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‘Cosmos’ re-emerges on Fox with the help of Seth MacFarlane

TV » Neil deGrasse Tyson is the host; Ann Druyan is also on board.

By Scott D. Pierce

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Mar 05 2014 12:01 pm • Last Updated Mar 06 2014 04:57 pm

If it strikes you that it’s sort of odd that Fox, the network of "Family Guy" and "Dads," is also the home of "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey," hold on to your hat.

Seth MacFarlane, the executive producer of "Family Guy" and "Dads," is also the executive producer of "Cosmos." And the man perhaps most responsible for the successor to Carl Sagan’s classic series coming to Fox instead of, say, the Discovery Channel.

At a glance

‘Cosmos’ on TV

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” debuts Sunday, March 9, at 8 p.m. on Fox/Ch. 13. The premiere episode will also air Sunday at 7 p.m. on Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, FXX, Fox Live, the National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo Wild; and Sunday at 10 p.m. on FX, Fox Life, the National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo Wild.

The remaining 12 episodes will air on successive Sundays at 8 p.m. on Fox/Ch. 13. Each episode — with bonus footage and behind-the-scenes content — will be repeated Mondays at 8 and 10 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel.

The original, 13-part, 1980 series “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage” will be repeated Saturday, March 8, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday, March 9, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Not that there’s anything wrong with, say, the Discovery Channel, but if it aired on a channel where you might expect to see a show about science, "In a way, you’re sort of preaching to the converted," MacFarlane said. "And wouldn’t it be nice to broaden it a little bit even more?"

He said he thought that Fox executives "would be receptive to the idea of doing the show on a network. And sure enough, they were."

Yes, all 13 episodes of "Cosmos" will air Sunday nights on Fox (and repeat Mondays on Nat Geo.)

Neil deGrasse Tyson, a familiar face to PBS viewers, is the host of the new "Cosmos." And he admits he was "initially a little skeptical" when he first had lunch with MacFarlane.

"His first question to me just after the appetizer was, ‘How can I make a difference in science in this world?’ " Tyson said. "And I said, ‘Is this Seth MacFarlane? Is this, like, the guy who illustrates Stewie?’

"The first few seconds of that exchange, I said, ‘He really doesn’t really understand, right? He doesn’t get it,’ " Tyson continued. "As I added up the potency of Fox as a network, by the 10th second, 12th second, I said, ‘That is the most brilliant idea I ever heard, to put science at that fulcrum of media.’ "

"Cosmos" is not dumbed down for Fox. It’s a fascinating journey that, like the 1980 original, is not exactly your average documentary. It’s a journey through science rather than a stuffy tutorial.

" ‘Cosmos’ is taking the story of the universe … and it’s telling it so that everyone can feel it and enjoy it and be entertained by it," said Ann Druyan, the co-writer of the original series and the update. (She’s also Sagan’s widow.) She wants viewers to "be moved, be taken across the vast expanses of space and time, back to the beginning of the universe, into the future."

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"It’s primarily a story of why science matters," Tyson said. "There’s plenty of science that’s new [since the 1980 original], but the goal is not to show here what is the new science. The goal is to show here’s why this new understanding of the world continues to affect us deeply as an individual, as a nation, as a species."

Even if you’ve seen the 1980 "Cosmos," you haven’t seen the 2014 "Cosmos." There are some familiar elements — like the Ship of the Imagination and the Cosmic Calendar — but Druyan insisted the new series "is not, in any sense, a reboot or a re-creation of the original series."

The look of the new "Cosmos" takes advantage of the advances in CGI in the past 3 ½ decades. It’s stunning to look at.

"It ranges from Earth to as far as we can see in the observable universe," Druyan said, "to down a black hole, to a bear’s ovaries. To the lives of some of the greatest scientists who you’ve never heard of, who struggled in some cases, gave up their life in the service of wanting to know a little bit more about nature and the universe.

"So, yes, it’s the same, it’s that intersection of emotion and solid science and fabulous facts and animation and drama and history, but it’s completely new."

The project began five years ago, and MacFarlane was not involved. Druyan and Steve Soter — who wrote the original "Cosmos" — spent a year carving out "the stories we wanted to tell, and then I kept going," Druyan said.

She credited MacFarlane with persuading her to revive the Ship of the Imagination, "which, at first, I wasn’t that excited about. But then I realized what we could do and how much more transporting we could make it."

She also "knew he was right" with his idea to animate the lives of the scientists so we didn’t have that kind of muttonchop, dramatic re-creation, potential dreariness" of so many other re-creations.

And MacFarlane is convinced that the same people who watch "Family Guy" are going to stick around and watch "Cosmos."

"I think you’re going to see a lot of crossover, actually, even from the animated shows to ‘Cosmos,’ " he said. "I think you’re going to see a lot of people who are fans of both genres and are very enthusiastic."

Druyan agreed, insisting there’s "a tremendous overlap between the ‘Cosmos’ audience and the Fox audience" because both are "about opening the door to the widest possible audience to entertain them, to uplift them, to make them feel the … awesome power of the scientific perspective."

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