Who is to blame for the latest weekly decline in Cosmos ratings? The Walking Dead, NCAA basketball games, a mass exodus due to its opening effort to be culturally in-your-face?
There is always going to be competition on TV, just like there will always be competition for a government R01 grant. No point in whining about that. And Cosmos still takes shots at religion, but it isn't devoting 25 percent of episodes to it any more. Across the cultural spectrum, it's been much better during the last two weeks.
In Cosmos Ratings Are Not A 'Disaster' For Fox last week I stated that the ratings had dropped, but for a science show they were still quite good. This week they dropped another 10 percent, and there is only so much rationalization that can be done about it. Yes, the ratings are still good - for a science show - and I have no idea how Bob's Burgers stays on the air at all, but coming in last in its time slot and doing poorly for the whole evening is bad. It may not be a sign that a science media revolution is impossible but it may mean that Cosmos is the last prime-time network science show for a while.
That's not to say anything else on Fox would have beaten it. Both The Simpson's and Family Guy had fewer viewers but, ratings-wise, the decline each week may be sign of a bigger problem. The audience may think the content is so simplified it's just wrong - Bruno was not a martyr for science and polar bears did not evolve white fur - and so they are leaving, just like they don't get their science from the New York Times.
But some people may be piling on.
In this Sunday's episode, Robert Hooke was criticized as being their stereotypical Disney cartoon villain of the week (like Catholics in episode 1) but I think that is actually pretty accurate. Stereotypes come into existence because they had a kernel of truth and there were a lot of Hooke haters out there. Now, as I summarized in Geniuses Of Britain - The First Five, I am clearly on Team Newton, though I recognize Hooke's substantial work. He is the father of microbiology. But Hooke tried to take credit for everything. The episode gets some things wrong, like that British sailors did not know how to navigate before Halley and that Newton was obsessed with alchemy and numerology, but that may be nit-picky. However, you can ask Huygens or Adrien Auzout what they thought of Hooke and you will get the same answer Newton gave. The Royal Society was irrelevant at the time because Newton refused to be part of it due to Hooke, then he accepted the Presidency after Hooke died and was re-elected for 24 years and became the first scientist to be knighted.
Most promising is that during this bit we finally get the Neil Tyson we all know and love: The passionate guy from Hayden Planetarium rather than the slow, monotonous host of Cosmos. My advice is obviously far too late but stop trying to be Carl Sagan, most of your audience never watched his show. Treat every topic with the same enthusiasm you treat space. You can talk fast, 80 percent of your audience is using a tablet while they are watching you anyway. Talking slowly just makes people bored and want to move on.
People can be picky about specifics but there are 13 episodes of this show and, if I were making it, Hooke, Wren, Boyle, Newton and Halley would merit a whole 44 minutes of their own. If someone coughed up the budget, I'd go even farther than that: Halley should have his own weekly TV series and you get some sense of why in this episode of Cosmos. Without Halley and his clever navigation of prickly personalities, there was no De Motu Corporum in Gyrum and therefore no Principia. Get Jonathan Rhys-Meyers to star in it, that vampire show he's in is stupid.
Ratings may be declining but it only takes some back-to-back quality for that to turn around. Television events rarely happen right out of the gate. And don't saddle the show with unrealistic expectations. It is not going to turn anti-GMO and anti-energy people into fans of science and it won't turn religious people into atheists. But if the latest episode is an indication, they can at least tell a good story.