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From Quantum Leap to Vision Quest – An Interview With Deborah Pratt

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Deborah Pratt is a woman of many talents. Since moving from Chicago to Hollywood in the early ‘70s, she’s worked as a singer, dancer, writer and actor and has gone on to direct TV movies such as Masterpiece Theater’s acclaimed Cora Unashamed. She was executive producer and writer for the Emmy nominated time travel show Quantum Leap, which ran on NBC television from 1989 through 1993. In 2006, she added novel writing to her long list of accomplishments with the publication of her first Vision Quest novel, The Age of Light. The Odyssey and Secret of the Celians have since been published to complete the Vision Quest trilogy.

Having long been an admirer of Ms. Pratt’s work, I was thrilled when she agreed to answer questions via email regarding her life, career and goals for the future.

You started out in Hollywood in 1973 as one of Dean Martin’s “Golddiggers”. How long did that last? Are you happy to have worked in this capacity for that period of your professional life and do you feel the experience helped you as a writer?

I was part of a nation wide search for talent (very early American Idol). They found me among 500 ladies in Chicago and flew me out. I worked for about 18 months with 7 women, many of whom I still stay in touch with. The work supported and encouraged my ability to write songs, sing and dance my way through Hollywood and that lead me into acting. The lack of roles for woman lead me into screenwriting, producing, directing and now novel writing.

How did you make the transition from singer/dancer to actress/writer?

I always wanted to be an actress and, again, the lack of quality roles especially for women of color was beyond frustrating. I worked a good deal as an actress in both comedy and drama. When I had the opportunity to be a regular on Airwolf and Magnum PI, I pitched and got to write episodes. They were originally vehicles for me but blossomed into an opportunity to give woman a stronger place in action adventure.

When you started out in Hollywood was it difficult for a woman to be taken seriously if she wanted to be more than ‘just a pretty face’? 

It always has been and always will continue to be until more women who are willing to change that dynamic get into positions of power and do something about it. It’s happening slowly but it is happening. There are some great men who have helped create strong women. James Cameron is one of my heroes.

The first Deborah Pratt writer’s credit I found was for an Airwolf episode entitled “Fallen Angel”. You also acted on the show. How did it feel when that script was accepted; was it apparent you’d reached a new plateau in your career and that writing was something you wanted to do?

It felt great but the original first draft had me doing a lot more. It opened my eyes to what could be and I never looked back.

You were married to (producer/writer/director) Don Bellisario during the time Quantum Leap was on the air. What was it like working with your spouse in such a creative environment? 

We were a great creative team. Both of us loved the creative process, complemented each other’s thoughts and shared ideas. We supported each other and stood shoulder to shoulder in the trenches of Hollywood. I am proud of the work we did and the friendship, that for a very special time, bore a show as innovative and unique as Quantum Leap. For a brief moment in time we were lightening in a bottle.

You wrote twenty-five scripts for Quantum Leap. The episode,“The Color of Truth”, a powerful story dealing with segregation and racial prejudice, received innumerable accolades including the prestigious Lillian Gish Award For Excellence. It was also instrumental in keeping Quantum Leap on the air. Do you regard this as your crowning achievement on the show? 

That’s an interesting way to put it. It was a very special show to me. Don was very nervous about the subject matter and felt it might be too early to have Sam do something as daring as leap into a man of color. “Maybe season 3,” was what he first told me. It was Brandon Tartikoff, God rest his soul, who told me to go for it. The script came in with Brandon’s blessing and Universal studios, NBC network and Don stood behind it 100 per cent. I believe it made television history and set a precedence for the series that we held as a standard of excellence for every episode. I also believe all the copycat shows that followed, missed the secret something that “The Color of Truth” gave Quantum Leap: that this was a TV show about “something important”. It was a mirror to our humanity. With each episode we could comment on society and embrace people and show, through our individual actions, that each and every one of us can make a difference.

Your Quantum Leap“Trilogy” episodes constituted another milestone for Leap. How did you come up with the concept for that wonderfully complex story? How long did it take to write it?

I guess from “The Vision Quest Trilogy” you can tell I have a thing for trilogies. As for the Quantum Leap trilogy, it was one of those gifts from the universe that just filled my head and wouldn’t let go. It took all summer so about 2 1/2 months to write.

When your daughter, Troian, was five years old, she appeared in the Leap episode “Another Mother”. Is this something she wanted to do? Did she ask to be a part of the show or did you suggest it to her? 

I just wanted her to be part of what her Dada and I were creating. She took to like a fish out of water. Then, on the set, the first day of shooting, Dean Stockwell gave me a talking to and made me understand that putting children to work, if you don’t need the money, takes their childhood and makes them responsible. I never encouraged her to go back in front of the camera. That she’s starring on ABC’s Pretty Little Liars is all her doing and I am very proud I listened to Dean and let her be a kid. She’s a great one and turning into an amazing young woman with phenomenal talent.

In 2006, you released the first of three Vision Quest novels. These ambitious works incorporate themes of science, technology, and spirituality. You also have plans for a feature film and video game. How did this project come to be?

It was part of a vision for a brave new world I had when I was 21. It took me a long time to believe in myself enough to write it.  

tvqbooks.com sums it up as does the next video interview I did for Future Worlds.

Please explain the basic premise of Vision Quest.  

Earth, set in the not to distant future, is based on the science and technology we are creating today. A new world is filled with alternate species we have created, some of whom discover their humanity. It is so new to them, unrepressed by centuries of government and religion, they remember the powers we have forgotten. The story is told through the eyes of a young man and his two best friends. It is a coming of age story where he, like most of us, must learn to release our anger to attain our bliss and open our selves to the universal powers that await us.

What is your goal for your Vision Quest franchise? What would you like your readers to take away from this vast new world you’ve created?

That we are are the heroes we have been waiting for and now is the time to step into a collective consciousness and save this paradise we call Earth. To let go of anger and greed and join together with the forces of the universe and evolve. 

What else would you like to accomplish professionally and/or personally?

Some day to finish my continuation of Quantum Leap – I started a book called Time Child that follows Sammy Jo Fuller from the trilogy episodes.

I have written several films that I plan to direct. Some are epic, and some are simple, a thriller and a comedy. But most of all, I hope to gather the minds, hearts and spirits of all who want change in this sometimes troubled, sometimes marvelous place we live in, to help me grow the philosophy behind The Vision Quest into reality.

Please check out The Vision Quest

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About Mindy Peterman

  • http://heloise8.wordpress.com/ Heloise

    Great interview. I remember her from Star Trek. And wow, how ironic I was just researching Deborah Pratt. She is ten years older than I but I went to high school with her sisters. Her daughter is Troian Bellisario who has a role in Pretty Little Liars. I am going to link this article too because people are wondering about her ethnicity. She looks good for her age really.

    Heloise

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/mindy-peterman/ Mindy

    Hi Heloise: Thanks for your comments and for linking the article.

  • Marilyn Johnson,ND

    Thanks so much for this awesome article. Deborah Pratt’s work has opened my eyes and brought my belief in my own talents as a writer and a woman of color to a much higher level of expectation.

    I too dream of a world like she has presented in Vision Quest and Quantum Leap!