The trailer for Fox Broadcasting’s reboot of Carl Sagan’s popular public broadcasting series Cosmos: A Personal Journey was unveiled at San Diego’s Comic-Con in July, and the new series is scheduled to air in the spring of 2014. The new series, called Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, will be hosted by astrophysicist-turned-pop-culture-icon Neil deGrasse Tyson.
The new Fox series will also feature a behind-the-scenes connection with the original Cosmos via Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan. Druyan was one of the primary writers of the original 1980 series, and is listed as one of the producers of the 2014 series. Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane is also among the producers for the project.
MacFarlane championed the project to Fox executives, ultimately using his favorable reputation with the network to convince them to give the series a chance.
The success of the original series was certainly part of his pitch to the suits.
Sagan’s Cosmos was PBS’s highest rated series for the entire decade of the 1980s, not being eclipsed until Ken Burns’ The Civil War aired in the early 1990s. It is estimated more than 500 million people across 60 countries have watched Sagan’s 13-part Cosmos series. It reportedly remains the most-watched public television production worldwide.
Sagan explains traveling at light speed from the original Cosmos series of 1980:
In Cosmos, Sagan presented the universe and natural world in a way that was easy for non-scientists to understand and connect with in ways most never experienced in a classroom or from previously-produced, heady documentaries. The series promoted the idea of forward thinking and looking at the inter-connectedness of all things in the universe.
The series had such impact when it aired, spoofs of Sagan popped up on shows like The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson around the time the series debuted. Some credit Carson for making Sagan famous for a quote he didn't actually make. Sagan had a distinct dialect and rhythm of speaking during his narration. Carson honed in on his emphasis on the "B" at the beginning of the word "Billions." When spoofing Sagan, Carson would frequently use the phrase, "Billions and billions." Sagan claims the closest he came to saying that phrase was, "billions upon billions."
While Sagan did his best to present scientific ideas into easier to digest nuggets, he didn’t shy away from complicated issues some in the scientific community spend a lifetime studying. We can expect the new series to once again tackle complex issues from the world around us, just as the original series did.
Druyan, Tyson, and Executive Producer Brannon Braga fielded questions during a Cosmos panel discussion at Comic-Con in San Diego in July. During the discussion, Druyan addressed the complexity of the series’ content.
“Carl Sagan taught me respect for the audience and the public, and that there is no need to dumb anything down. Just speak clearly, and use the words we all use to depict the grandeur of nature. The original series and this series are exactly on the same level, which is, we speak to everyone,” she said.
The intent is to once again capture the spirit of the original series, but also to present new information and ideas. In that regard, Tyson was a natural choice to slip into Sagan’s role as host. The astrophysicist has made it a point to take science to the people through public appearances on television talk shows, and even the occasional appearance on tv shows like Big Bang Theory. Tyson has also previously talked about the impact Sagan had on his career. He first met Sagan while visiting a college campus as a teenager.
Tyson told the Comic-Con audience, “(Carl Sagan) might have done it a second time, but he died prematurely. I would have been happy to stay home and watch him do it. He’s not with us, but that message still has to continue to move forward.”
The spaceship of the imagination is going to be the vessel in which Tyson will zip throughout space and time in the new series. The stories will bounce around throughout the episodes from the future to the past through the shapeless magic vessel. No Tardis necessary.
Among the features of the new series will be animated sequences about science discoveries of the past. The animation will be produced by MacFarlane’s company. It will be more akin to what one sees in the typical graphic novel as opposed to what we’re used to seeing in Quahog with MacFarlane’s own universe of Family Guy characters. Coincidentally, or probably not, Sagan has appeared on Family Guy in an episode where Peter Griffin and Brian are watching Cosmos (Edited for Rednecks).
The series’ executive producer, Braga, is best known for his work as a producer on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Enterprise, and 24.
“I feel the past 20 years of doing science fiction has prepared for this moment to do actual science in a way that has a visceral immersive impact, and hopefully be experienced the way the original Cosmos was,” Braga told the Comic-Con audience.
Those involved with the new Cosmos series hope it becomes a family viewing event, in which everyone can gain and understanding of the universe together, and then turn the cultural focus toward the future.
“1980 was a generation ago,” Tyson said, “and you don’t want to go more than a generation without having to reboot the story of who we are and where we’re headed in this universe.”
In addition to the series premiere on the Fox Network in spring 2014, it will also subsequently air on the National Geographic Channel.