A 10-network simulcast. A 10-city premiere screening event with live-streamed Q&A, plus media-tour stops in London, Sydney, Singapore and Mexico City. Extensive outreach to high schools and middle schools. And now President Obama has joined Fox’s marketing blitz for the Seth MacFarlane-spearheaded docu-series “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.”
Obama has recorded a special video introduction to the series, which bows Sunday at 9 p.m. on Fox and nine other Fox Networks Group outlets. The 13-episode skein will also air nearly simultaneously on dozens of Fox and National Geographic TV-branded channels across Europe, Latin America, Asia and Australia.
Fox has treated “Cosmos” as if it were a sequel to “Avatar,” with a global promotional campaign that has been building for months. MacFarlane wields a lot of clout on the Fox lot thanks to the success of “Family Guy” and his other animated properties, but the resources devoted to “Cosmos” still represent a remarkable commitment to a series that is unlikely to be a broad-based commercial smash.
MacFarlane’s zeal to produce an update to the famed 1980 PBS series hosted by astronomer Carl Sagan was motivated in part by his concern about the growing level of science illiteracy among American youth. He and “Cosmos” exec producers Ann Druyan (who is Sagan’s widow) and Brannon Braga sought to bring a storyteller’s sense of drama to engaging viewers on the inherent wonder that comes from the study of physics, astronomy and the natural world.
The hope is that the steady drumbeat of marketing translates to an aud that is beyond the “Nova” demo, as Fox, FX, National Geographic TV and others are giving up valuable Sunday primetime real estate for 13 weeks during the regular season.
“There’s no more compelling story than that of humanity and how we discover our place in this world, and in the universe,” said Joe Earley, chief operating officer of Fox Broadcasting Co. ” ‘Cosmos’ will be phenomenally entertaining on many levels, but it also has the potential to ignite curiosity and action across generations, and to have a lasting impact beyond the broadcast. That’s why we put the global promotional support of the Fox and National Geographic networks behind it.”
Fox has put a heavy emphasis on partnering with education orgs to spread the word about the series in the nation’s classrooms. The network has teamed with non-profit org Science Olympiad to distribute supplemental educational materials to classrooms tied to each episode. The White House hosted a preview of the first seg last week as part of its inaugural White House Student Film Festival. National Geographic Channels also hosted a preview screening in D.C. last week as part of a reception for 100 winners of math and science teaching awards.
“Cosmos” host Neil deGrasse Tyson (pictured), an astrophysicist who was inspired as a teenager by a meeting with Sagan, is also working overtime right up through Sunday’s launch. He’s in Austin this weekend at the SXSW festival delivering a keynote address on Saturday as well as hosting screening and Q&A session.