Deric A. Hughes Uplifts Diverse Voices in NBC’s ‘Quantum Leap’

The longtime sci-fi and action writer talks about creating opportunities for his community through writing, and how the stars aligned on this close-to-home installment of "Quantum Leap"

Raymond Lee plays Dr. Ben Song in "Quantum Leap."

Courtesy of NBC Universal

Mixed Asian Media: JoySauce is proud to present something very special—a partnership with the ultra talented team over at Mixed Asian Media. In JoySauce’s mission to cover stories from the Asian American and Pacific Islander diaspora, we’ve always considered it incredibly important to include mixed AA+PI perspectives. Since their team already has that piece on lock, we’re delighted they were willing to join forces to help us share even more fresh, funny, interesting, irreverent stories each week. Take it away, MAM!

Deric A. Hughes, biracial “Blerd” and writer extraordinaire, began his prolific career with writing partner Benjamin Raab after being selected for NBC’s Writers On the Verge program. Since then, Hughes has become a member of the WGA West board of directors and has written for prolific genre shows such as Arrow, Warehouse 13, The Flash, and Scream: Season 3. In this interview with MAM, Hughes speaks about the unique opportunities he’s found in the culturally rich revival of ’90s classic Quantum Leap, and how the convergence of many great talents helped bring Dr. Ben Song to a community crossroad in the episode “One Night in Koreatown.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Closeup portrait of Deric A. Hughes, a man with long curly black hair and a goatee.

Deric A. Hughes.

Courtesy of NBC Universal

Angela Wong Carbone: It must be exciting to work on this reboot/concept for Quantum Leap. Tell me about how you came to the show.
Deric A. Hughes: I have a writing partner, Ben Raab, and we've been writing together for a very long time. We had just recently wrapped up writing on another show and were going to take some time off. Then we get a call saying, “Hey, would you guys be interested in meeting on Quantum Leap?” Now, I grew up watching the original Quantum Leap series with Scott Bakula, created by Don Rio and Deborah Pratt, [who’s] still involved to this day. Next thing you know, we're part of an incredible writing staff.

This is our second season. I would say it's not so much a reboot as it is a continuation, because it picks up 30 years later after Dr. Sam Beckett stepped into the accelerator, vanished, and never came back. He's still out there somewhere. Dr. Ben Song started back up with this new team. It was really exciting to be part of this mythology and this big legacy.

AWC: How did you come up with the concept for this episode? Are you from Los Angeles? 
DAH: No, I was not here when the [Rodney King Riots] took place, because I was in the military and stationed elsewhere. But I had a lot of friends that have been affected. This [episode] came about because it's just an important moment in history. This was one that was always in the back of our minds, and for Ray[mond Lee]—he really wanted to tell the story back in season one. He's an L.A. native.

Ben and I approached our bosses, Martin Gero and Dean Georgaris, and they were 100 percent supportive, [and so were] the studio and the network. The writing staff came up with a really fun, cool story to tackle this.

I wanted to tell the story from the Asian American POV, because that's also rarely seen on television.

AWC: Not only does the episode speak to Rodney King, it brought me back to the George Floyd protests and the Asians for Black Lives solidarity movements. And the idea that, historically, society can pit us against each other. How did you approach writing both perspectives?
DAH: Let's start with the obvious part: I'm Blasian, half-Black, half-Japanese. Seeing the experiences from both ends, I wanted to tell a story that reflects what happened [and the] culmination of where we are now versus where we were back then. That was years in the making of pitting communities against communities: how some opportunities are given to some while denied by others, [being] forced to live together in those situations and make the most of it, [resulting in] confusion and misunderstanding. It was important to show that while we have these differences, there are so many similarities even though we've come up in different ways.

Thankfully, [we had] a cast of actors who understood that from Danny Kang, and C.S. Lee who plays the father, and Benji Flores who plays Dwayne, and Analisa [Velez] [who represents the] Latinx community. Everybody was living together, and still does. It really came to a point [of] who's right, who's wrong. There was nobody that was 100 percent right. Nobody was 100 percent wrong. In this story, we wanted to illustrate that and instill hope at the end that there was something to look forward to.

