The dashing and eloquent Neil deGrasse Tyson is the rock star of science.
Stepping into the formidable shoes of his mentor, the late Carl Sagan, the astrophysicist has taken the American viewing public on a ride through the Cosmos. The reboot of Sagan’s popular 1980 PBS series was seen across the National Geographic Channel, eight Fox cable channels and Fox broadcast network. When it debuted in March for its 13-week run, Cosmos claimed more than 8.5 million viewers, with about 5.8 million viewers on Fox broadcast alone.
Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, knew the public had an appetite for science, based on his growing Twitter following.
“I don’t tweet where I’m going or what I have for breakfast. I tweet the universe,” says Tyson, 55, in his deep baritone. “That has attracted an interest I didn’t know was there. Something I didn’t expect. Every morning I wake up and I would look at the numbers and I would say this is a hungry grassroots public that desires more.”
Comedian Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy, is an executive producer of the new Cosmos. He compares the need for science heroes to the need for good guys in the Wild West. “You kind of long for a little bit of Gary Cooper walking down the street saying, ‘Hey, I just got married, but now I’ve got to get rid of this bad guy.’ And Neil is a great person to kind of help fill that void.”
Tyson admits it’s weird for a scientist to rise to celebrity status. He says it was a big transition to have strangers coming up to him on the street to talk about scientific breakthroughs or black holes.
“I’m just feeding their hunger,” Tyson says. “Because at the end of the day, I’m just a conduit for their access to the universe. I’m not their destination.”