TCA: ‘Cosmos’ on Fox brings Seth MacFarlane’s audience to science

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson will host the new documentary series "Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey," which is scheduled to begin airing on Fox and the National Geographic Channel in March.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

What do crude pop culture comedies like “Family Guy” and “Ted” have in common with a soaring exploration of the universe?

Seth MacFarlane, of course.

The scion of popular bad taste is the executive producer of a reboot of Carl Sagan’s beloved 1980s PBS television show, “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.”

The new series, which was co-created by Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan, is called, “Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey.”


During a panel to promote the 13-part docu-series at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena on Monday, questions focused on whether Fox viewers will care about the web of science that “Cosmos” is weaving.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of crossover, even from the animated shows to ‘Cosmos,’” said MacFarlane. “I think you’re going to see a lot of people who are fans of both genres. The show is presented very much in line with the original — you can’t call it a documentary, it’s more of a journey.”

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Druyan elaborated on that point.

“The show will excite people who thought that science was just too challenging,” she said. “If you have a sense of humor, you love those shows on Fox, and if you have a beating heart you’ll respond to ‘Cosmos.’”

In many ways, MacFarlane’s interests are a barometer of the interests of his fans, and he says he’s been a science geek since he was a kid.

He became invested in helping get a new version of “Cosmos” out into the world after meeting the show’s host, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, at a kickoff event for the Science & Entertainment Exchange.

MacFarlane invited Tyson to lunch and during the meal asked him, “How can I make a difference in science?”

“And I thought, ‘Wait, is this Stewie?’” said Tyson, referring to one of the MacFarlane’s animated voices on “Family Guy.”

At first, when MacFarlane said he wanted to take the show to Fox, Tyson said he thought, “He doesn’t really get it.” But then when he thought about it for a moment he realized what a good idea it was.

“As I added up the potency of Fox network, I thought, ‘There’s the most brilliant idea I’ve ever heard, to put ‘Cosmos’ into that fulcrum,’” Tyson said. “I wouldn’t have said that a couple of years ago, but as my Twitter following grew, I saw the appetite of people. I don’t tweet about what I have for breakfast, I tweet the universe, and every day I look at my numbers and I say ‘This has a hungry grass-roots following.’”

MacFarlane agrees, and is excited to see the project come to life. Asked if he’s using “Cosmos” to balance out the questionable material he puts into the world via criticized shows like “Dads,” MacFarlane quipped, “I submit that the question is flawed.”

“We have differing opinions about certain things,” he continued. “I get myself involved with shows and people who I’m enthusiastic about and who I trust. Ann and Neil and the others –- these are great people I want to work with. It’s not a matter of balance in my mind because I don’t see it that way.”


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