Scott Bakula was the first actor cast, and thus was asked to read with actors under consideration for the role of Al Calavicci. Bakula immediately felt a connection with Dean Stockwell during his audition, and lobbied the producers to cast him as Al Calavicci.
Scott Bakula did his own singing in episodes in which Sam leaped into musical performers, or was otherwise called upon to do. Prior to his work on television, Bakula had done extensive work in musical theater.
There were several ideas for episodes which ultimately were never used. One had Sam leaping in as Robert F. Kennedy. Another idea would involve an animated episode. The producers even toyed with the idea of leaping Sam in as a baby (this was to be the story of the fourteenth issue of the Quantum Leap comic book, but production ended after issue #13). Also, Writer and Producer Donald P. Bellisario wanted to do an episode where Sam leaps in as Thomas Magnum (from Magnum, P.I. (1980)). It is unclear why that episode never materialized, although in an earlier episode, a character is seen watching Magnum, P.I., thus establishing that series as fiction within the Quantum Leap universe.
In an interview conducted shortly after the series ended, Scott Bakula was asked if there were any particular historical figures or events he would have liked to see Sam involved with. Bakula said he would have liked to have done something with the Kennedys unrelated to the assassination or relationship with Marilyn Monroe.
Almost immediately after the series was cancelled, producers announced plans to continue with a television series (or perhaps theatrical) movies. Scott Bakula expressed optimism in the projects, and stated that he and Dean Stockwell wanted to continue in their roles. Nothing came of the plans, the closest being an announced movie for the Syfy Channel in the early 2000s, which was never produced.
According to Dean Stockwell, his friend Dennis Hopper advised him not to take a role on television so soon after being nominated for an Academy Award (Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Married to the Mob (1988)). Stockwell took the role anyway, and was nominated for four Emmys, and four Golden Globes (and won one in 1990), for his role as Al.
Sam Beckett leapt into every year from 1953 through 1987 at least once, except the years 1977, 1984, and 1986. Sam has leapt into the years 1862 and 1945, the only times that he has leapt out of his lifetime.
Though no special mention is made during the series, with the exception of Gooshie, Project Quantum Leap is run almost entirely by women. They include: Dr. Donna Eleese, Sam's wife, also a physicist; Dr. Beeks, a medical technician; Teena Martinez, Al's girlfriend and assistant programmer; an unnamed military envoy; and, though she is never seen, Dr. Sammy Jo Fuller, Sam's daughter sired during a leap, also a physicist. In addition, Ziggy, the sentient computer that controls the project, displays female characteristics.
Donald P. Bellisario established Sam Beckett's birth year 1953 by reversing digits of his own birth year 1935. However, in season one, episode five, "How the Tess Was Won", after Al tells Sam that it's 1965, Sam replies that's he was ten in 1965.
Season five, episodes one and two, "Lee Harvey Oswald Parts 1 and 2", were written by Donald Bellisario after overhearing his children talking about the movie JFK. He always believed that Oswald was the lone gunman. He based this on a conversation with Oswald in the late 1950s, when both were in the Marines. The meeting was part of the second part of the episode, with Matthew Charles Nelson playing Bellisario.
The series traces its roots to Battlestar Galactica (1978), which Donald P. Bellisario co-wrote and co-produced. The series' revival spin-off, Galactica 1980 (1980) was to originally center around time travel, and returning changes in history, back to normal. The concept was dropped after the pilot, but Bellisario stuck with the concept to develop into this show. The concept of Sam inhabiting the identity of another person, to incorporate change for the better, was partly inspired by Heaven Can Wait (1978), which in itself was practically a "word for word" remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), with the one exception of changing the lead character from a prize fighter, in Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), to a Los Angeles Rams quarterback in Heaven Can Wait (1978).
In the first few episodes of the series, Al exited the Imaging Chamber by an unseen door, which opened like a regular door with a turning knob. By the middle of the first season, the effect was changed to the standard rising door with the blue light shining beyond it.
In the first season, the prologues explaining what Quantum Leap was about were done by Scott Bakula as Sam Beckett. By the time season two began, the narrations were done by Deborah Pratt as the voice of Ziggy.
Samuel Beckett was also the name of a famed prolific Irish writer. Some have seen similarities between the series and some of Beckett's work, notably his play Waiting For Godot. However, it is unclear if the naming of the character and/or perceived parallels were intended or coincidental.
Throughout the series, Sam Beckett often encountered implied younger versions of various celebrities, and other figures (Buddy Holly, Woody Allen, Michael Jackson, Stephen King, Sylvester Stallone, Bill Clinton, and others). Writers had proposed scenes for others, but the series was unable to get proper authorization from the people or their estates to depict them.
In season two, episode ten, "Catch a Falling Star - May 21, 1979", Ernie Sabella played Manny, who in "Man of La Mancha", played Sancho Panza. Many years later, Sabella played the role of Sancho in the Broadway revival of the musical.
The run of this show overlapped with the run of the ABC series China Beach. Both programs featured a main character named "Samuel Beckett"--a name that is most associated with the Irish playwright ("Waiting for Godot," "Endgame," "Happy Days") and novelist who is widely considered to be one of the most important writers of the twentieth century.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
Donald P. Bellisario and Scott Bakula have both expressed their ire with NBC over the series finale. Originally, Bellisario was asked to write an episode that could function either as a season finale cliffhanger, or as an end to the series. When Bellisario complied, the cast and crew were assured of the series renewal. In the eleventh hour, NBC decided to cancel the series after all, and re-edited the ending, with title cards revealing the fate of Sam and Al. This was one of at least four endings, at least two of which were filmed. If the series was to end, Bellisario originally planned to have Al and Beth as an old married couple, discussing how they would locate Sam, who had leapt again. Had the series continued, Bellisario planned to have Sam leap into a space station in the distant future, and Al becoming a leaper himself to rescue Sam.