Cosmos: A Look at the Old, on the Eve of the New


Carl Sagan on The Spaceship of the Imagination - Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, 1980




KCET is celebrating its 50th anniversary year with a series of stories, reflections, and flashbacks, like this throwback below. For more and to participate in our next 50 years, join us at kcet.org/50.


"Cosmos," the new Fox TV series, is in the news these days. Neil DeGrasse Tyson will be hosting it, and it will be airing on Fox starting Sunday, March 9. It is a remake of the Carl Sagan show that was made by KCET back in 1980.

Made back in the late '70s and aired on PBS in September 1980, it was the most watched public television show when it aired nationally, until the Ken Burns documentary series "The Civil War" eclipsed it when it aired in 1990.

The original "Cosmos" was shot in a hybrid style: The remote segments were captured on film at locations around the world. That film was then transferred at KCET to one-inch tape, via a Rank Cintel. The interiors were mastered on one-inch tape.

The most dramatic of these studio segments was the incredible "Spaceship of the Imagination" (pictured above), in which scientist and host Carl Sagan showed us places and things that we would never have seen any other way. The set for the segment was built on Stage B, our largest sound-stage in our former East Hollywood studio. It reached from floor to ceiling and with dramatic lighting and the spaceship's "window," cutting edge at the time of its airing.

Yes, people made fun of Carl with his "billions and billions" quote, (which he never said), but they stayed and they watched and they learned.

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"Cosmos" was nominated for five Emmys in 1981 and ended up winning three of them: two for Outstanding Individual Achievement (Creative Technical Crafts) and one for Outstanding Individual Achievement (Informational Programming).

The team lost the Emmy for Best Informational Series to another KCET production, "Meeting of Minds," with Steve Allen. The other loss occurred because the show had two different nominations in the same technical award category. "Cosmos" won an Emmy for Audio, but at the same time, it lost one for Tape Editing. That audio Emmy went to long time KCET Engineer, Gerald Zelinger, for his work on the episode, "Blues for a Red Planet."

On top of the Emmys, the show won a Peabody Award in 1980. Here is what the Peabody Board had to say about the show:


When a group of specially talented individuals sits down to create a new and better way of explaining what our universe is all about it should not be a surprise if they turn out to be successful. Such a talented group from the outstanding Los Angeles public television station KCET; Adrian Malone, executive producer; and Dr. Carl Sagan, an internationally recognized scholar, produced "Cosmos," an intriguing, exciting and exhilarating program that the Peabody Board deemed worthy of recognition. With funding from ARCO, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, this group of experts made "Cosmos" an instant success with those who look for real quality in television, and for this a Peabody Award.


It was probably KCET's biggest year for productions and awards, and those of us who were staff at that time were extremely proud to be a part of it.

This is another in a series of posts where Cathy Bower, KCET's Broadcast Operations Coordinator, looks back at some interesting moments and events during the station's 50 years on the air. Up today, a look back at Carl Sagan and "Cosmos." Read more here.

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