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Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey, a reboot of Carl Sagan’s popular science series, premiered last night and the numbers are not looking fantastic. Astrophysicist, and science advocate, Neil deGrasse Tyson took over hosting duties for the new series. While his deep timbre can expertly deliver the classic ‘billions and billions” line from the original program, with 5.8 million viewers on Fox the resulting viewership is less than stellar.
But is this really an issue at all? OK, I’ll grant that Fox is a business that is interested in the Nielsen ratings. In this case though, I’m not sure that subpar numbers in primetime on a Sunday night for a wildly science heavy program is a reason to call the series a failure. The worrisome thing is that people seemed interested, it was promoted heavily including a Super Bowl ad, and yet according to The Los Angeles Times the numbers didn’t show up. Is Cosmos incapable of doing what it intended, and therefore a waste of time?
Not at all. Sure, a prime spot following Family Guy on Fox should have sold the show with a great lead in. But it’s not exactly like Seth MacFarlane’s flagship show is a mega-ratings grabber. Not only that, but many of us who are interested in Cosmos as science fans have numerous outlets to turn to for our interstellar voyage. Most Fox channels are carrying the series, including FX and FXX. Not to mention the follow up event this evening on National Geographic Channel. Add to the distribution the millions around the world who will be watching the premiere of the series as the week rolls on in their respective countries, and you notice that the viewership is fragmented. Perhaps the numbers were expected to be larger on the network broadcast, but the true overall numbers will be high enough.
Just because Fox may get all upset about the numbers, doesn’t mean that producers Ann Druyan and Seth MacFarlane see what they’ve made as a failure. In fact, the premiere episode is an engaging and wonderful recapturing of Sagan’s spirit. Tyson is the modern Sagan, with all of the passion and charisma needed to speak on science’s behalf. Cosmos is about science, and while the series premiere landed in third place in its 9pm time slot you have to remember that this is a show that is meant to be rewatched. In a world that is reliant on DVR watching for even the most average of television viewers, the potential for Cosmos to attain a similar status as the original still exists.
One final note of hope. Perhaps - and this has the scent of wishful thinking - Fox is OK with mediocre numbers because what they agreed to do is beyond making money on a series. It’s possible that there’s a suit somewhere in the Fox offices who believes in what Sagan created, and what is being produced now. What really matters, no matter how you spin the numbers from last night’s premiere, is that a new generation will have their very own Cosmos to turn to when someone asks what could possibly be so interesting about all that empty space.