Sunday, January 19, 2014

Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey with Neil deGrasse Tyson

After thirty four years, Cosmos will once again grace our television screens in the spring of 2014 and who better to continue Carl Sagan’s legacy than, the director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium Neil deGrasse Tyson.

The new series Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey is a follow-up to the 1980 PBS award winning documentary series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which was presented by Carl Sagan.

Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey will be presented by Neil deGrasse Tyson. The executive producers are Seth MacFarlane (of Family Guy fame) and Ann Druyan, Sagan's widow.

The series will premiere on two successive nights March 9 and 10 on both Fox and on National Geographic Channel.

Carl Sagan was a major influence on Tyson, in fact, they actual met. When Neil deGrasse Tyson was applying to colleges in high school, Carl Sagan made an outstanding effort to attract him to Cornell University for undergraduate studies, where he taught.

 Ann Druyan and Neil deGrasse Tyson

During an interview with writer Daniel Simone in July 2004, Tyson said, "Interestingly, when I applied to Cornell, my application dripped of my passion for the study and research of the Universe. Somehow the admissions office brought my application to the attention of the late Dr. Sagan, and he actually took the initiative and care to contact me. He was very inspirational and a most powerful influence. Dr. Sagan was as great as the universe, an effective mentor."

Tyson eventually wound up at Harvard, but it's still incredible to see how significant an impact Sagan clearly had on him at the time, and how strongly the experience continues to affect him, even to this day.

Carl Sagan

Cosmos: A Personal Voyage first aired in the fall of 1980 on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), and was hosted by Carl Sagan. The show has been considered highly significant since its broadcast; Dave Itzkoff of the New York Times described it as "a watershed moment for science-themed television programming". The show has been watched by at least four hundred million people across sixty different countries, and until Ken Burn’s The Civil War documentary in 1990, remained the network's highest rated program.

Following Sagan's death in 1996, his widow Ann Druyan, the co-creator of the original Cosmos series along with Steven Soter, a producer from the series, and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, sought to create a new version of the series, aimed to appeal to as wide an audience as possible and not just to those interested in the sciences. They had struggled for years with reluctant television networks that failed to see the broad appeal of the show.

Seth MacFarlane

Seth MacFarlane had met Druyan through Tyson at the 2008 kickoff event for the Science and Entertainment Exchange, a new LA office of the National Academy of Sciences, designed to connect Hollywood writers and directors with scientists.

A year later, at a 2009 lunch in NYC with Tyson, MacFarlane learned of their interest to recreate Cosmos. He was influenced by Cosmos as a child, believing that Cosmos served to "[bridge] the gap between the academic community and the general public".

MacFarlane had considered that the reduction of effort for space travel in recent decades to be part of "our culture of lethargy". MacFarlane, who has several animated shows on the Fox Network, was able to bring Druyan to meet the heads of Fox programming, Peter Rice and Kevin Reilly, and helped to get the greenlighting of the show. MacFarlane admits that he is "the least essential person in this equation" and the effort is a departure from work he's done before, but considers this to be "very comfortable territory for [himself] personally". He and Druyan have become close friends, and Druyan stated that she believed that Sagan and MacFarlane would have been "kindred spirits" with their respective "protean talents". In June 2012, MacFarlane provided funding to allow about eight hundred boxes of Sagan's personal notes and correspondences to be donated to the Library of Congress.

It is my hope, that after nearly a decade of a resurgence of pseudo scientific and pseudo historical television series such as Ancient Aliens that Neil deGrasse Tyson, Seth MacFarlane and Ann Druyan actual rekindle a new era of quality prime time quality science educational television.

Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey with Neil Degrasse Tyson
Neil deGrasse Tyson recounts his first meeting with Carl Sagan: Ted Simons interviews a shining star in the universe of astrophysics, Neil deGrasse Tyson.
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