PASADENA, Calif. — Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, an early 1980s PBS phenomenon, gets an update with Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey premiering at 9 p.m. Sunday on Fox and simultaneously on National Geographic Channel, FX, FXX, FXM, and other Fox networks. (Subsequent episodes will continue to air at 9 p.m. Sunday on Fox and will be re-aired at 10 p.m. Monday on National Geographic Channel.)
Former PBS mainstay Neil deGrasse Tyson (NOVA, NOVA ScienceNow) hosts the new Cosmos, which is written and executive produced by Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan, who also was a writer on the original series.
Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy) and Brannon Braga (Star Trek: Voyager) are the other two executive producers.
No Family Guy characters appear in Sunday’s premiere of the 13-episode series. However, there is a spaceship — a cross between a silver surfboard and Boba Fett’s Slave 1 from the Star Wars movies — that Tyson rides through the solar system. Some science purists might chafe at this sci-fi element but it does nothing to distract from the science education baked into Cosmos. If special effects — and really the whole show is wall-to-wall CGI — can be used to help educate, why not use a device that makes the science go down easier?
In addition to zipping through the solar system, Cosmos also relies on animation to tell the stories of the earliest human scientists. These scenes might not go down well with the anti-science crowd — cardinals of the Inquisition are shown burning books over an early scientist’s insistence that the Earth revolves around the sun — but bully for Cosmos for its willingness to stand up for scientific knowledge.
In Sunday’s one-hour premiere, Tyson discusses the role of science — to test ideas, build on ideas that pass the test, and discard those that don’t, question everything — and ends with a personal tribute to Sagan.
The new Cosmos collaboration between MacFarlane and Tyson came to be after a lunch where MacFarlane’s opening question was, “How can I make a difference in science in this world?”
“And I said, ‘Is this Seth MacFarlane? Is this the guy who illustrates Stewie? Is this the same guy?,’” Tyson said during a January Fox press conference. “That was my first indication that he had some deep sort of genetic roots of wanting to make a difference in this world.”
Producers considered taking the revived Cosmos to several networks, including PBS, but once MacFarlane entered the picture, the focus shifted to Fox.
“There’s a tremendous overlap between the Cosmos audience and the Fox audience, because Cosmos is about opening the door to the widest possible audience to entertain them, to uplift them, to make them feel the great, the awesome power of the scientific perspective, and I don’t see any contradiction here,” Druyan said. “When Carl Sagan was alive, we wrote for Parade magazine. We weren’t trying to preach to the converted. We wanted to evoke in people, who might have even had hostility to science, a sense of wonder or to excite people who thought that science was just too challenging to dream about the universe of space and time.”
The show’s presence on Fox also highlights the different camps within the larger Fox corporation. While some talking heads at Fox News Channel might be hostile toward science, Fox Broadcasting is making a big bet on science with Cosmos.
“In the 1970s, I think that there was probably a higher degree of respect for science, of hope about the future, and the kind of future-oriented vision,” Druyan said. “We had just had our greatest achievements under our belt: the Apollo program, the Voyagers were being sent out into the farthest reaches of the solar system. … Something … changed very dramatically sometime perhaps around the year 2000 when suddenly there was a public hostility to science. You could see it in many different manifestations, a sudden retreat on evolution and on the acceptance of other scientific facts, and so I think we began to turn inward, and our vision of the frontier was not as compelling as it once had been.
“The good thing is that the pendulum is now swinging back our way,” she continued. “We have the Internet. We have these coalescing communities of people who are interested and that group I think is greater than it ever has been before.”