Quantum Leap Reboot Showrunner On The Series' Callbacks And Respectfully Spinning Off The Original [Exclusive Interview]

The original "Quantum Leap" is an award-winning and widely beloved science fiction TV series, centering on physicist Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) as he slides through time. In his journey he must make right what once went wrong in various situations, all the while trying to find his way home. Beside Dr. Beckett is his best friend Al Calavicci (Dean Stockwell), who accompanies the physicist on his journey via hologram. The new sequel series introduces us to Dr. Ben Song (Raymond Lee), a scientist involved in rebooting the Quantum Leap program before it sends him careening through time. There's a new leaping genius, a new team, and a new hologram taking audiences on new adventures in classic "Quantum Leap"-inspired style.

The new series is a thoughtful continuation of the original in both timeline and spirit. It respectfully adapts elements from its predecessor, remixing them in novel and more contemporary ways. Raymond Lee also excels as the adaptive and empathetic Dr. Song, showcasing the on-screen charisma and versatility he recently showed in "Kevin Can F*** Himself." I recently spoke with showrunner Martin Gero about the new series, its many connections to the original (including the return of a classic character in a pivotal role), the series' possible endings, and more.

'It was very clear for all of us that this needed to be essentially a sequel'

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

How has the original series' legacy affected the design of the reboot, and what makes the reboot different?

Gero: [The pairing of] Sam and Al. It really made a lot of decisions for us, because that is one of the iconically great TV pairings in the history of film and television, right? So it would be suicidally stupid to cast a new Sam, or cast a new Al, and just try to reboot the show. Like ... why? That exists and they did it perfect the first time. I think it was very clear for all of us that this needed to be essentially a sequel, something that exists in the same realm, [arguably] the same timeline, but with a different set of characters. Something that could pay homage to what was before and satisfy the old fans of the show, but also be a low bar for entry. Not everyone has seen "Quantum Leap," and we want them to be able to come in and watch the show as well.

One of the changes that immediately struck me was the pivot to a romantic hologram companion. Why the change?

Well, that was that was a great idea by Steven Lilien and Brian Whynbrandt. That was one of their first ideas that I think everyone got really excited about: How to make this relationship different, and our own? It's basically the world's biggest long-distance relationship. I mean, if you're worried about time zones, this is like talking through time zones through a whole different level. [...] Sam and Al developed a real intimacy as the show went on, but this allows us to have more complex character relationships between the two leads almost right away. Obviously, it takes a little time for Ben to remember. Once he does, I think it becomes really powerful, and something that the show can uniquely do on its own.

'I can't believe we get to work with Ernie every day'

I also love that you brought back the character Herbert "Magic" Williams. How will that legacy tie in?

I don't want to give away too much because it's a lovely surprise [...] it's such a great scene, I don't want to ruin [it]. It's in episode 4, I'll tell you where it is. There's a really beautiful moment between Ian and Magic, where Magic tells them his backstory. It's one of my favorite scenes on the show, and Ernie ... I mean, I can't believe we get to work with Ernie every day, but to see him bringing it so hard is really exciting. All of that will be explained, but that connection to the past is really why this incarnation of "Quantum Leap" exists.

I really appreciate these connections to the original series' mythology.

Yeah, we're basically just taking the Ernie Hudson playbook. It's connected to the old series. The Calaviccis are a big part of this season. It's done in a way where I think it will be really satisfying for hardcore fans, but it's not a barrier for entry for new ones. If you don't know the whole backstory, it's fine! It plays just in the episode, but if you do know the backstory, it obviously will have greater resonance for you.

I know the original's ending was controversial for some. Did that affect how you thought about where you wanted to take the series, and how you wanted to end it?

Yeah, absolutely. I always look at like each season of a TV show like a book [in a] series of books that you love. This season has a very clean beginning, middle, and end, so we know how we want this season to end and we know what questions we're going to answer this season. We kind of have an idea for what subsequent seasons will be. As far as a series finale, I mean, I do have one but it's so far off. It'll be malleable between now and then. Also, I don't want to give too much away — of course there is a dream ending, obviously!

