In 2014, FOX and the National Geographic Channel made the bold and unprecedented decision to put a show dedicated to science on primetime television. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey would reboot Carl Sagan’s landmark PBS series from 1980, with renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson filling Sagan’s shoes. With awe-inspiring, state-of-the-art digital effects, and updated to reflect the major discoveries of the last 30 years, the new Cosmos would guide viewers through all the mysteries and grandeur of the universe. It premiered with the largest global launch in television history, across 181 countries and nearly 50 languages, and with a special introduction by President Obama, making Cosmos an instant hit – with 135 million viewers tuning in over the course of the series.
FOX started working on the series in 2011 after Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane signed on as an executive producer. The project had already been underway for several years, with Sagan’s widow and show creator Ann Druyan and writer Steven Soter, who both worked on the original Cosmos, leading the effort. MacFarlane cited the potential cultural impact of the series as a key reason he became involved: “Never more than at this moment in the modern era have we needed a profound reminder of the colossally important and exciting role that science, space exploration, and the human quest for knowledge must continue to play in our development as a species.” Peter Rice, Chairman and CEO of Fox Networks Group, echoed the sentiment in a statement about the launch: “Cosmos is the kind of rich, epic storytelling that we hope will not only be phenomenal entertainment, but also ignite curiosity and move a generation to take a deeper interest in science and the larger world from which we come.”
Cosmos takes complex scientific subjects, from the Big Bang and evolution to black holes and climate change, and turns them into captivating stories with exhilarating visual effects, accessible to people of all ages and education levels. To throw its support behind the show and expand its reach to as many viewers as possible, 21st Century Fox organized the largest global launch in television history. Cosmos premiered on March 9, 2014, across ten 21st Century Fox channels, including FOX, the National Geographic Channel, FX, FXX, FXM, FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports 2, Nat Geo Wild, Nat Geo Mundo, and FOX Life, and it was simulcast on 220 Fox International Channels in 181 countries and in nearly 50 languages, reaching 440 million households. Through partnerships with the White House and educational groups, the show’s valuable lessons were taken off-air and into the community.
Before the series even premiered, it had already begun to educate the scientists of tomorrow. The first episode was screened at the White House Student Film Festival, which encouraged the use of technology in the classroom. Neil deGrasse Tyson was on hand to congratulate the student filmmakers, who submitted short movies on the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects. In addition, National Geographic Channel hosted 100 teachers in Washington, D.C. – winners of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) – for a sneak peek at Cosmos in February. The educators represented all 50 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico. President Obama also hosted a reception honoring their commitment to excellence in education, and he introduced the series on FOX in a short video on the night it premiered, telling young viewers, “The next great discovery could be yours.” View the video below:
The Cosmos team wanted to ensure the widest possible access to the subject matter presented on show, inspiring a new generation with the wonders of science and a deeper appreciation for planet. To that end, as the series aired, in-depth study guides for each episode were posted on CosmosOnTV.com to be used in classrooms around the world.
But perhaps most inspiring was the outpouring of support and passion from viewers. Fans young and old were thrilled to see science on primetime, selling out screenings and events globally, and proving there is in fact a large, engaged, and vibrant audience for compelling science-based entertainment.