Bill Nye the Science Guy sues Disney over accounting

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TV host and science educator Bill Nye has filed suit against the Walt Disney Company over the accounting for profits on his old TV series “Bill Nye the Science Guy.

The lawsuit, filed last Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court, according to Variety, accuses Disney of withholding $28 million in profits from Nye.

According to the lawsuit, Nye grew suspicious in 2008 when Disney told him he owed the studio almost $500,000 because of a whopping “accounting error.” The company sent him $585,123 for his annual profit participation in April of that year, but in July asked him to send back $496,111 because of the claimed error.

Nye debuted the show in 1992 with two producers and a Seattle PBS station, and Disney’s Buena Vista Television subsidiary signed a distribution deal with them in 1993. The show aired from 1992 to 1997, but was frequently repeated. It was nationally syndicated and Buena Vista distributed the show on home video on both VHS and DVD.

Even though many of the show’s costs were underwritten by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy, Disney claimed costs of $20 million against $26 million in gross revenue. The second letter retracted Buena Vista’s previous calculation of Nye’s net profit share and said Nye now owed the company $496,111.

“The disturbing size of the supposed ‘accounting error,’ coupled with the seeming indifference of both BVT [Buena Vista Television] and WDC [Walt Disney Company], left Mr. Nye suspicious of the veracity of the accounting statements he had been receiving from BVT over the years,” said the lawsuit. Moreover, as of July 22, 2008, BVT ceased making any further royalty or participation payments to Mr. Nye, insisting that he first repay the amount allegedly owed from the ‘overpayment.’”

Nye and Disney did not respond to requests for comment.

Nye claimed he tried for years to audit Disney’s financial statements, but Disney told him it was backlogged with audits. Even after the audit finally began, Nye claims the company continued to withhold documents. Ultimately his auditor decided the company owed Nye $9.3 million, but the lawsuit claims that Disney owes him and his partners a total of $28 million.

Nye now has a series on Netflix, “Bill Nye Saves the World.”

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