Launching any new show is difficult but doubly so for one that’s not only a new take on a beloved franchise but an in-continuity sequel. If that was all the new Quantum Leap had to contend with it would be a lot for any group of creatives to deal with but the show was faced with a major creative shift near the start of production.
After filming three episodes, new Quantum Leap series developers Steven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt stepped down as showrunners. Martin Gero and Dean Georgaris then took over and have stayed with the series since. Since the two didn’t originate the concept and direction of the season, they were forced into stories that the previous showrunners had started. Gero freely admits that the initial direction of season one being out of their hands was difficult.
“The mythology of the show or how the mythology was going to work was not our choice.”
The first season, while pulling off many plots in the style of the original Quantum Leap, also featured an ongoing story line set back at Project Quantum Leap as the cast there struggled to unravel a mystery about why Ben (Raymond Lee) leaped in the first place. It led to many scenes of exposition, explaining time travel, dealing with a seemingly evil “Leaper X,” and elements of a “mystery box” story line. During the writing of season one, Gero explains, they were already figuring out what they didn’t like about how the show was going and how they might change it.
“We talked about, if we’re lucky enough to get a season two, how we create a situation where we’re not having to spend so much time talking about mythology, math, the rules of time travel, and what that means. (We wanted to) focus more on character stuff.”
These early conversations paid off massively for the creative team when the series got an early season 2 renewal after only eight episodes had aired of season 1. Production on season 2 began right after season 1 ended so the creative team already had plans in place and were able to hit the ground running in fixing the issues season 1 had.
Season 2 ditches much of the mystery box element that drove the core serialized story of season 1, with Ben no longer on a dedicated mission and now leaping around in time at random. The scenes at the Project also jumped forward three years, allowing the characters there to shed many of their old story lines and start afresh. It helped the show take on a whole new and improved life. The talent of the cast and characters back at the project motivated this change, recalls Gero.
“The whole reason we got rid of Leaper X (and other storylines) was we have such an incredible cast. Those present day stories (in season 1)? All the cast was doing was exposition. So we wanted to move the stories in the present away from the plot and center them more in character. Obviously there’s plot going on, but those stories are way more centered to explore the characters that we have back home. Whether it be Magic’s alcoholism or other elements I can’t get into, there’s stuff coming up that I think is really exciting and it makes those stories really personal instead of just exposition.”
For any problems that Gero had with how the story-lines were set up for season 1, he makes sure to clarify that the original showrunners would have most likely identified the same weaknesses the season had.
“The first season of a TV show is such a unique situation. You’re learning so much, you’re learning about what the show physically can do. You’re learning about the strengths of your actors and you’re learning about the strengths of your own storytelling and its weaknesses. I’m sure (the original showrunners) would have made the same or same-ish corrections.”
Even though the new Quantum Leap had a rocky start, the changes made to it have helped the show evolve in a far better direction. Without the ongoing mystery box plot there’s not only more time to focus on the draw of the show, Ben’s leaps, but thankfully let the supporting cast shine.
New episodes of Quantum Leap season 2 premiere Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.