I’m in Chicago at the Adler Planetarium where I’m meeting Ann Druyan, the writer, producer and director of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the new Fox miniseries hit that is set to make television history. This was one of the 10 US venues where Cosmos premiered in March 2014, in what has been described as the largest premiere for a television series in history.
The new 13-part miniseries is a follow-up to the 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which Ann co-wrote with her late husband Carl Sagan and which is still considered a milestone for scientific documentaries. The new series loosely follows the same 13-episode format and storytelling approach that the original Cosmos used, but features information updated since the 1980 series along with extensive computer-generated graphics and animation footage to augment the narration.
I ask Ann what motivated her to bring back Cosmos 34 years after the original documentary was aired and why she did it now.
“Well, first of all it’s a completely different series, Steve Soter and I wrote 13 new hours of incredible material,” she says. “And while it builds on some elements of the original and certainly drops its hat to Carl in many ways, it is a completely new series.
“And why we felt this was the time for it? Because we’re coming out of a period of intense antagonism to science and we all thought that it was time to make the case for science and make it in such a way that people would be at the edge of their seat the whole time.”
“Do you think there is a growing demand for science-themed content?”
“Absolutely,” says Ann. “Science is taught so poorly, it’s such a gruelling and horrendous experience in school that our curiosity – which is completely natural – is beat out of us. We feel that Cosmos is an opening, an aperture to the excitement that science can offer.”
“So how do you create that sense of excitement around something that is essentially incredibly abstract and dry science?”
“By telling stories,” say Ann with a smile. “I believe that we are a story-driven species. I’m not a scientist, I was not a good science student, I felt effectively alienated from science throughout my young life, and it was only when I became an adult that I began to really appreciate from a completely different angle the power of science.
“That’s why I felt that Cosmos had to be completely story-driven because I think science has a better story to tell than anyone else has been able to tell and that’s because it’s based on the rigorous winnowing that science and scientists are always doing in order to find out what’s really happening.
“People question whether nature is compelling enough, whether real life is compelling enough, but I think nature writes the best stories of all, and that’s why I think emotional reaction to Cosmos is so powerful.”
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