LOS ANGELES – The man who created “Family Guy’s” diabolical baby, who introduced us to a vulgar teddy bear named Ted, who, as host of last year’s Oscars, boasted about seeing Meryl Streep’s breasts, now wants to be your science teacher.
Seth MacFarlane, the naughty boy of showbiz, is an executive producer for “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” a reboot of Carl Sagan’s 1980 project that, at the time, was the most-watched series in PBS history.
Skeptical? You’re not the only one. 
You could have knocked renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson over with a helium balloon when MacFarlane invited him to lunch and said right after the appetizers that he wanted to make a difference in the world of science.
“I was like, is this the guy who illustrates Stewie? Is this the same guy?” said Tyson, who hosts the 13-part series premiering Sunday.
MacFarlane makes no apologies about launching a noble effort like “Cosmos” while also producing “Dads,” hands down the most critically reviled sitcom of the season.
“It’s not a matter of balance in my mind. I don’t see it that way,” he said. “The projects that I choose to be involved in are ones I’m enthusiastic about and ones where I’m enthusiastic about the people.”
He had little to do with the actual content of the show. That was left to experts, who do a superb job in the first episode showing us how teensy-weensy we are in terms of history, a speck on a speck of a space among 100 billion galaxies. The most effective moment is when Tyson explains how, if the history of Earth were compressed into a calendar year, mankind would make its appearance Dec. 31.
MacFarlane did make a difference in the presentation. It was his idea to have Tyson narrate from a Ship of Imagination, which looks like something Captain Kirk would use on weekends. He also brought animation into the mix, a concept that works well in the premiere, with a cartoon featuring underappreciated pioneer Giordano Bruno, killed as a heretic for his belief that our sun is just one of many stars in the sky.
But MacFarlane’s biggest contribution is broadening the show’s reach. Airing directly after “Family Guy” on Fox — a network best known for singing shows and Homer Simpson — Sunday’s premiere of “Cosmos” also will be simulcast on nine Fox channels, including FX and Fox Sports 1. Subsequent episodes will air Sundays on Fox, with rebroadcasts Monday on the National Geographic Channel that will include bonus material.
Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan, said playing on a mainstream platform is in keeping with the vision of her late husband.
“When Carl Sagan was alive, we wrote for Parade magazine,” said Druyan, an executive producer of the new series. “We weren’t trying to preach to the converted. We wanted to evoke in people who might have even had hostility to science a sense of wonder — to excite people who thought science was too challenging and have them dream about the universe of space and time.”
MacFarlane thinks it’s natural for fans of “Family Guy” to stick around for “Cosmos.”
“I think you’re going to see a lot of people who are fans of both genres and are very enthusiastic,” he said. “The show is presented very much in the spirit of the original in that you can’t really call it a documentary. It’s more a journey, and while it’s certainly educational, it plays with the flavor of a feature film.”
One that doesn’t star a crass-talking stuffed animal.
njustin@startribune.com • 612-673-7431