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'Quantum Leap' producer Deborah Pratt looks back on original series cliffhanger, reviving the legacy
Deborah Pratt muses on the enduring legacy of Quantum Leap.
If you were a fan the original run of Quantum Leap (1989–1993), and now watch the NBC revival, you'll notice there's a connector between both series: the voice of supercomputer Ziggy. The soothing female-voiced, parallel hybrid computer is the backbone of the "Quantum Leap Project" in both series, and has only ever been voiced by producer/writer/director/actress Deborah Pratt.
The canon mythology in both series is that Ziggy the computer determines the probability of what needs to be changed in the time that Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula), and now Dr. Ben Song (Raymond Lee), leaps into allowing them the freedom to move on and possibly leap back home. For fans, Pratt's voice has always been the calm yet passionate voice safely guiding both men through time. Fitting because that was Pratt's role as she worked side-by-side with series creator Don Bellisario (and her former husband) as a co-executive producer and writer on the original Quantum Leap.
Pratt is an executive producer on the revival and directs the Feb.28 episode, “Family Style." But she's remained an ardent advocate and supporter of the Quantum Leap mythology, tirelessly trying to find a way to bring it back after it was abruptly cancelled in 1993. Pratt remembers when they found out they weren't continuing past Season 5, they had to figure out how to end Sam's journey. Bellisario initially decided to bring Beckett back home, but Pratt says she adamantly argued that they do the opposite. "[Don] said, "What do you mean?" And I said, 'If he comes home, the show has ended. If he stays out there, it goes on forever. And I was right,'" Pratt says with pride.
That decision may have broken some hearts when the series finale aired, but it opened the door for the continuation of the mythology in the new series today, which heavily references the Beckett era of the "Quantum Leap Project" and even includes original series character, Magic Williams (Ernie Hudson).
The original series remains a sci-fi classic, ranking as one of the best in the genre ever. Pratt takes pride at being one of the few women, and in the vanguard of women of color, working as a creative in genre television at the time. "As a woman of color, there were no women who were running/directing shows, or in sci-fi in television," Pratt details. "And so to be a pioneer, to be the first was a big deal. I was blessed with [NBC programming executive] Brandon Tartikoff. We pitched three times to get this show [picked up]. And he always said, 'There's something here, there's something here.'" But even when Quantum Leap was ordered to series, Pratt says it got moved on the schedule five times because it wasn't like anything else on the network, or on TV at the time. "We were so far ahead of our time," she assesses.
With the powerful legacy of the series still resounding with audiences three decades later, Pratt says she's most proud that Quantum Leap is remembered for its "heart and hope" in telling true history. "It was a comedy. It was a drama. It was a thriller. It could be anything that you wanted it to be, but it had to be universally based, and it had to be steeped in humanity," she says of their intentions regarding their stories. "It opened the conversation — and they're doing it so well in the reboot too — for people [to say] this is how I feel about this event in history, and this is how I feel about this event in history. People came together and they talked about it. But it's not a threat. There's no anger in it. There's something about the show that has so much love that people want to feel good about it. It makes them feel good."
Asked why it took 30 years for the series to come back to television, Pratt says candidly, "Truthfully, it's is a very challenging show to write, and write well. SYFY tried several times, with several people. But if you don't nail it, it doesn't work. The beauty of the show is that when you do nail it, it is a comment on who we are as humans. And I think that right now, the one key, central heartbeat of Quantum Leap is hope. And if there's a time where we need hope, this is it."
She adds that the rights for the series also got complicated with the sale and changes at Universal, who owned it. "The rights got all shattered in all kinds of ways, so some of it had to do with that. I tried to do it back in the day with a movie, the ride at Universal Studios tour and even a video game. But I'm glad that [chairman of Universal Studio Group] Pearlena Igbokwe said, 'I want to bring the show back.' Because I've been beating on doors since it went off the air to saying, 'Hey, Star Trek has had nines spin-offs and nine movies!'" she laughs. "So to me, this is a great start to really rebuild the legacy."