I'm dancing around it because I really can't say particular things from the episode just yet.

Closeup of Nanrisa Lee as Jenn Chu in "Quantum Leap."

Nanrisa Lee plays Jenn Chu in "Quantum Leap."

Courtesy of NBC Universal

AWC: No spoilers here! What I can say about the episode is that, even though the issues it tackles are most obviously about race, they really address the human experience and community. As a person of color in the writers’ room, how do you find that voice?
DAH: There are more now than when I was first starting out. There are more writers in the Guild and more opportunities presented for Black writers, Asian writers, Latino writers, Indigenous, all across the spectrum of POC. There’s still a long way to go, but [compared] to back in the day, a lot of times you were the only person of color in the room. On this show, we had more people of color, so you [get] different points of view, and that starts from the top with your leadership, having good showrunners who also want to look beyond their personal experience.

We still have a lot of work to do. Raymond [is] the only Asian American lead in a one-hour drama. Especially for big, action sci-fi genre show[s], there's no one but Ray. So that's something to applaud, but at the same sort of shake your head and say, "Why did it take this long?"

AWC: How do you approach identity as a writer who covers particular genres where POC voices haven't been at the forefront? Is there a mission that you have?
DAH: No, I wouldn't say a mission. I mean, definitely there's some responsibility. You have the opportunity to put your words on paper and then make them come to life. You definitely want to inject your own experiences and [those of] families, relatives, [people] that you want to see on screen. And so I wouldn't say that it's like, “Oh, I have to do this,” but it would be a disservice if I didn't at least try to do this. If I didn't try to make sure that characters are not just one-dimensional cutouts.

If you [have an opportunity to] write for Ernie Hudson, you better write for Ernie Hudson and bring some experiences and stories to his character to flesh them out.

Our show is unique and we have [a diverse cast]: Nanrisa [Lee], Mason [Alexander Park], Caitlin [Bassett]. Every time that you sit down and you get to write, you're telling these stories and you're traveling through history and time, and you get to put a little bit of yourself into these stories.

A closeup of Ernie Hudson as Herbert "Magic" Williams in "Quantum Leap."

Ernie Hudson plays Herbert "Magic" Williams in "Quantum Leap."

Courtesy of NBC Universal

AWC: As somebody who has come so far in being able to bring their voice to screenwriting in a way that is so meaningful for our community, what advice would you have for other creatives or screenwriters in our community?
DAH: The thing is, first you’ve got to write. Everything else comes secondary. You have to show what you got on the page because you can do all the other things of networking, meeting people, but it's going to come down to what you can bring to that page. Make sure that you have your voice. That's the hardest truth. The other part is about networking, going through a writer's assistant, writer's PA, entering all the different writing programs that are readily available out there. 

Ben and I were part of the Writers on the Verge program for NBCUniversal. That was our big break. That really propelled our careers forward in writing and television.

Create your own stories. Look at different mediums. There’s no one way to make it in this business.

New episodes of Quantum Leap air on NBC on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET, or streaming on Peacock the following day.

Published on December 4, 2023

Words by Angela Wong Carbone

Angela Wong Carbone (she/her) is a decorated actor and writer. Her writing has been recognized by AT&T Hello Lab, Hillman Grad’s mentorship program, The Gotham, Slamdance and others. Raised in New York by an immigrant Chinese mother and Italian American father, Wong Carbone’s personal curiosity toward identity saturates her writing and she has contributed to Eileen Kelly’s Killer and a Sweet Thang and Lulu Gioiello’s Far Near. As an actor, Wong Carbone has starred in NBC’s Chicago Med, AppleTV+’s WeCrashed and IFC Films’ Resurrection. In 2020, she was selected for the 19th annual ABC Talent Showcase. Wong Carbone holds a degree in architecture from Cornell University and makes a mean lasagna.