A 21st century continuation of Carl Sagan’s heady 1980 series “Cosmos” may not be the pet project you’d expect from “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane, but it’s just one of the surprises the new series, which will air on both FOX and Nat Geo networks, hopes will blow your mind.
Starring astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (who became a Twitter break-out star for his comments about the scientific inaccuracies of “Gravity”), the new show is set to premiere Sun. March 9 on FOX and Mon. March 10 on Nat Geo. While the audience at press tour tried to show an interest in all things science, most of the questions were lobbed squarely at MacFarlane.
When asked why he had gotten involved with “Cosmos,” MacFarlane explained, ” I’d always been a fan of’ ‘Cosmos.’ I saw it as a child, then in high school, I saw it again on a deeper level. I was always a fan… I met Neil through the Science and Entertainment Exchange and found out he was working on a new ‘Cosmos’ and the rest is history.”
While deGrasse pointed out that Fox owns 3/4 of Nat Geo and made a point of explaining that the dual platforming of the show creates an opportunity for a diverse audience to find the show, MacFarlane was more pointed in his opinion. “While Nat Geo [and PBS are] great networks, in a way, you’re preaching to the converted and you wouldn’t be great to reach any more [viewers]. With this particular regime at Fox.. [I suspected they] would be receptive to doing the show on a network, and the rest brought us here.”
DeGrasse Tyson was just as frank about his initial impression of MacFarlane. “His first question to me is, how can I make a difference?… And I thought, is this Seth? This is Stewie? It was my first indication he had some deep genetic roots in wanting to make a difference in this world.
MacFarlane, who believes Fox will see a “lot of crossover” in viewership “even from the animated shows” on FOX, did not want to call the show a documentary. “It’s a journey; it plays with the flavor of a feature film of sorts.”
Of course, MacFarlane wasn’t entirely a serious science guy during the panel. When one journalist called FOX viewers of series like “Fringe” “creative nerds,” MacFarlane joked, “Hey, fuck you.” Once the laughter died down the journalist asked him if he understood her analogy. “Not really,” he shrugged, still smiling.
When asked whether he had to withhold any product from FOX to muscle the network into taking on a brainy science show, MacFarlane cracked, “What do you think happened to ‘The Flintstones’? I did’t have to withhold anything. I don’t know if this would have happened under a different regime at FOX. [They] were very open minded and adventurous. I was pleasantly greeted with enthusiasm, and I didn’t have to stop doing Stewie or anything.”
Another journalist wondered if MacFarlane, who has been leveled with criticism for his his involvement with “Dads,” wanted to do “Cosmos” to create a balance in his output, he said, “I would submit that the question is flawed. We have different opinions about certain things. I do, I get myself involved with shows and people I’m enthusiastic about. [Alec] Sulkin and [Wellesley] Wild, whom I wrote ‘Ted’ with, it made sense to do a show with them and for me it was a great move. These are great people I want to work with. So no, it’s not a matter of balance in my mind. The projects I choose to be involved in are the ones I’m enthusiastic about.”
As for deGrasse Tyson, he discussed being a science spokesperson — and what he is and isn’t willing to do. “I don’t get big-headed. They can send up an action cam… but more important, if it’s a national story, I ask, did you film the engineers at [JPL first]? Because if not, I have nothing to offer. And now they go to the people who busted their ass first. I’m enhancing the science that has happened, not becoming the science that has happened. I think it’s amazing that a scientist, whether it’s me or anybody, could have that level of following and recognition. I’m IDed by a stranger on the street 50 or 100 times a day. I have to leave the house a little more groomed than usual… the predominant example is that people say, hey… tell me more about that black hole that happened the other day. I’m a conduit to their access to the Universe, not their destination.”
Carl Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan, also commented on what we can expect from “Cosmos.” “None of the new series is a duplication o the original series, though there are elements of the original series like the cosmic calendar, and echoes of the original. These are 13 completely new hours. It’s not in any sense a reboot.”
MacFarlane also promised a “variety of media” in the show, especially in terms of new technologies in film and animation. But more than high tech imagery, MacFarlane hopes that the show might inspire viewers for an unexpected reason. “As kids, we had Captain Picard. Today TV is full of anti-heroes; everything is depressing. It makes you long for a little Gary Cooper walking down the street… Neil is a great person to fill that void.” Well, I guess it won’t be filled by “Dads,” anyway.