March 6, 2014 at 10:03 AM ET
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is a science superstar. But when it comes to the mysteries of the universe, which he tackles in his new FOX/National Geographic series "Cosmos," he bows to the greater star power above his head.
"People used to say to me, 'Well, how do you balance entertainment with the science?' And I say, 'When I look up, I am entertained. Just by thinking about what the universe has (to offer),'" he told TODAY's Matt Lauer Thursday.
"Cosmos" is a successor to the classic 1980 public television series hosted by the late Carl Sagan, in which high-tech graphics and a passionate host (Tyson, in this case) help put that science into an entertaining, but informative, form for laypersons.
"What distinguishes 'Cosmos' from every other documentary is yes, we are presenting some actual knowledge," said Tyson. "But the real takeaway is the role that knowledge plays in who and what we are and what kind of responsibilities we have given that knowledge to tend to our civilization and to the Earth."
Not that there aren't seriously entertaining moments, like the virtual Ship of Imagination, which has been resurrected from the original series. "In the original series, it had some mixed reviews," admitted Tyson. "In this series, the ship is bada--.... It's a literal and figurative vehicle to move around space and time and it's otherwise not distracting from the storytelling that we bring."
For Tyson, space has been his life ever since. As a young boy raised in New York, he visited the Hayden Planetarium on Manhattan's Upper West Side. "As a New Yorker, you don't see the night sky," he said. "We have no relationship with the night sky."
But having peered into the vast cosmos, he feels a special purpose in doing the job he has today. "I'm pretty sure it was the universe who chose me, and not I who chose it."
"Cosmos" debuts on FX and other FOX channels on Sunday, March 9 at 9 p.m., and National Geographic on Monday, March 10 at 10 p.m.