In 1983 Bakula (having previously appeared as a standby) made his Broadway debut playing Joe Di Maggio in Marilyn, An American Fable. His television debut would consist of commercials for Canada Dry and for de-caffeinated Folgers Coffee.
Bakula also played the lead role as Alfred/Sam in the Broadway musical Romance, Romance and in 1988 he was nominated for a Tony Award.
His performance in Romance, Romance and his Tony nomination helped him win the lead role opposite Dean Stockwell in the critically acclaimed television series Quantum Leap. In this science fiction series, Bakula played the time traveler Dr. Sam Beckett who was trapped by a malfunction of his time machine that inserts his consciousness into people in the past. His performance in this program would earn him a Golden Globe award (along with three nominations) and four Emmy nominations for best actor. Low ratings for this program caused its cancellation in 1993.
He also played a gay neighbor to Kevin Spacey in the Oscar-winning American Beauty in 1999.
Other credits include: