'Cosmos' Host Neil deGrasse Tyson Answers Our Unanswered Pop Culture Questions

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Neil deGrasse Tyson hosts Fox's Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.
Neil deGrasse Tyson hosts Fox's Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.


host Neil deGrasse Tyson has been opening viewers' eyes to the mysteries of the universe each week (Sundays at 9 p.m. on Fox), attempting to explain quantum physics, the origins of life, and the methodologies of science and scientific research... and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

"It's a very warm feeling that people are feeling warm from it, for sure," deGrasse Tyson told Yahoo TV. "It's a delight to see people have a geek core within them awakened. Either the flame had been extinguished long ago or had never been ignited, maybe it was just a dim ember waiting to be fanned, but in any of these cases, people have sort of risen up and embraced science in general and the universe in particular. It's an endorsement, I think, of what it was to make Cosmos again, and a recognition that there was value to it."

[Related: For 'Cosmos' Host Neil deGrasse Tyson, TV Filming an Otherworldly Experience]

His favorite geeky fan reaction says it all: "My favorite tweet of them all — because I was monitoring what people were saying — was just before the 9 o'clock hour when it was about to air, someone tweeted: "Shhhh! It's almost 9 p.m. Cosmos is ready to air. Neil Tyson is going to crack a knowledge egg on your a--." Now that is in vernacular! That's somebody who not only was excited for themselves — for what they were learning and what they were seeing — but they wanted other people to shut up and listen. I was very impressed by that enthusiasm, and that energy and candor. I didn't retweet it, but just search 'knowledge egg a--.' [Laughs.] it's got to be the only tweet ever to have those three words in it."

[Related: 'Cosmos': The Secrets Behind the Show's Stunning Animation]

We asked the scientist, ever-enthusiastic himself, to crack another kind of knowledge egg: A pop culture knowledge egg, answering some very serious unanswered questions. "I'm not a pop culture nut — I'm a pop culture observer," deGrasse Tyson clarified. "A nut would be eagerly seeking it out and participating in it. I view it more the way an anthropologist views a tribe." Here are his anthropological findings...

How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?
Oh, I remember that commercial. I remember when they said they were going to come up with an answer, and I said, "Well some people's tongues are wetter than others. [Laughs.] There cannot be one answer for this!" I knew that even when I was young when I first saw the commercial — I was like, "This is bogus," right off the top. If you lick it with a dry tongue, nothing's happening. [Laughs.] It requires that you salivate. Heavily. But I would say around 1,000.

And where is the beef?
Oh the little old lady, "Where is the beef?" [Laughs.] It's there, it's just vastly less than she expected.

What do you think was inside that glowing briefcase in Pulp Fiction?
It just had to be radioactive plutonium.

Yeah, yeah, of course. But that would mean that the people holding it are sterile, but we don't wait long enough to see if they make babies to verify.

Who was the boss on Who's the Boss?
That's the one with whatshisface in it. You know, I didn't really watch that show — what's the guy's name? Tony Danza! [Laughs.] Who's the Boss? Yeah... I think I've seen one episode of it, but I would say that, in general, the person who's the boss is the one who reacts most violently for not being obeyed. That's the boss. That's the one you have to pay attention to. That's a general truth, I think.

Were you a Sopranos fan?
Up until two weeks ago, when I changed my package, I never had premium TV, so I never watched HBO. But I know that it exists — try me! Ask me something!

Do you think Tony Soprano lived or died when it cut to black at the end of the series?
Oh yeah, I think he died.

OK, this just took a dark turn.
[Laughs.] Well I think drama, for it to be effective, has to intermittently disturb you and make you sad, based on the other half of the two drama faces: one smiles, one is sad. If all endings were happy, then we wouldn't even know how to judge that they were happy because we wouldn't have the reference of sad to compare it with.

So were they dead the whole time on Lost?
Oh... Lost... I think that the secrets of the universe are more tractable than what the hell was going on on Lost. [Laughs.] I'm sticking to cosmology! Every time I watched Lost, my head tipped to the side, like a dog hearing a high-pitched whistle. "Huh? Wha? Huh?" So I said, "This is too complicated. I don't understand what the hell is going on. Big bang cosmology quantum physics is easier to figure out than this."

Less complex, but where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?
[Laughs.] Carmen Sandiego, I am quite sure, has access to higher dimensions to basically mess with you. While you're looking for her, if you can't find her, it's because she's not there... [laughs] she's having a cup of coffee in another dimension. That's the only way I can explain it.

I love it. So back to Cosmos...
No, there's one more question I want you to ask me...

Ooh, what?
Who let the dogs out?

Dammit, now that's going to be stuck in my head all day.
I know, and I'm sorry, but I think the wolves let the dogs out.

Did you say the wolves?
Yes. They want to repatriate them into the society of wolves. Because, to a wolf, a dog is a complete embarrassment. Dogs are derived from wolves, selectively choosing one feature or another and neglecting the rest, and the one thing that's neglected in every dog is the capacity of the wolf to rip the master's throat out. So I think the wolves let the dogs out.

Well there you have it, mystery solved. So Cosmos, the biggest question of all: It's yet to be renewed, so will there be a Season 2? Season 10? How much longer do you see this series going?
Well there's enough of the universe to do this forever. How many seasons are we up to of Law & Order? 18 or something? Whatever that number is, we ought to be able to have at least that many seasons of the universe. [Laughs.] I'm just thinking.

However, I also want these 13 episodes to breathe. We want people to reflect on them and think about them and explore what they mean. If another season comes up right on its tail, then this season doesn't have a place to live within you, because you're rapidly swapping out your memories with new shows that fly in. Cosmos should not be consumed that way. Cosmos is not fast food — it's slow food. So we're not kicking you out of the restaurant now that you've just finished your meal. You can sit there and digest it. And the meal, I think, was so tasty you want to savor it and not run back the next day and say, "Let's do it all over again!" No, that's not how we savor delectable offerings to our senses. So if there's another season, sure, but not just yet.

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey Season 1 finale airs Sunday, June 8 at 9 p.m. on Fox.