We’ll deal with the most controversial change first. The new Quantum Leap series will not begin each episode with the show’s star, Raymond Lee, looking into a mirror and saying, “Oh boy!”
“I think obviously the idea of him looking into a mirror and seeing another person’s reflection will be core to the show, and we’ll have those moments,” concedes writer and executive producer Steven Lilien. “I think the ‘Oh boy!’ was so specific to Sam Beckett, and I think we’re trying to carve out a new path for our character, Ben.”
The original Quantum Leap told the adventures of Dr. Sam Beckett after his time travel experiment leaves him jumping randomly through different times and different bodies. His adventures saw him play the roles of Lee Harvey Oswald, Elvis Presley, and on one memorable occasion, a chimp in the space program.
It’s a strong, high-concept idea, but rather than taking that premise and starting from scratch, the new series will be set 30 years after the original, with new characters.
“When we sat down to tackle this project, it felt like we wanted to honor and respect what came before and build on it,” Lilien says.
The new show will respect the continuity and lore of the original series but will also aim to be a good jumping-on point for new audiences. It will also aim to preserve the heart of the original series.
“The idea of walking in someone else’s shoes and how powerful that idea is, it’s still relevant, if not more relevant today,” says Bryan Wynbrandt, Lilien’s co-writer and executive producer on the show.
That idea of empathy will be accompanied by fun fish-out-of-water stories, some of them wish fulfillment, some more thrilling and dangerous. This will all sound familiar to fans of the original show, but the new Quantum Leap is also unafraid to experiment with the formula. While in the original series, the audience rarely saw more of the present beyond Sam Beckett and his holographic sidekick, Al, the new series will broaden that canvas.
“You have the leaps of the week, but you have an ongoing narrative that is the mystery of why did Ben leap?” Wynbrandt adds. “What is he after? What is really going on?”
Unlike the original series, this Quantum Leap will be far more than the story of a man and his hologram.
“We’re going to be spending a great deal of time within the world of Quantum Leap,” Lilien says. “What does this top-secret government time travel project look like, and who are the characters that inhabit that world?”
Ben, played by Raymond Lee, will be backed up by a stellar cast including Caitlin Bassett, Ernie Hudson, Mason Alexander Park, and Nanrisa Lee.
Although rarely seen, Sam’s Quantum Leap Project included a “waiting room” where the historical figures Beckett body-swapped with would wait while he inhabited their bodies, but this won’t make an appearance.
“There’s a scientific quantum principle called the law of superposition where two entities can hold the same time and space at the same time,” Wynbrandt explains, although this is a storytelling solution as much as a scientific one. “We personally felt the waiting room was a little difficult to wrap our minds around, so we’re actually moving on from it.”
Of course, the “waiting room” was only one aspect of Quantum Leap’s time travel logistics that needed thinking through.
“In the original series, Sam saved his brother’s life, and then his brother was alive in his life and they did things like that,” Wynbrandt says. “So we’re not going to shy away from the causality of changing things.”
At the same time, the premise has always been “to set right what once went wrong.”
“In some ways, it’s repairing the timeline, not changing the timeline,” Wynbrandt points out. “But we are going to play with the causality of what’s happening. And we, with our writer’s room, we talk about this a lot.”
Along with the “How?” there are also plenty of questions to answer about the “Why?”
“I think those are the interesting arguments. Who’s in control? Who makes the decision? And that’s the idea of free will and fate and predestination,” Lilien says. “We’re not going to shy away from that. I think the fun is you never really know, right? I mean, that’s up for interpretation by the viewer. But I think each character will wrestle and have a point of view on them.”
Beyond that, there is only one more big question audiences will want the answer to.
“I think we’d all love to see Sam Beckett,” Lilien says. “I think it’s comforting knowing that he’s out there helping people. We’d love to see that character again. But for now, we want to focus on our characters and invest our audience in this new set of characters and get excited for their story.”
The sixth season continuation of Quantum Leap premieres Sept. 19 on NBC.