Some people know Scott Bakula from Star Trek: Enterprise, while others loved him on NCIS: New Orleans. To most, however, his most iconic role came as Sam Beckett on Quantum Leap. Did you know he nearly played Thomas Magnum, PI on the show? Here’s what happened.
The Tale Of Donald Bellisario
Bakula owes much of his success to Donald Bellisario. Bellisario got his start writing for shows like Kojak and Battlestar Galactica before CBS greenlit his show Magnum PI. It was his first “creator” credit and it was an enormous success, turning Tom Selleck into a household name.
Once Magnum PI concluded its run in 1988, Bellisario created a new hit series: Quantum Leap. Once that ended he created JAG, and that spun off to NCIS. NCIS and its multiple spinoffs remain ratings juggernauts, effectively making Bellisario one of the most successful producers in television history.
Leap Into Magnum?
Quantum Leap saw Bakula’s character time traveling by “leaping” into the bodies in an effort to finally land in his own body. The series was a critical darling and attracted a cult audience, but it was never a ratings success on the level of Magnum PI. It looked like the series may be finished after four seasons, but Bellisario had an idea: what if Dr. Beckett lept into Thomas Magnum himself?
The idea went far enough for NBC to announce it to the public. Bakula even did some screen tests as Magnum: mustache, Aloha shirt, iconic smile, and all. The screen tests were later shown at a Quantum Leap convention, giving you just a glimpse into what might have been.
Why It Didn’t Happen
Sadly, the crossover was never meant to be. There are competing theories for why it didn’t happen. One theory says Bellisario wanted to turn Magnum PI into a movie and didn’t want an episode to jeopardize that. Why he would lobby for an episode only to then scrap it remains unknown.
Another theory makes a bit more sense. In order to do a Magnum PI episode, you eventually need to get Selleck. Screentests are fine, but without him, the episode cannot happen. Maybe he was too expensive, or maybe he was never asked, but he clearly wasn’t interested or else it might well have happened.
Selleck’s never desired a return to Magnum PI. When the program was rebooted, he made it clear he was not interested in returning. Since that’s how he felt in 2018, it makes sense that he would feel the same way in 1992. Quantum Leap is officially getting a reboot of its own, and it looks like Bakula may return in some capacity. Perhaps it can crossover with NCIS.