There's a blank check for Ben and Sam to meet in the way that this is designed. So if they met, would they know if they did?

Ahhh ... yes.

Fair enough!

Very narrow question, I'm gonna give you a narrow answer.

'It's been truly a joy getting to know this incredible group of people'

Will the evil leapers come into play, or some of the original's other related mythology?

Yes. [...] We can talk later in the season!

I'd be down for that.

Whenever you want! When we're closing in around [episode] 7 or 8, first thing I'd be happy to jump back on and talk about all ... it's tough, because I don't want to spoil the ride!

Raymond Lee's a very talented, extremely charismatic performer. How did he get cast and attached to the role?

He's just been on my radar for a long time. He's really great, and then we had the opportunity [to make] a short film together in 2019, which is just a weird thing I like to do sometimes, and no one ever sees them. It was such fun working with him, and he was kind of on the upswing. Just spending a day with him on set, you really get a sense of how a person is professionally and personally. When this came up, one of my producing partners, Mike Pfister, was like, "This should be Ray," and we were all of a sudden like, "Oh my gosh, absolutely!" Fortunately for us, "Kevin Can F*** Himself" was winding down. It just the right time, so we called him and we're like, "Hey, this is a crazy question, but do you want to be the lead of the new 'Quantum Leap' show?" Thankfully he said yes.

I also love in this one that there's a greater inclusion of the team, and it's clear they're going to be a focus. Tell me about how you decided to cast the roles.

We just cast a wide net. There were tons of auditions. Ernie, obviously, we went after, because he's Ernie Hudson and anyone would be lucky to have him on a TV show. Caitlin, Nanrisa, and Mason, they just auditioned and they were so wonderful. It's our job as writers to — when you write a character before it's cast, it's kind of like the first draft. Then, as you cast someone and get to know them, and we had the privilege of doing a pilot that [would] end up not airing, so we actually learned a lot about them in the intervening time. This new first episode is really informed now, and is written with them in mind specifically. I think that's why the chemistry between all of them sings right away, because they aren't two days into meeting each other. They're months into meeting each other. We're months into knowing them and finding their voices, and so it's been truly a joy getting to know this incredible group of people and being able to write for them.

'Every cool idea must be in the show immediately'

Were there any ideas you planned for this first season that you ultimately rejected?

No, not yet. It's such a big sandbox right now, we're more focusing on the 'yes'-es than the 'no's, if that makes sense. We're also trying to front load as much as we can. This is a show that is still in the audition phase itself. So we didn't want to hold anything back in this first season, and be like, "Oh, that'd be cool for season 2." No, every cool idea must be in the show immediately. It's for the fans. It's crazy, we're going to the space shuttle for the second episode, its bonkers! We're in the '70s, we're doing a really fun '80s episode, episode 4, with some guest stars I can't wait for you to hear about, and then we're going to do a Western in the fifth episode. The ability to really do whatever serves the show, whatever is the best idea for the show for this first season, is so exciting.

I love that anything-can-happen energy the show has.

Yeah, and the actors are so great. The tonal shifts are really fantastic as well, because there are some episodes where we're like, "Oh, this is kind of a funnier episode, and then this is kind of a more serious episode." "This is like a big action adventure, and then we're doing a legit horror movie for Halloween." It's just so fun to be able to lean into these genres because of the incredible depth of talent that we have on the show.

There are obviously things you modernized, but was there any part or aspect of the original that was rejected for incorporation?

No, nothing's come up. We haven't been told no yet, but I'll get back to you. I wanted to use the original handlink for the handlink, and I think people initially were like, "No, it's pretty crazy-looking like out of context." We have found a way to bring it into ... that handlink becomes a really big part of the show later on.

"Quantum Leap" airs Mondays at 10:00pm ET on NBC.