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‘Cosmos’ will return to television in 2019, countering alternative facts with science

Alan Boyle
"Cosmos" graphic
The Ship of the Imagination is getting ready to set sail again in “Cosmos: Possible Worlds,” due to air on Fox and National Geographic in the spring of 2019. (Fox via YouTube)

Like hope, “Cosmos” springs eternal.

That’s the message Ann Druyan is delivering with the news that “Cosmos,” the science-minded TV show pioneered by her late husband, world-renowned physicist Carl Sagan, is returning to Fox and National Geographic in the spring of 2019.

“I would love for this show to be a kind of initiation experience for as many people around the world as possible, into the awesome power of science as a way to keep us from lying to each other, and lying to ourselves,” she told reporters today during a teleconference.

“We are primates, and we lie,” said Druyan, who serves as the show’s executive producer, co-writer and director. “We lie to everyone, each one of us. We’re all guilty of this — some more than others, I have to say. … Science not only can keep us honest, but it can be a means for us to meet these horrendous, very grave challenges that we’re facing.”

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Back in 1980, the original “Cosmos” laid out the scientific adventure in terms that captivated prime-time TV audiences. The show used such constructs as the Ship of the Imagination, which took Sagan to the frontiers of the universe, and the Cosmic Calendar, in which all of human history is encapsulated in the final few minutes of a “calendar year” starting with the Big Bang.

Sagan died in 1996 at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, but “Cosmos” was revived in 2014 with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson as host. Druyan, who shared in the writing duties for the original series, has been the guiding light for the revival as well.

With backing from executive producer Seth MacFarlane (best-known for “The Family Guy”), the “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” won an Emmy and a Peabody Award — as well as respectable TV ratings and the go-ahead for the upcoming 13-episode season, with Tyson returning as host.

During today’s announcement, timed to coincide with the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour, Druyan characterized “Cosmos: Possible Worlds” as the series’ third season. She’s also writing a companion book that will be published by National Geographic.

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Druyan said “Possible Worlds” will bring back the ship and the calendar, as well as the Halls of Extinction that were introduced in 2014, but there’ll be new ways to visualize the sweep of science — including a plot device called the “Maw of Eternity.”

Like the 2014 episodes, the show will tell tales about history’s heroes of science, but there’ll also be fanciful projections of how humanity’s future could turn out. This new “Cosmos” will also touch on scientific advances that have been made since 2014, such as discoveries of red-dwarf planets and the Nobel-winning detection of gravitational waves.

Sagan’s “Cosmos” didn’t shy away from taking on politically controversial topics, such as climate change and nuclear weapons; neither will this new “Cosmos.” Although Druyan didn’t name names, she decried the cynicism and anti-science attitudes that have become more prevalent in recent years.

What would Carl do?

“I think that, every day, when I read the newspaper,” Druyan told GeekWire. “My answer most days, especially in the last year, is that he would start crying.”

But Sagan wouldn’t wallow in tears. Druyan says he’d do what she and the rest of the “Cosmos” team are doing: Infuse the stories of science with a fresh sense of wonder, and show how the scientific method serves as the best truth-finding process ever devised.

“I’m all for skepticism, and I think that we need equal parts of skepticism and wonder, never one at the expense of the other,” Druyan said. “But ‘alternative facts’ is not a scientific concept. It’s like we’re in a free fall, really, spiritually and intellectually — in that the standards of evidence, and the shamefulness in dissembling and lying, simply seem to be gone.”

The way Druyan sees it, the fight for truth is never finished. “The battles won in one generation, you have to refight again and again,” she said. And the scientific method, as celebrated in “Cosmos,” lays out a winning strategy.

For that reason, Druyan doesn’t view “Cosmos” as an odyssey that ends after one season, or even three.

“I think we could do ‘Cosmos’ forever and never run out of stories and new adventures,” she said.

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