ITHACA, NY — Seth McFarlane and Carl Sagan. Associating those two names may confuse folks familiar with the works of both men. McFarlane's Emmy Award-winning TV show "Family Guy" is an often brilliant but equally crude and over-the-top examination of popular culture, while the late Sagan was a world-renowned and respected astronomer.
Yet the two now share a place in TV history, as McFarlane is part of a team reviving Sagan's “Cosmos” television legacy and dusting it off for a new generation. The series will air on the Fox Network and National Geographic Channel.
The goal for the new iteration of the show is the same as Sagan's: make complex ideas accessible to a wide audience and nurture an interest in science. Another aim is to spur young viewers to pursue an education in the sciences, just as the original program did for Luke Keller, chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Ithaca College.
Keller, an associate professor of physics, has research interests in astrophysics, optics and physics education. He maintains research programs in imaging and spectroscopic instrumentation and in the astrophysics of star formation and planetary system formation. In addition to teaching and researching, Keller is a member of a team of scientists and engineers who produced an infrared camera for NASA’s new airborne Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).
An avid viewer of the original "Cosmos: A Personal Voyage,” Keller credits both the show and Sagan himself as significant influences to his personal and professional achievements. He thinks the new version, titled “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” and hosted by famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, will serve the same benefit.
"I think Cosmos will attract a younger generation since similar projects with Tyson have been popular. He is a dynamic presenter in any venue," Keller said. "McFarlane's association can only improve viewership and engagement of the public since he is well known as a producer of excellent and popular television.”
Sagan’s original 13-episode series aired on the Public Broadcasting System in 1980 and explored the universe and the history of scientific discovery. Topics included the origin of life, space exploration and the danger of mankind’s self-destruction from our own technology. As host and narrator, Sagan spoke in terms understandable to a broad audience and helped make the program the most widely watched series of its time.
Tyson, known for his gift of explaining complicated ideas in simple terms, will attempt to reinvent certain celebrated elements of the original. Fox hopes the successor will have the same cultural impact the original series delivered, and IC’s Keller agrees that’s a good thing.
"Any mass media production that accurately describes the scientific process as a human activity, communicates excitement for the subject matter and demonstrates accessibility of the subject to anyone who is interested is a huge and positive service to society," he said.
The new version, developed in collaboration with Sagan’s widow Ann Druyan and astronomer Steven Soter — who both worked on the original series as well -- premiered on Sunday, March 9, and is billed as the first-ever simultaneous cross-network event. It debuted across 10 of the 21st Century Fox networks: Fox, National Geographic, FX, FXX, FXM, Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, Nat Geo Wild, Nat Geo Mundo and Fox Life.
From day one, Ithaca College prepares students for personal and professional success through hands-on experience with internships, research and study abroad. Its integrative curriculum builds bridges across disciplines and uniquely blends liberal arts and professional study. Located in New York’s Finger Lakes region, the College is home to 6,100 undergraduate and 400 graduate students and offers over 100 degree programs in its schools of Business, Communications, Humanities and Sciences, Health Science and Human Performance, and Music.