Saturday, 23 February 2013

Quantum Leap before there was Quantum Leap

Dan Pastorini, Houston Oiler
quarterback and actor
Gladiator to Spartacus
Recently we were talking about the movie "Gladiator" where Russell Crowe played General Maximus, the soldier who became a – well – gladiator.

A buddy of mine compared Maximus to the real-life Spartacus.

"Russell Crowe is no Dan Pastorini," I joked.

My buddy had the most perplexed look on his face.

"Who is Dan Pastorini?" he asked.

"Why, he played Spartacus in 'Voyagers!'" I said. "But that was not his only claim to fame."

"What's 'Voyagers!'?" my buddy asked. "And who again is Dan Pastorini?"

Athlete becomes actor
Dan Pastorini played quarterback for the NFL's Houston Oilers. That team was led by Earl Campbell, this punishing running back who preferred to run over opponents than around them. Often Pastorini's role was to transfer the ball from the centre to Earl Campbell. However, he was a decent passer too, when called upon. Together, they led the Oilers to back-to-back AFC Championship games where they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who went on to win back-to-back Super Bowls.

The Oilers traded Pastorini to the Oakland Raiders for legendary quarterback Kenny "The Snake" Stabler. Both teams, I think, were hopeful their new quarterbacks would put them over the top to win the Super Bowl. Pastorini broke his leg with four games gone in the season, paving the way for Jim Plunkett to lead the Raiders to an AFC Wild Card playoff berth and all the way to the Super Bowl championship. I don't think Pastorini played another game for the Raiders.

Pastorini in battle as
Spartacus on "Voyagers"
However, he had been doing some acting too. I recall seeing him do a guest spot on "Fantasy Island", playing a – you guessed it – quarterback who just couldn't get out of a funk, until he meets a woman who helps him straighten out his game. Along the way, they find love. The girl was played by Patricia McCormack who also starred in "The Ropers", as their next door neighbour.

Then, I saw him play Spartacus on "Voyagers!"…

Meeno Peluce (at left) and
Jon-Erk Hexum, the stars of "Voyagers"

Bogg, Jeff Jones, and the Omni
"Surely you remember 'Quantum Leap'," I said.

My buddy nodded.

"'Voyagers' was 'Quantum Leap' before there was a 'Quantum Leap'," I said.

Phineas Bogg (Jon-Erik Hexum) was a "Time Cop". He travelled through time fixing what went wrong. He was aided by an omni, which looked like a pocket watch. Whenever it blinked red, there was something wrong that he had to fix. He knew he succeeded when the omni turned green.

The show opens with Bogg inadvertently crashing through the window of young Jeff Jones (Meeno Peluce). The omni was never supposed to take him that far in the timeline, but malfunctioned. Worse for Bogg, he loses the omni's instruction book. Bogg saves Jeff's life and Jeff helps Bogg in his job to fix what went wrong. Since Jeff has no real ties to the present, and he happens to be a history whiz, a partnership is born. Albeit a short-lived one because "Voyagers!" only made it through one season.

This was the disadvantage of peasant vision. The show debuted Sunday nights on NBC in the fall. I caught an episode when I was visiting my cousins Nina and Carl in Lethbridge. They had cable TV, and I always looked forward to visiting them. By the time it hit Channel 7 on the farm, the show had already been going for months, and would be cancelled by NBC. It was a bit disheartening knowing the shows I saw were the only ones they ever made. There would be no more.

There were some really interesting stories though.

Where are they now?
Sadly, a couple years later Jon-Erik Hexum was killed in an accidental shooting during the production of the adventure show "Cover Up". Hauntingly, the show was part of a Saturday night line-up plagued by tragedy. "Airwolf" had a crash on set, while the star of "Mike Hammer", Stacy Keach, was sent to jail on drug charges.

Meeno Peluce is a face from the 80s you'd recognize, even if you don't recognize the name. He played Tanner Boyle on the short-lived TV version of the "Bad News Bears" and as the son in the equally-short-lived series "Best of the West" (starring Joel Higgins, who went on to star in "Silver Spoons"), and I recall seeing him do guest spots for "Scarecrow and Mrs. King", "Benson", "Love Boat" (didn't everyone guest star in that?) and…"Silver Spoons".

…And back again
By now, my buddy had this glazed-over look on his face.

How did we get from pro football to gladiators to time travel TV shows?

Well, I'm not sure. That's just what having a conversation with me is like.

The only consolation I could offer him?

"You should read my blog."

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