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The imaginary extraterrestrial light ship departs our solar system. Photo/Supplied

Possible Worlds: Cosmos creator Ann Druyan on her vision of a hopeful future

Ann Druyan created TV series Cosmos with her husband, Carl Sagan. Now, with the help of Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane, she’s back with more wonders.

American science communicator Ann Druyan famously created the 1980 series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage and the movie Contact with her husband, Carl Sagan. She was creative director of the Voyager Golden Records – two phonograph records that were included aboard both Voyager spacecrafts launched in 1977 – which contain a recording of her brain waves, and has been an advocate for nuclear disarmament and marijuana law reform. In 2014, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the sequel to Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, screened in 180 countries. Now, Cosmos: Possible Worlds has arrived on National Geographic.

What does Possible Worlds mean as the theme of this season?

Well, here we are at a moment when we are discovering worlds throughout the galaxy and really having these astonishing scientific accomplishments and at the same time poised on the edge of a climate disaster, which will result in horrendous hardships for our children and our grandchildren. So, Possible Worlds is a vision of a hopeful future, the one that we can still have if we awaken from our sleepwalking and begin to act on what the scientists have been telling us for more than 50 years. Their predictive power was astonishing and yet there are still so many people who are in denial. My theory is that you can’t just tell people that we’re all going to hell in a hand-basket; you have to have a vision of the future that’s worth working for.

Ann Druyan. Photo/Getty Images

How easy or difficult is it to keep your husband’s legacy alive and part of the new series?

It’s not the least bit difficult. I feel that he’s more beloved and revered than ever before. We created the original series together, and when you’re lucky enough to be with someone that wonderful for 20 years, you not only have your own voice in your head, but you have his, too. I found it the opposite of hard; it was for me a completely thrilling and joyful experience. We told only a handful of stories in the original series, but since that time I’ve discovered so many more that I wanted to tell. If you were to distil the theme of all three seasons of Cosmos, it would be that science reveals a spectacular universe.

There’s a lot of disinformation now. Does it feel as if the US, especially, needs reminding what has been discovered through science?

Yes. What’s happened, and this is not just in the past three years but during a longer period of time, is there has been a kind-of undeclared war on science. A leader will say “nucular” as a way of proclaiming their ignorance about science as if that’s a badge of honour. The funding is cut for government agencies that depend on science, so that’s very distressing. Also, we need to be reminded of what the standards of evidence are and that it matters what’s true – not any absolute truth, science can’t do that – because we are so used to being lied to every single day so chronically that it wears you down. But nature will not be deceived. We can tell ourselves anything we want to hear, but the fact is that nature will behave according to its laws. Science is our attempt at understanding what those laws are.

Seth MacFarlane. Photo/Getty Images

On the surface, Family Guy creator and executive producer Seth MacFarlane doesn’t seem the kind of guy who would be interested in making a science series. Can you tell me about his importance to the programmes?

Without Seth MacFarlane, there would never have been a Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey or a Cosmos: Possible Worlds. For, I guess, five years, I was going from network to network trying to persuade them to do a new season of Cosmos and every single network said yes, because I think they saw it as a prestige project, but they wouldn’t give me creative control and they wouldn’t give me enough money. It wasn’t until I had dinner with Seth, who was a big fan of the original series, and he said, “I’m going to take you to Peter Rice”, who was then head of Fox Television. Many people in Hollywood make promises at dinner parties, but Seth actually kept every single promise.

Do you feel a sense of satisfaction and perhaps vindication that you have shown there is a public appetite for science stories?

I don’t feel vindicated so much as I feel really lucky, because I am a 70-year-old woman who was born into a world where I didn’t even get to finish a sentence. I was dismissed, as so many of us have been, so for me, one of the wellsprings of the hope I feel about the world and the future is the fact that here I am leading nearly 1000 people and doing what I believe in most. It’s almost on a biological level, that kind of change, and if that can happen, then I really believe we can get our act together about the climate catastrophe as well.

Are you planning another series?

Yes, I have a vision of a new series; my collaborator on seasons two and three, Brannon Braga, and I have been talking. I hope I get to do it; I’m raring to go, because there are still so many stories to tell.

COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS, National Geographic, Sky 072, Monday, 8.30pm.

This article was first published in the March 21, 2020 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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