He got involved after learning that astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson was working with Sagan's widow and collaborator, Ann Druyan, on reviving "Cosmos," with an eye to making it for a channel like Discovery or National Geographic.
That struck MacFarlane as "sort of preaching to the converted," he told reporters in January, and he proposed broadening its potential audience by asking Fox to air it.
Which is how "Family Guy," home to Brian, the best educated talking TV dog since Mr. Peabody, came to be the lead-in for the new "Cosmos." The 13-episode series, which Tyson hosts, launches Sunday not only on Fox but simultaneously on National Geographic Channel - which will also re-air weekly episodes on Mondays at 10 - and on a number of other Fox-owned channels (with the notable exception of Fox News).
Anyone who's encountered MacFarlane as an entertainer wouldn't expect him to force-feed vegetables to his viewers, and the visually stunning "Cosmos," while not actually an ice cream sundae, is a long way from broccoli, with animations for the history and what Druyan told me were four movies' worth of special-effects shots for the science.
"What I'm so impressed with is, for instance, the Cosmic Calendar, which looked pretty good for its time, I think," Druyan said.
"But we were using cardboard cutout dinosaurs, you know. [That first 'Cosmos'] was the first use of green screen, and so it was very much ahead of its time, but now - we can create this immensity of time, that really feels much more textural, with forests and oceans," she said.
"When the ship is diving into the methane seas of Titan, you can feel it. I'm thrilled with what we've been given," she said, from 20 to 25 special effects vendors, "including Framestore, [which] did the special effects for 'Gravity.' "
The real goose bumps moment in Sunday's premiere, though, has nothing to do with graphics.
It's when Tyson pulls out Sagan's own 1975 calendar, where on Dec. 20, the name "Neil Tyson" is scrawled. At the time, the future astrophysicist and Hayden Planetarium director was "just a 17-year-old kid from the Bronx, with dreams of becoming a scientist." The world-famous astronomer invited that kid to visit his lab at Cornell, picking him up at the bus station.
When he dropped him off later, "the snow was falling harder," recalls Tyson, who says Sagan "wrote his phone number - his home phone number - on a scrap of paper and he said, 'If the bus can't get through, call me, spend the night at my home, with my family.' "
Tyson already knew he wanted to be a scientist, but Sagan, he says, taught him "the kind of person I wanted to become."
And it's that kind of connection that doesn't just inspire future scientists - as the new "Cosmos" almost certainly will - but serves as a reminder that even in a cosmos in which each of us plays an infinitesimally small part, how we choose to treat one another still matters.
'Resurrection' on ABC
They're baa-aack. Again.
Science, religion and just plain logic all take a bit of a beating in ABC's new drama "Resurrection," but if you prefer your zombies more esthetically pleasing than those on "The Walking Dead," this story about how a small town reacts when some of its long dead residents start returning might be for you.
Developed from a book by Jason Mott, The Returned (which, confusingly enough, has no relation to Sundance's French zombie series of that name), "Resurrection" begins with the discovery of an 8-year-old American boy (Landon Gimenez) in rural China.
When he's returned by an immigration agent (Omar Epps) to his hometown of Arcadia, Mo., he finds the people he identifies as his parents (Kurtwood Smith and Frances Fisher) have aged more than 30 years, or just about the length of time their son Jacob has been dead.
The first two episodes depart considerably from Motts' book, which I'm inclined to think is a good thing. I'm just not sure where "Resurrection" will be going instead.
Is it a dream? Or a nightmare?
If not for Epps - and Fisher and Smith, who are terrific as two people trying to come to terms with the impossible - I might have preferred this one had stayed buried.
As it is, I'll probably be watching with one eye on the exit.
On Twitter: @elgray