Seth MacFarlane is a respected name in Hollywood, whether in the realms of television or film. The creator of Family Guy, while also involved with American Dad!, The Cleveland Show and Dads, he made his feature film debut with Ted. Now he has ventured into uncharted territory as the executive producer on Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Debashine Thangevelo found out more about MacFarlane rekindling the legacy of the Emmy and Peabody award-winning series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, from three decades ago.
AT 40, Seth MacFarlane’s résumé is remarkable. He’s been flexing his creative muscle as an actor, animator, writer, producer, director and singer for years. His latest undertaking is Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.
The 13-part series, featuring writer, executive producer and director, Ann Druyan, and co-writer and astronomer, Steven Soter, looks at the grandeur of the universe, while also bridging the divide between scepticism and fact with scientific evidence.
It is touted as presenting “profound scientific concepts” and weaving science with the “spiritual into a transcendent experience”.
MacFarlane’s interest in the series dates back to his childhood.
He recalls: “I have always been a fan of Cosmos. I saw it as a child, and then, when I was in high school, I saw it again and processed it in even more depth and was always a fan.
“And I met Neil (deGrasse Tyson, presenter of the new Cosmos) through an organisation Jerry and Janet Zucker put together called the Science & Entertainment Exchange and found out he was working with Ann on doing a new Cosmos.
“I said while National Geographic and Discovery Channel were some of the places it was considered to be pitched to, and are great networks, in a way you’re sort of preaching to the converted, and wouldn’t it be nice to broaden it a little bit more?
“And I thought there was a strong possibility that this particular regime at Fox, as creative and open-minded as they are, would be receptive to the idea of doing the show on a network, and sure enough, they were. And the rest brought us here.”
MacFarlane says while the new series is in keeping with the spirit of the original, the treatment of it extends beyond the blueprint of a traditional documentary.
He explains: “It is more a journey and certainly educational, but it plays with the flavour, we hope, of a feature film of sorts.
“I found (Fox executives) Kevin Reilly and Peter Rice very receptive and very open-minded to this because it was different. Because it was a sort of adventurous road to venture on to.”
Conversation then steers to his comedy, Dads, on Fox, which has reaped much criticism for being perceived as “sexist and racist”.
MacFarlane points out: “I do… get myself involved with shows and people I’m enthusiastic about and whom I trust.
“(Alec) Sulkin and (Wellesley) Wild, whom I wrote Ted with, are two of the funniest comedy writers I have ever worked with, so it made sense to do a show with them.
“For me, it was a great move. And you know, again, Ann and Neil and Tyson and Brannon (Braga) and Mitchell (Cannold, both executive producers), again, these are great people I wanted to work with.”
Back to Cosmos and how much computer-generated imagery (CGI) is exploited in the series, MacFarlane reveals: “There’s a mix. You know, one of the things I loved about the original Cosmos was the variety of media that was used in the context of even a single episode. I mean, the different types of animation alone, you had cell animation, simple line drawings, coloured pencil shots... There are a lot of different looks, and it’s very much a visual feast throughout. And that was something we wanted to recapture and to use some of the newer technologies. So you will see that same degree of, we hope, sumptuousness in the visuals throughout the series.
“There is an enormous amount of visual effects work of CGI. There is an enormous amount of practical shooting with Neil. He went to all of these different countries. And there is an animation component that my producer for Family Guy, Kara Vallow, set up, where it is again our way to kind of bring the historical sequences into the new millennium, and it really is its own style. They have really done a great job of creating something that is visually lyrical in its own way and doesn’t feel like television animation yet still succeeds in a narrative sense.
“So I think you are going to see a lot of that same degree of variety we remember from the original.”
From fan to film-maker, MacFarlane is clearly hell-bent on recapturing the magnetism of the series. Let’s hope, he mirrors its award-winning streak too; especially as it is offered on multiple platforms on the small screen.
• Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey airs on National Geographic Channel (DStv channel 181) and Fox (DStv channel 125) on Sunday at 7.10pm, with another on Nat Geo Wild (DStv channel 182) at 11pm.