Despite a late-night time slot, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson isn’t throwing his hat into the talk-show ring (while carefully calculating its trajectory). “The expectations are that I have a band, that I come out and do a monologue,” he says. “No, no.”
Instead, StarTalk (premiering April 20) is a televised version of Tyson’s podcast, which he describes as a “threading of pop culture and science.” Each week, he interviews figures from that cross section, with the first two episodes featuring chats with George Takei about Star Trek’s role in popularizing space travel at an essential time and with Christopher Nolan about making scientists the main characters of Interstellar.
But in the years Tyson has conducted the podcast, there are a few guests that have eluded him. While he tells EW that he would love to speak with any head of state, namely President Barack Obama, he has a few unexpected dream guests. “One of them is Charlie Sheen,” he says. Apparently, Sheen and his family had visited the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, where Tyson serves as director, and the two got to talking in his office.
“[Sheen] spent 20 minutes asking me questions about the universe,” Tyson recalls. “He says, ‘If the Big Bang began everything, when did the galaxies form? Could the stars come after that or before that? I’ve always wondered. How fast could most of it expanded to get as big as we are today?’ This guy had stockpiled his cosmic curiosity, while dealing with what the hell the rest of what’s going on in his life, and it all came out in that one session.”
Even without landing his ideal guests, the transition from podcast to TV has been a smooth one for Tyson, except in one regard: not looking at his note cards. “If I’ve spent a big part of my life contemplating the cosmos, then I should be able to put notes into my head,” he says. Something tells us he’ll figure it out.
StarTalk premieres tonight, April 20, at 11 p.m. ET on NatGeo.