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Neil Degrasse Tyson’s New Late Night Talk Show, ‘StarTalk,’ Debuts Tonight. What Critics Are Saying + Watch Preview

Neil Degrasse Tyson's New Late Night Talk Show, 'StarTalk,' Debuts Tonight. What Critics Are Saying + Watch Preview

National Geographic Channel’s first-ever late-night talk show, “StarTalk,” with host, prominent astrophysicist, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, premieres TONIGHT, Monday, April 20, at 11 pm ET/10 pm CT (with encores each Friday at 7 pm ET/6 pm CT). 

Ahead of its debut, last week, the network announced that it had ordered a second season for the talk-show, obviously implying great confidence that season 1 will be a ratings hit! Tonight’s kick-off will tell us something about that…

Based on Dr. Tyson’s prominent podcast of the same name, the weekly series will infuse pop culture with science, while bringing together comedians and celebrities to delve into a wide range of topics. Each week, in a private interview, Dr. Tyson explores all the ways that science and technology have influenced the life and livelihood of his guests, whatever their background.
After his one-on-one interview, Dr. Tyson invites a comedian co-host and influencers in media, science and pop culture to join him in front of a studio audience in the American Museum of Natural History’s Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City – where he serves as the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium – to further break down the topic. And in each episode, Dr. Tyson calls on his friend Bill Nye the Science Guy to weigh in on the week’s theme; Nye shares his perspective on science, technology and even Star Trek via a pretaped segment.
“Expanding the ‘StarTalk’ radio show and podcast into a television show on National Geographic Channel offers a unique opportunity to show viewers how pervasive science is in our culture and how entertaining science can be,” said Dr. Tyson, adding, “Throughout the show we explore current issues with top industry leaders and pair that with comical, but informed, commentary. From politicians and actors to scientists, social activists and more, the impact of science knows no bounds.”

Tyson previously hosted the Fox’s single season “Cosmos” reboot.

In tonight’s premiere, Tyson welcomes guest George Takei, in a “Star Trek”-focused episode during which the host sits down with actor, author and activist Takei to discuss how the once-futuristic scenarios in “Star Trek” relate to many of today’s current moral and social issues. Weighing in on this interview are Charles Liu, astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History and the College of Staten Island, and comedian Leighann Lord. Science educator and frequent guest host of StarTalk Bill Nye delves specifically into scenarios pertaining to technology and civil rights.

Next week’s episode will feature director Christopher Nolan, in a conversation about the Science of “Interstellar;” and future guests include author and journalist Dan Savage, Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, evolutionary biologist and ethologist Richard Dawkins in a debate on whether science and religion can truly coexist in today’s society, former President Jimmy Carter, Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, and others.

Ahead of tonight’s premiere (which I haven’t had the opportunity to see), here’s a round-up of reviews from those in the press who were provided episodes of the series prior to tonight’s debut. In short, reviews are mixed. There isn’t what I’d call a consensus. Here are samples of 4 of them – 2 seemingly in favor; and the other 2, not. First, the not-so good reactions:  

From Variety: For an astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson is certainly having his media moment, and then some. Beyond being the go-to guy for space talk in venues like “The Daily Show,” he’s become the host of the revived “Cosmos,” and this week not only narrates a National Geographic Channel special about the Hubble telescope but adds a weekly talkshow, “StarTalk,” to his media menu. Yet the series, at least, represents a case of stretching the Tyson experience a dimension too far, as well as demonstrating the limits of transforming something as static as a radio show/podcast into television… what emerges is a disjointed affair, one in which Tyson is joined in each episode by different co-hosts — one a comedian, the other a fellow scientist — a format that dices the central interview into snippets, then features extended interludes in which Tyson and his fellow studio mates expand upon and dissect the conversation.

From A.V. Club: Fox’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey didn’t just revive the tradition of high-minded science TV embodied by Carl Sagan’s original Cosmos series. It also made Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the astrophysicist who heads up the Hayden Planetarium in New York, the implicit heir to Sagan’s mantle as America’s mass-media science educator. Tyson has parlayed his heightened profile into a TV show (shot at the Hayden) on National Geographic channel, StarTalk, which adapts a long-running podcast of the same name. Tyson struggles to adapt along with it. Most of Tyson’s previous on-camera gigs—like Cosmos, Nova ScienceNow, and an excellent video lecture series (available on Netflix) called The Inexplicable Universe—have featured the cosmologist by himself, addressing the audience directly. Tyson thrives in this professorial setting, as the slow cadence of his baritone suits his careful, step-by-step explanations of big scientific concepts. But on StarTalk, Tyson must interact with guests, and his instincts fail him. He’s impatient. He rambles. And he sands down the edges on every topic rather than raising his viewers up. The stated premise of the series is that it combines science with pop culture, and to that end, the premiere dedicates itself to reflections on Star Trek. The producers could not have chosen a more thuddingly predictable topic, and the dullness is exacerbated by the fact that Tyson does not appear to know or care very much about Trek.

And here are snips from the more positive 2:

The Los Angeles Times seems to appreciate it: Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the American face of science, has a new talk show — or rather, he has an old talk show moving from the Internet to television Monday. It’s called “StarTalk,” a science-and-comedy rap session he has hosted since 2009, mainly as an audio podcast but also on video via the Nerdist network, which now becomes a weekly late-night offering of National Geographic Channel. This is news, even big news, even if Tyson is not exactly going head to head with the daily “The Daily Show,” which like “StarTalk” airs at 11 p.m., or any network talk show. In light of the ongoing discussion about diversity in late-night television, it’s notable that he adds another African American host to the mix. But what’s perhaps most exciting is that he’s bringing a scientist’s perspective into that mix — it’s an idea whose time has seemingly come and, in a time when many people with influence believe that established facts are things to be voted on, an idea that can’t come too soon.

As does the New York Daily News: Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new weekly late-night talk show plays like a Flintstones vitamin. He wraps the real message in the kind of sweet packaging that makes viewers hardly notice they’re getting something that’s good for them. Tyson’s passion is science, and that’s really what “StarTalk” is about. It’s a conversation with a prominent person about the role of science in our lives, revolving around a specific subject or subjects where science lies at the heart. When he talks with former President Jimmy Carter in an episode to air May 25, they discuss our progress toward controlling epidemic diseases. That same show features comedian Chuck Nice, however, and that’s where packaging comes in. Tyson approaches science not as a lecture topic, but as an everyday topic that factors into all our lives. Monday’s premiere has Tyson talking about “Star Trek” with “Trek” star George Takei, comedian Leighann Lord and astrophysicist Charles Liu, whose avocation is being a certified “Star Trek” geek.

I plan to check out tonight’s premiere at 11pm, and, if I’m motivated strongly one way or the other, I’ll share my thoughts. Although I prefer to wait until I’ve seen at least 3 episodes before chiming in. 

Here’s a clip from tonight’s episode:

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