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Bill Nye The Science Guy Is Suing Disney For $28 Million That He Claims The Studio Owes Him

by Stephanie Kaloi

Bill Nye was everywhere with his pop-science hit show Bill Nye the Science Guy in the 1990s. In fact, the show is so beloved that millennial parents now search for episodes on YouTube to show their own kids.

There’s just something about his specific brand of nerd and fun that really gets to people.

Well, it turns out that not all was fun and games for Bill, and he has been cleared to sue Disney for $28 million in punitive damages that he says the studio owes him. The details are a little confusing, but I’ll try to explain:

  • In 2008, Bill and Disney had an agreement that said he would receive 16.5% of net profits from sales and distribution of his show.
  • Disney sent him a check for $585,123 that year.
  • Three months later, Disney said there had been an error and asked for $496,111 back.
  • Bill balked and asked for an audit, which revealed that Disney actually owed him $9 million.

So. This … will probably get pretty messy.

Bill Nye the Science Guy debuted in 1993 and ran until 1998. It’s kind of wild that the show was on the air for only five years, considering it still has a massive hold on parts of the American population. The show ran for 100 half-hour episodes, which amounted to five seasons. It also won 19 of the 23 Emmy awards it was nominated for. Not bad!

Bill Nye based the show on a comedy sketch he had developed in the 1980s in Seattle. The show was called Almost Live! and he basically spent his time explaining science. In fact, the ultimate name of the show was coined when Bill corrected John Keister’s pronunciation of “gigawatt” and John replied, “Who do you think you are? Bill Nye the Science Guy?”

In 1993, Bill began developing the show for PBS. The show was pitched as a “Mr. Wizard meets Pee-wee’s Playhouse” combo, and Bill also managed to receive funding from the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Energy.

Each episode began more or less the same way. After the show’s signature theme song, a bow-tie-wearing Bill Nye introduced the day’s topic. The pace was fast and fun, and real kids were always involved in every experiment and query. Each episode usually featured a few individual segments, like “Way Cool Scientist.”

There were also a ton of celebrity guests on the show. These included Christopher Walken, Samuel L. Jackson, Gene Siskel, Candace Cameron, and more. Bill and his guests were usually in different places than they had been in previous episodes, the locations generally tied in with the day or episode’s theme.

The show did pretty well, and it actually had an impact on the scientific development and understanding of its viewers. KCTS-TV reported that viewers of the program made more observations than nonviewers, and studies of school-aged children who watched the show reported that the kids felt like the show made them like science more.

The entire series was released on DVD, and producers even developed a video game for PCs in 1996. Reruns of the show aired on Noggin from 2000 to 2002, and past episodes have run on MeTV since 2016. Viewers can also watch just about any episode they want to on YouTube.

Disney initially tried to downplay the potential case as an “accounting spectacle.” The judge ruled for Disney in some respects but allowed Bill to pursue punitive damages. In a statement, Bill Nye’s legal team responded, “While we are disappointed with the Court’s ruling yesterday and the flawed legal reasoning upon which it relied, we welcome the opportunity to litigate the remainder of our clients’ case at trial and finally recover the damages Mr. Nye and his fellow producers are entitled to, including an award of punitive damages.”

The statement went on to read, “More importantly, it is our hope that this case, which Disney has fought so hard to stall, will finally shine some light upon the improper accounting practices that Disney utilizes to unjustly deprive profit participants, like our clients, of their fair share of revenues from the programming that they work so hard to create.”

The trial is set to begin in May 2020, and it’s sure to attract a good deal of attention. A $9 million audit error is pretty unbelievable. In the meantime, Bill Nye appears to be up to plenty of his usual shenanigans. He recently attended the SpaceCom conference in Houston, and it looks like he had a great time.