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April 29, 2020

Guide to the Galaxies

The creator of Nat Geo’s newest Cosmos wants to take you on a cosmic trip.

Paula Chin
  • Ann Druyan with (from left) fellow executive producer Brannon Braga, coproducer Sam Sagan and production coordinator Lennard Ortmann

    Dan Smith

In one of Ann Druyan's favorite segments of Cosmos: Possible Worlds, a group of humans living in distant galaxies is captured via telescope expressing their love in a host of languages for the home planet they have never visited, saying a heartfelt thank you to Mother Earth.

This poignant, positive vision of the future — which Druyan says is technically feasible — is very much the point of season three of the acclaimed science series, now airing on National Geographic (and scheduled to re-air this summer on Fox).

"The danger we pose to the planet is very real, but it's not the time for lectures or harangues," says Druyan, who serves as creator, executive producer, writer and director.

"The most powerful tool to get people to act is to show them the grandeur of the galaxies. In Cosmos, we imagine the future we can still have — and we hope to inspire people to work for it."

Druyan cowrote the original 1980 series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage with her late husband, astronomer Carl Sagan, then won an Emmy for the 2014 follow- up, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.

She says the new 13-part series is "our boldest yet"; it fuses VFX, animations, holograms and stylized reenactments to transport viewers across some 14 billion years of cosmic evolution.*

"We take you to the most intimate realms of the universe — the ones inside us, as well as the consciousness of other life forms — and to the exotic worlds of distant stars and galaxies," she explains.

"We tell the stories of the little-known researchers who have given us our limited understanding of nature and the cosmos. They're our unsung heroes, and I'm lost in admiration for them."

She feels the same about astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who returns as host. "His performance is absolutely riveting, even stronger than in season two. He has a real ability to connect with the audience."

The noteworthy corps of voice actors includes Star Trek's Patrick Stewart and Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, who doubles as executive producer.

"Seth is serious about communicating the power of science and awakening citizens to the challenges we now face," she says. "Of course, he's also the funniest guy in the room."

Druyan and Sagan's daughter, Sasha, plays her own grandmother, Rachel Gruber Sagan.

"We were thinking of how we could bring Carl to life as a boy, so we have him in his little Brooklyn apartment showing Rachel all of his drawings of interstellar flight, which are now in the Library of Congress. Those pictures show us his dreams, and who he would become."

With Possible Worlds, which is rolling out in 172 countries, "Our dream is to help people take science to heart," Druyan says. "That means not just seeing it as a compartmentalized jumble of amazing facts, but experiencing the soaring, spiritual uplift that comes with seeing the ancient continuity of life and the preciousness of it all.

"And hopefully, that makes us feel a greater responsibility to be the strong link in this chain of generations."


*For more on the special effects in Cosmos: Possible Worlds, click here.


This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 2, 2020

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