By Rob Owen Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos,” an early 1980s PBS phenomenon, gets an update with “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” which premiered Sunday on Fox and simultaneously on National Geographic Channel, FX, FXX, FXM and other Fox networks.
Subsequent episodes will air at 9 p.m. Sundays on Fox and will be re-aired at 10 p.m. Mondays 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 (“Family Guy”) MacFarlane and Brannon (“Star Trek: Voyager”) Braga are the other two producers.
No “Family Guy” characters appeared in Sunday’s premiere of the 13-episode series. However, there is a spaceship — a cross between a surfboard and Boba Fett’s Slave 1 from the “Star Wars” movies — that Tyson rides.
Some science purists may 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 may 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.
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.”