Voyagers! is a science fiction and time-travel based show that ran on NBC for 20 episodes from October 1982 to July 1983. It starred Jon Erik Hexum as time agent Phineas Bogg and Meeno Peluce as Jeffery Jones. Bong is every bit the macho, swashbuckling hero who remembers time periods by the women more than the events and Jeffrey is, as Bogg often grumbles, a smart kid. It is (perhaps erroneously) viewed as children’s programing by many people mostly because of the largely upbeat nature of the program and the voiceover by Meeno Peluce that ended each episode: “If you want to learn more about… (Gives names of the historical person or situation from that episode), take a voyage down to your public library. It’s all in books!”
The series begins in 1982 as time agent Phineas Bogg (an obvious nod to Phineas Fogg of Around the World in 80 Days) appears on a New York City street holding his time device, The Omni (which resembles a large pocket watch). There he meets young Jeffery Jones, who lives with his aunt and uncle as his parents died. Jeffery’s dog snatches Phineas’ Handbook, which tells him how history is supposed to unfold. In the scuffle to get it back, Jeffery falls out of a window and Phineas jumps after him and they both disappear. They appear in 1450 B.C. next to the Nile, where Jeffery discovers a baby in a basket that is hung up in the reeds. Realizing this was the baby Moses and pushes the basket back in the center of the current where it is soon found by the pharaoh’s daughter. Bogg reveals that he cannot return Jeff to 1982 because the Omni only has circuits up to 1970 and it was a malfunction that sent him to 1982. Having also lost his Guidebook in 1982, Fogg was in serious trouble because his own memory of history was spotty at best. Jeffery’s father had been a history professor and his son was an eager listener to his lesson preps so Bogg decided to utilize the young man’s knowledge as a “living Guidebook”.
An interesting component of the series is that they often would have to “mend” history. In the very first episode, they jumped to the final days of World War 1 to find the Germans winning because America didn’t have airplanes. The pair then jumps to 1903 Dayton Ohio and inspire the Wright Brothers to create their first plane and then they return to WWI to see American Planes fighting the Red Baron. Later they had to help Alexander Graham Bell create the telephone so Dwight D. Eisenhower wouldn’t die at birth. They had to infiltrate the James gang in 1880 to save the life of Teddy Roosevelt so that he and his Rough Riders were there in 1898 to win the Spanish- American war. They save Benjamin Franklin’s mother from being hung as a witch in Salem, prevent a kidnapping of Abraham Lincoln by Southern soldiers and Bogg was accused of being both a witch in one century and Jack the Ripper in the time of Arthur Conan Doyle, And this is just in the space of a couple of the 20 episodes made.
It is ironic that this time-travel series was killed by a clock, or more specifically, a stopwatch. CBS’s 60 Minutes, the Sunday news juggernaut was Voyagers! chief competition and ensured that the series never got more than a 17 share in the ratings and NBC execs thought it might be better to fight fire with fire and started their own news program at that time slot. That news program never received larger than a 7 share, so rather than return to Voyagers or move it to another night, it was cancelled. And that cancelation, very indirectly, led to the death of Jon Erik Hexum. On October 12, 1984, Hexum was now the lead in a show called Cover Up, a show about super model spies. A shot was taking a long time to set up and Hexum was playing around to lighten the mood. He took all but one of the blanks out of his prop gun and was pretending to play Russian Rolette. He was apparently unaware that blanks still have a hard plastic or thick paper to cap off the black powder from the shot and it cracked off a quarter size piece of his skull and sent those pieces into his brain causing massive cerebral hemorrhaging. Five hours of surgery were attempted but six days later, he was finally declared brain dead. His mother donated his cornea, kidneys, liver, heart and skin to medical patients in need.
And let’s face it, the Omni fascinates me. It looks like a large pocket watch when closed; when opened it is like peering into the inner workings of the TARDIS. I’m not saying that Voyagers! would ever have the cache of Doctor Who and that many of its components were used better in the later Quantum Leap, but it was a cool and informative little show and it really made you think about causality and or how a small action can have big consequents. A little something we could all stand to consider, isn’t it?