve got Ernie Hudson on board, which is always awesome, but his character is tied back to the original show. Why was that important? And how much will that tie play into the action going forward?
It’s really important. And I think it’s again, just wanting us to hold hands with the other show a little bit, without putting them on camera constantly. But his backstory… Ernie is such an incredible actor. And the back story that comes out in episode four is so beautiful, one of my favorite scenes. It also allows both new and old viewers of the show some insight into like, “What does it feel like to be leapt into? What does that mean to you? How does that affect your life? Once Sam leaves, then what?” And you’ll see that the origin story for this new incarnation, is very much tied to match its past.
You touched on this a little bit earlier, but when you’re hopping into the past, you’re almost doing a different TV show, every single episode. So, from a production perspective, what is that like? What are the challenges there?
Well, it’s a total nightmare. As a writer, the writer in me is like, “Oh, the greatest.” And then the showrunner in me is like, “Why did we ever think this was a good idea?” Because we’re basically doing a pilot every week. Typically, by now we’re currently shooting episode seven. You kind of look like, “Oh. Yeah, yeah. That’s how we do that. And we can do that in that room, and this is fine. This is how we do driving. This is how we do whatever. These are the cars we use.”
But in every episode, you’re basically starting from scratch, costumes-wise, production, design-wise, the research that has to go into like, “What do these buildings look like? What are the cars? What are the costumes? What are the characters? What did people say back then? What did they not say back then?” And then, there’s just no shortcuts as far as producing the actual show.
When I came on as showrunner, I was driving around the backlot, and basically just being like, “Can we shoot there? Can we shoot there? Where do we shoot?” Because it’s a dream to shoot on the Universal backlot. They have the Western town, Six Points set, which has been historically in so many incredible westerns. And I was like, “Well, we got to do that. We got to do a Western.” And I was like, “Also, it’s cheap. It’s already there. We could just go shoot on it.” And then they were like, “Oh, yeah. But, it’s a $100,000 of dirt. You have to bring in to make it…” And I was like,” A $100,000 of dirt, what? That can’t be right.” And then you get there, and you’re like, “This is a lot of dirt.” And they had to bring it in, and then someone’s got to pick it up and move it back out again, so the tram can drive through, and people don’t get all dirty.
There is no learning curve on the show, as far as the producing. On every episode, you’re like, “Whoa. Okay, fantastic. So, I guess, yeah, that is more expensive than I thought.” But thankfully, we have incredible partners that are pleased with how the show looks.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Quantum Leap airs Mondays at 10/9c on NBC.
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