The following is a special feature from our Los Angeles correspondent, Jennifer DeBaun, as part of our new "In Random News" segment.
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (a continuation of the 1980 Carl Sagan program Cosmos: A Personal Voyage) is a show on Fox that explores the big questions of the universe and strives to make the even most complex scientific concepts accessible to the average viewer. Meeting widespread success, Cosmos was honored with a celebration at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills on Sunday, August 3rd.
Interviewing on the red carpet, the first person I spoke with was Ann Druyan, the executive producer, writer, and director of Cosmos. She is also the widow of the late Carl Sagan. When speaking with Druyan, it’s impossible not to notice how warm and caring this woman is. She looked so touched and overjoyed that the continuation of her and her husband’s work had been so well received. Her pride in the TV show’s success was evident as I asked her questions such as:
Q: What is it like to have Cosmos be so well-received?
A: “It’s like a dream that I can’t wrap my head around. I’ve spent seven years worrying that we wouldn't measure up to what we had done before in the first series. Or that it just wouldn't be as a good as I needed it to be to be worthy of the original series. The fact that it’s been so embraced is the greatest thrill for me, and I just can’t believe it’s done. But I’m just thrilled, so happy.”
Q: What are the future plans of Cosmos? A season two maybe?
A: “There are some plans for some other projects at this time. And, you know, I think Cosmos is an event. So I think we may need just a little bit of time, so we can do something as fully-realized and thought out as this new series.”
Q: What should the modern viewer take away from Cosmos?
A: “Two things: that the romance of life in this universe is something that is a birthright…and that pale blue dot is small and tiny in that context and fragile. And it’s the only home we have, so we better get our act together because there’s a great universe of wonders awaiting us.”
Next, I spoke with Neil DeGrasse Tyson, a world-renowned astrophysicist, science communicator, and author. He is also the host of Cosmos. Tyson comes across as a genial, comical man whose eyes sparkle with fierce intelligence. His passion for science and educating the public was captivating as I asked him the following questions (full interview is below):
Q: I’ve seen a few episodes of Cosmos, and I’ve absolutely loved it. What was it like filming the show? I know there were many special effects involved like the Spaceship of Imagination and the Cosmic Calendar.
A: “So it was like 7 or 8 countries and 70 locations, and that’s not even the in-studio green screen with all of the ship. The ship was one location in Santa Fe. We built a—not a working model of the ship—actually we built a working model! It’s in a warehouse in Area 51!” Tyson laughs sarcastically and continues, “That was for me the most fun part because the director would tell me, ‘the Sun is out that way, and the galaxy is out that way.’ Then I would get these images in my head because—you know—I studied them. It was fun creating the universe in my head and then talking about it even when it wasn’t there.”
Q: Are the visual effects completely accurate or more artistic for cinematic appeal?
A: “The entire project is fully informed with real astronomical data, and so where the art comes in is, ok, here’s the solar system. What path do we want to take through that? This kind of thinking…is what the artist does. Now there were some scenes where we were inside a dewdrop and no one’s been inside of a spaceship inside of a dewdrop. But it was based on electron microscope photos that gets rendered into motion for the show. So it’s all scientifically informed.”
Cosmos’ story-driven format, captivating visual effects, and brilliant musical score are just a few of the numerous reasons for it’s incredible success. The quality of this show is more akin to a major motion picture than a television program. With a staggering 12 Emmy nominations, Cosmos is sure to rack in the accolades on August 25th.
No one can deny that Cosmos has fulfilled its goal to educate the public. Druyan’s decision, with the help of executive producer Seth MacFarlane, to air Cosmos on Fox and National Geographic resulted in the creation of a huge audience in 181 countries. This massive exposure has spread Cosmos’ message that “science still matters” across the globe. There is no doubt that the late Carl Sagan would be proud of Cosmos’ achievements.
By combining science and entertainment, Cosmos has brought science back into the public’s attention, and who knows? Maybe Cosmos will facilitate the birth of a new, well-informed public.