Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey Interview: Host Neil deGrasse Tyson & Executive Producer Ann Druyan Share Their Thoughts on Science, Discovery and More

This Sunday, the first episode of the 13-part science epic Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey will premiere on Fox at 9pm ET/PT. The series will have an unprecedented roll-out across multiple Fox networks, bringing science to life for millions of television viewers. Written, directed and executive produced by Ann Druyan, Cosmos is a follow-up to Carl Sagan’s groundbreaking ’70s PBS series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.

Recently, TV Equals joined in a conference call with Druyan and astrophysicist/host Neil deGrasse Tyson to discuss their hopes for the series, why they chose Fox for Cosmos home and the state of science literacy today.

Why They Chose Fox

Fox isn’t the first station you would look for quality science programming, and Tyson initially felt the same way when he and Druyan met with Seth MacFarlane to discuss funding for the ambitious project. When MacFarlane suggested pitching the series to Fox, Tyson felt they didn’t share the same vision for Cosmos, however, once Tyson thought about the network’s reach, he quickly had a change of heart.

“Ten seconds later, I’m thinking well Fox, at the time, had the number one show on television,” Tyson said. “Fox is 20th Century Fox. Fox Searchlight Pictures. There’s Fox Business. Yes, there’s Fox News. There’s Fox network, and I realized Fox had more cultural demographics crossing their roads in their portfolio than any other station I could think of. Then I realized that if Cosmos appeared on Fox, however remote that possibility was at that moment in my head, if it did appear on Fox, it would have the greatest possible distribution of any science programming there ever was right out of the box.”

Having Cosmos air on a major network also gives the series an opportunity to reach as many viewers as possible. When asked what they felt the benefits of airing Cosmos on such a large platform was, Druyan responded, “It’s the chance to make the case for the scientific perspective and scientific thinking and reasoning based on the evidence at a moment that we face many challenges that science has revealed to us, for instance, global warming being just one of them, and that we need to break down this kind of denial that keeps us from taking what science is telling us. Not just about the problems we face, but about the fantastic possibilities of the future and what we could do if we get our act together. At its heart, Cosmos is really about taking science to heart rather than compartmentalizing science as something separate from the things that we feel and the reasons that cause us to act. That’s what Cosmos is.”

On Why Science Literacy in Adults is Vital

Cosmos is constructed as a narrative because Druyan believes humans respond best to stories. The format for the series makes it accessible to all ages, and people who possess various levels of scientific understanding. The goal is to reach as many people as possible. Tyson feels passionately about increasing adult literacy in science, and he, along with Druyan, believes Cosmos can be a gateway to greater understanding. The narrative approach turns the universe into a ongoing, ever-expanding story.

“You have people who believe they do know how to think about the information, but don’t, and they’re in the position of power and legislation,” Tyson said. “You can’t base a society on non-objectively verifiable truth. Otherwise, it’s a fantasy land, and science is the pathway to those emerging truths that are hard earned, that some have taken decades, if not centuries, to emerge from experiments all around the world, and Cosmos is a celebration of just that adventure and just that kind of enterprise.”

Will the Possibility of Intelligent Life on Other Planets be Discussed?

Absolutely. While, the idea of intelligent life elsewhere can sound hokey. In episode 11, Cosmos will tackle the topic, along with the idea of immortality in a forward-thinking, practical way. Tyson noted that in recent years, scientists have gone from looking for intelligent life on other planets to looking for signifiers of any lifeforms at all.

Druyan added, “Everybody is fascinated by the question of whether or not we’re alone in the universe and we have a couple of hundred billion stars in our Milky Way Galaxy alone. It is beginning to look like the Carl Sagan statement of 20/30 years ago that, “The planets in our galaxy likely outnumber the stars,” is coming true so the potential for worlds with life and possibly intelligent life seems very fertile even though we have no direct evidence yet of their existence. We may be living at that moment, on the cusp, when we go from being a species that feels a kind of loneliness in the cosmos to actually one sometime in the not too distant future being able to confirm the existence of other intelligent life.”

On the Modern Attitude Toward Science

When the first Cosmos aired in the ’70s, the space race was in full swing and there was a hunger for understanding. Druyan discussed how things have changed in recent years as science has been met with many outside challenges.

“Something which changed very dramatically sometime perhaps around the year 2000 when suddenly there was a public hostility to science, which you could see it in many different manifestations, a sudden retreat on evolution and on the acceptance of other scientific facts, and so I think we began to turn inward, and our vision of the frontier was not as compelling as it once had been,” Druyan said.

“The good thing is that the pendulum is now swinging back our way and not only that, but we have these global meetings of becoming an interconnected organism. We have the internet. We have these coalescing communities of people who are interested, and that group I think is greater than it ever has been before. Of course, you know, back in the day when Carl and I first presented the original Cosmos series, there were probably fewer than a dozen channels and none of these other platforms in which to receive this kind of information. Right now, you know, all of the knowledge of the world is at our fingertips. Just based on the kind of ground roar that I’ve been feeling about Cosmos and the enduring love of the original series, I think that this is the perfect moment for Cosmos.”

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