Science is a funny thing. There's been this traditional stereotype about scientists rolling through life with pocket protectors and slide rules, cloaked in a lab coat and hunched over their microscopes. But over the last few years the subject has picked up a few more fans. TV shows like Through the Wormhole hosted by Morgan Freeman and great programming on Science Channel and other educational outlets have started to help pull science into the mainstream, by making it more accessible to everyday people. Even on the local level for me in Philadelphia I see big events like the Philadelphia Science Festival and can easily see the rise in interest this kind of accessibility can bring.
There's a few scientists that specialize in just that - you have guys like Bill Nye (the Science Guy, and the guy that taught me the art of the bow tie) that have spent their lives making sure that science was accessible and fun for kids, starting from his eponymous show in the 90's to his cemented place in today's geek culture. In the same vein, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has done the same thing - in addition to running the show at the Hayden Planetarium he's done the late night circuit many times, payed visits to Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report, and even hangs out with Philadelphia's morning radio DJ's Preston and Steve on WMMR from time to time. Oh he writes books too.
And unless you've been living in a geek vacuum over the last few months, you'll see he's now part of a project far more ambitious than guesting on the late night tour. He's the host of a new series on FOX called COSMOS, premiering this weekend. The show is a new take on Dr. Carl Sagan's classic series of lectures from the early 1980’s. Dr. Tyson's teamed up with some serious names - Brannon Braga, Mitchell Cannold, and Ann Druyan - to make an updated version of our favorite televised class on space and time.
The best part was that I got to talk to them about it.
One of the more surprising topics discussed was the role of Seth MacFarlane (yes, the same Family Guy Seth MacFarlane) who is one of the driving forces behind the show. Cannold put the collaborative efforts best, and it might surprise those of you who classify MacFarlane with only animated comedy. “Don’t underestimate Seth MacFarlane - this man is a DaVinci. Among other things, he happens to be a brilliant science geek.” The team in fact turned down other studios first in favor of him as someone who could drive the process and execute while respecting the process. Cannold went on “he became our Godfather, champion, emissary at FOX and since then has made an enormous contribution.” These contributions included introducing Braga to the crew, who brings scores of experience having written and produced for the Star Trek franchise since The Next Generation as well as other hits like 24.
Next up was Ann Druyan and the man himself, Dr. Tyson. Druyan was the writer of the original COSMOS with Dr. Sagan (and wife of the good doctor as well). Tyson started off describing Carl Sagan’s shoes as “awesome shoes to fill,” and how if he tried to fill them he’d just fail, following it up with “But I could be a really good version of myself.” The series, according to him, isn’t just an “homage to Carl” but something people can follow him into the future by watching. Druyan talked about how special it was working with Tyson, having known him for so long with Carl. “It was not just that Neil has the science and the ability to connect, but it’s also true that Carl reached out to Neil when he was a 17 year old kid in the Bronx.” And it’s true – Dr. Sagan took Tyson under his wing from an early age and he became very close with his family. It was great hearing her speak about the project with such passion and love.
Make sure you catch COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey, which premieres this Sunday night at 9pm on FOX.