Executive producer Seth MacFarlane attends the premiere of Fox's… (Jason Kempin / Getty Images )
"Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey," is a 21st-century reboot of the groundbreaking 1980 PBS series "Cosmos: A Personal Voyage." The original, hosted by renowned astronomer Carl Sagan, was a top-rated phenomenon that has been viewed by some 750 million people around the world. Executive producer Seth MacFarlane hopes the new version will prove just as popular, and help remedy what he sees as a growing problem of scientific illiteracy. We talked to the "Family Guy" creator about the series, his interest in science, and what he thinks we need to do to get back on track.
How did you get involved in "Cosmos"?
I had met [host] Neil [deGrasse Tyson] through Jerry Zucker’s Science and Entertainment Exchange. I was crossing paths with him at their events and I always thought to myself, I have a connection there to the scientific community and things are going well financially and I wanted to see what I could do to throw some of this extra money around in a positive way. Science is, in many ways, more and more underfunded. I was thinking in terms of research projects, I asked him if there were any research projects that need funding in any field of science. And he said, "Well, not off hand but one thing that may need some help is we’re trying to get 'Cosmos' rebooted."
WATCH: 'Cosmos' Q&A with Neil deGrasse Tyson, Seth MacFarlane
At the time I had the questionable idea of bringing it to Fox. The regime that’s at Fox now, Peter Rice and Kevin Reilly, is a particularly open-minded, creative-thinking regime. I thought if anybody was going to respond to this idea, it would be them. I took Neil and Ann Druyan to meet with them and sure enough they did it. I understand their thinking was this is just out of the box and unprecedented enough and crazy enough to be something we wanted to do. The show itself does have a legacy and has a history, but part of it was two network executives thinking in a way that not enough network executives think anymore. With Brandon Tartikoff gone there aren’t that many people left. I don’t think it had anything to do with the fact that I was passionate about it. I think they were interested themselves.
So you think even if you hadn’t been involved, Fox would have been excited about it?
I do. I think I maybe helped them get the meeting a little quicker. I do think that if somebody else brought them this pitch they would have responded. They’re unusual guys and it’s one of the reasons that I’ve stayed there as long as I have.
The perception is that it's risky for a broadcast network like Fox to broadcast a documentary series in prime time.
Absolutely. Reilly’s a guy who thrived on risky over at NBC and it worked well for him, Peter Rice is a guy who thrived on risky over at Fox Searchlight. They’re not afraid to take risks and it pays off for them much more often than not. Even now, with the simulcast launch where they’re broadcasting the premiere on all the Fox channels, they’re showing us again that they’re in this for the long haul. They like the risk factor and in TV now that is what pays off, it’s always interesting to me that so few networks are into taking risks like this and I hope for the sake of “Cosmos” that it pays off, but I also hope for their sake their gamble pays off.
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When "Cosmos" was announced, many people were surprised by your involvement.
"Family Guy" is a show that dabbles in science fiction now and then. To fans of the show I don’t think it’s that surprising, animation and science, there’s always been some sort of crossover in those two worlds of nerddom. Certainly I think to the press it was somewhat surprising, they sort of have their preconceived notions of what it is that I do. I’ve read many reviews of "Family Guy" and other things that I’ve done by people who sound conspicuously like they’re just hearing about it from their buddies and maybe they’re not actually doing the work. It’s not surprising that that would be something that would raise some eyebrows to those people.