Sat. Jun 15th, 2024

Music Replacement in Quantum Leap

Suzanne Smiley

By Suzanne Smiley


Ah, MIA. Who can forget that iconic scene with Al, and his first wife Beth, dancing along to their song: Georgia on my Mind by Ray Charles:

Now imagine if instead they were dancing to this:


That’s what you hear when you’re watching Season 2 of Quantum Leap in the US or Canada. And this is just one example, of many throughout the series, where the original intended music was replaced with a cheaper, glaring substitution. The casual fan may not even notice and the rest of the world doesn’t know how good they have it.

In June 2004, when it was announced that Quantum Leap would be released onto DVD, the fans rejoiced. Season 1 came out to great reception. It even had some special features and hidden Easter Eggs. Most importantly, it was complete, exactly as it originally aired back in 1989, along with all of its original music.

Six months later when Season 2 was set to release, whispers began to erupt, amongst the fan community, that the season was not complete. Many of the classic oldies that made the show memorable, were being replaced. Why? It all comes down to music rights.

Every time you hear a pop song in Quantum Leap, whether it be as background music, on the radio, or performed by one of the actors, Universal had to pay to have that song cleared for use. Licensing fees are paid in two separate ways. The first fee is paid to the songwriter, and it goes to the publishing company that controls the rights to those songs. The second fee is paid to use the actual recording, and it goes to a record company.

Back when Quantum Leap first aired, the idea of releasing a complete television series into video, was unheard of. VHS was expensive and with 22 to 24 episodes per season, that resulted in a lot of tapes. With the advent of DVDs and Blu-Ray, which were cheaper to produce and held more data, the release of television shows on video became the norm.

With modern shows today, most music licensing negotiations include all possible uses of the song, right from the start. Things like initial broadcast, reruns, syndication, DVDs, international, and online streaming. Quantum Leap was originally cleared for broadcast use and maybe a handful of songs from a selection of episodes that made it to VHS. But DVD and online streaming were things that the creators of shows back in the nineties, and earlier, couldn’t even imagine and therefore was never put into the clearance contracts.

That meant that if Universal wanted to release complete seasons Quantum Leap onto DVD, all of those classic oldies would have to be cleared once again. One song at a time. For the right to play the song and for the permission from the songwriter. This can be a very costly venture, one that Universal wasn’t willing to go out of its way to achieve. Obtaining the music rights for every song in Quantum Leap could have cost Universal upwards of a million dollars. That would have driven up the cost of the DVDs and Universal just didn’t think the fans would pay it. This is why some songs in the series have stayed intact, while others have been replaced with filler.

I remember going onto the message boards on Al’s Place, back in 2004 and reading the fans complaining about the music replacements. For me, the biggest injustice was what was done to Good Morning Peoria. I mean, how can you have an episode where Sam’s a fifties radio DJ and replace half the music? The general consensus seemed to be that we would gladly pay more to have our favorite show complete. But the question remains: Are there enough hardcore fans, willing to pay, to make it profitable to Universal?

People in Europe were saying that their Region 2 DVDs were fine, with all the music intact. And as a bonus, their DVDs were single sided, a wonderful alternative to the double-sided, American Region 1 DVDs, which were prone to manufacturing defects like disc-rot, a separating of the plastic layers. There was never a question in my mind which version to choose. I bought Season 2 and 3 of Quantum Leap from the UK, just to have the most complete and highest quality set possible.

So, why was the music replaced in the US and not in Europe? In Europe, the copyright laws work a little differently. Rather than negotiating clearances on a song-by-song basis, in Europe, Universal can divide up a certain percentage of the profits of every DVD set sold among the various artists who have songs in the show. It works similarly to the royalties that songwriters get for each CD that’s sold. Wondering why the US doesn’t adapt similar copyright laws? Quite frankly, it’s because there’s just too much money, for publishers and record labels, in the current system, where they can negotiate and set their own prices per song.

In March of 2006, when Season 4 of Quantum Leap came out, the music was suddenly replaced for both the US and the UK. Why? What had changed? Surely not the UK copyright laws. My best guess is that Universal was losing money on the US sales and decided to make Season 4 the same for all regions. But all it wound up doing was getting the UK fans onto the same angry bandwagon that the US fans had been on for the past two years.

Then when the fifth and final season was released in November of that year, all of the music was intact in all regions. This is probably mainly due to Season 5 not being as musically intensive as previous seasons, especially Seasons 2 and 3. The US version even had a few extra features that the UK discs did not. Perhaps an attempt from Universal to try and make it up to us?

So, some of you might be saying to yourself: Who cares? The great acting, themes, and storytelling are all still there. So what if they replaced a few songs? Quantum Leap is one of those few television shows that has the unique opportunity to illustrate the past through music. And in a show about time travel, the music is just as essential to defining the time period as the costumes and props are. The songs make the past feel more real. Instantly recognizable tunes transport us, along with Sam, into the past and easily tell us whether a Leap takes place in the fifties or the seventies.

In addition, the songs help set the mood for many scenes. The people behind telling these stories, did not choose these songs at random. The music was selected for very specific reasons and sometimes almost became a character unto itself.

Think of Al, roaming around the home he once shared with Beth, along to an instrumental version of This Guy’s In Love With You. The song paints such an emotional picture, even without the lyrics.

And the other songs cut from this episode: Someday We’ll Be Together, as Sam looks at the photo of Beth’s husband and realizes it’s Al. Unchained Melody, as Al and Beth are sitting alone in their living room together with twenty five years separating them. Those are two more songs that speak of the love between Al and Beth and create a mood that no amount of artificially inserted Muzak ever will. Even Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay has its own place in this episode for its maritime setting.

Okay, so now that you know what you’re missing, you might be wondering where can you go if you want to hear Quantum Leap as it was intended? Unfortunately, Season 4 is still not complete, no matter what region you have. But you can purchase Seasons 2 and 3 online from UK sources. I’d try eBay. Look for Region 2 or 4 DVDs. In order to play them on your computer, all you need is to download a free multi region program, like VLC media player.

Or if you’d rather watch them on your big screen TV, you can check if your DVD player can be made region free. Many models, like Philips, are easily converted with just the touch of a few buttons on your remote. Links to these resources and more can be found on the Quantum Leap Podcast website. If you need help, just ask!

You can also watch select episodes on the streaming version of Netflix, which has all the original music, but only about 75% of the episodes. I guess the other 25% were just too expensive to clear, even for streaming. Other streaming services like Hulu have the music replaced, but have 99% of the episodes. In fact, if you’re wondering which episode neither online streaming service has, it’s Disco Inferno. The only place to hear that episode intact is on the UK Season 2 set.

Last year, Universal released the entire Quantum Leap series in the US as a DVD boxed set. The box was streamlined and the episodes were burned onto single sided higher quality discs, however the content remained the same. It is unknown if the series will ever get a blu-ray release. But I for one will not buy the US version until it’s made as complete, or more complete than the UK release and I don’t care how much I’ll have to pay for it. As a true Quantum Leap fan, it would all be worth it.

I’m Suzanne Smiley, for the Quantum Leap Podcast.

For more on music replacement check out this article…

Check out this page on Al’s Place… is a great place to learn all your optical disc player’s capabilities…

Here is a link to everyone’s favorite video player VLC…