Written By Selin Demir
Last Thursday, attorneys for Bill Nye filed a lawsuit in the Los Angeles Superior Court alleging Walt Disney Company (“Disney”) and its subsidiary, Buena Vista Television (“Buena Vista”), deprived Nye and other owners of “Bill Nye the Science Guy” of approximately $28 million in distribution profits.
“Bill Nye the Science Guy,” starring Nye, originally aired for five seasons from 1992 to 1997. The show was successful, earning 19 Emmy Awards and a Television Critics Association award. Today, nearly 25 years after its first broadcast, the show airs in limited syndication and is sold to educators across the country as an academic aid with supporting lesson plans.
According to the lawsuit, in March of 1993, Buena Vista entered into an agreement with the owners of the show, including Nye himself, to market and distribute it. Under the agreement, the owners are collectively entitled to half of the net profit derived from the distribution of the show, with Nye being entitled to 33% of that half (or 16.5% of the total net profit).
In April of 2008, Buena Vista sent Nye a statement for the previous year, along with a payment of $585,123. Just three months later, however, Buena Vista sent Nye a letter retracting the April statement due to an “accounting error.” The letter also stated that Nye owed $496,111 back to Buena Vista and that he would not receive further royalty payments until it was done.
In the complaint, Nye alleges that his attempts to negotiate with Buena Vista and Disney over the statements lasted four years before he was “left with no choice but to hire a professional auditor to examine Buena Vista’s records.” When the hired auditor made attempts to conduct the audit, Nye alleges that Disney found ways to stall the investigation until May of 2016.
When the audit commenced, Nye alleges that Disney and Buena Vista both failed to produce essential documents, claimed to be “outside of the scope of the audit,” and was denied access to any information related to revenue that Disney or Buena Vista received for any exploitation of the show, among other things.
Despite this limited access, the auditor provided Nye with preliminary findings that identified underreported royalty payments owed to Nye that total approximately $9,350,565. Nye concluded that, because Disney is such a large company with a “well-staffed and well-trained accounting department,” it was aware of its wrongdoing and willfully deceived the owners of the show in an effort to deprive them of their earned share of profits from the series. The complaint further alleges that Disney continued its wrongdoing by withholding documents and other essential information to prevent the auditor from being able to fully assess the damage caused by Disney and Buena Vista.
Nye is seeking, among other remedies, a court order compelling Disney and Buena Vista to account for all of the money Nye is owed, plus a disgorgement of all profits that are in receipt of the alleged fraud, plus compensatory and punitive damages, and attorney’s fees.
While Disney has not made an official comment, a representative for Buena Vista sent a statement to The Hollywood Reporter stating: “This lawsuit is a publicity ploy and we look forward to vigorously defending it.”
Ashley Cullins, Bill Nye Says Disney Shorted Him Millions in New Fraud Lawsuit, The Hollywood Reporter (Aug. 24, 2017, 7:29 PM).
Complaint and Demand for Jury Trial, Nye v. Walt Disney Co., No. BC-673736 (Super. Ct. Cal. Aug. 24, 2017).
Feature photo courtesy of Netflix USA.