March 12, 2014 7:10 pm

The Best Thing About Watching COSMOS


Photo of Carl Sagan's autographed book for Neil deGrasse Tyson

“For Neil Tyson, With all good wishes to a future astronomer, Carl Sagan”

Confession: I didn’t watch COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey on Sunday night when millions of people around the world did.

That’s because I promised my 9-year-old daughter that we would watch it together as a family, and we didn’t get that opportunity until Tuesday night. You see, my daughter is a big fan of Neil’s, and ever since she got the chance to meet him in his office at the Hayden Planetarium (where he signed a book for her), she’s been anxious to watch him on TV.

So last night, while my daughter watched the screen and oohed and aahed, I watched my daughter. Sure, I watched the show, too, but I can always watch that again on demand. But how many times do I get to watch the lights go on in my daughter’s brain as she watches COSMOS for the first time?

My parents never got that chance. I was off in college when Carl Sagan’s original series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, ran in 1980, and I watched it alone, in my dorm room, hundreds of miles from my parents at home. And while I enjoyed the series, it didn’t change my life. I was dead set on becoming a rich, powerful corporate lawyer, and nothing as non-commercial as science had any shot of distracting me.

But that was just me. There are many scientists out there who decided to become scientists after watching Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, or hearing Carl Sagan on Johnny Carson, or reading his books. Carl evangelized science, and he inspired a generation.

At one point during the show, my daughter asked me if my name would be on the credits for COSMOS, and I had to clarify to her that I only worked with Neil on StarTalk Radio, not COSMOS. But she thought that was still cool. (Whew!)

Which brings me to the point of this blog post. Believe it or not, this post isn’t about COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey. It’s about our show, StarTalk Radio, and the other science shows out there that, for the moment, may be worried that they’ll be obscured by the blazing network TV star that is COSMOS on FOX. (In other words, listen up, Science Friday and RadioLab and The Infinite Monkey Cage and The Skeptics Guide to the Universe and Astronomy Cast and… okay, enough already, this is starting to sound like an Academy Awards thank you speech.)

COSMOS is our friend. COSMOS is important. COSMOS is a gateway drug. COSMOS will awaken a desire to learn, to explore, and to do science among kids who will need to feed that hunger. And when they’re hungry, and COSMOS isn’t there, they’ll turn to all of us to feed their brains. That’s the gift Carl Sagan gave us all with the first COSMOS, and that’s the gift the new COSMOS offers us as well.

Remember the disconnect we all felt when we heard that the new COSMOS was going to be on FOX? Now, we can take comfort that it is on FOX, and it will reach an audience it might never have reached were it on PBS, like Carl’s was.

So, what was the best thing about watching COSMOS for me?

It happened at the end, when Neil was talking about how he met Carl Sagan. My daughter turned to me and said, “It’s weird. When Neil met Carl Sagan, he decided he wanted to become a scientist. And when I met Neil, I decided I wanted to become a scientist. And maybe someday when somebody meets me, they’ll want to be a scientist too.”

That’s what I’ll remember most about the premier of COSMOS.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!

–Jeffrey Simons

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