"Hollywood accounting" led to Bill Nye being underpaid by at least $9,350,565, according to a lawsuit against Disney and a number of affiliated companies. Nye, the star of the extremely popular "Science Guy" television series in the 1990s, accuses Disney of using a variety of mischaracterizations, false charges and shady accounting practices to avoid paying him and the show's other owners their fair share of the profits.
According to the Courthouse News Service, complaints like Nye's are not uncommon in the TV and movie industry, making "Hollywood accounting" a catchphrase among insiders.
He is suing Disney, Disney Educational Productions, Disney Movie Club, ABC Television, Buena Vista Television, Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Touchstone Television Productions.
He accuses the defendants of engaging in "an ongoing, deliberate conspiracy to deceive Mr. Nye and the [other owners of the series], and deprive them of their rightly owed share of the net profits from the BNSG series and derivative works." Nye is one of three series owners, and the plaintiffs claim the defendants received at least $28 million in ill-gotten gains from the fraud scheme.
As a result, he claims breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, fraudulent concealment, false promises, and more. He wants Disney and the other defendants to pay the full amount they owe plus punitive damages, which are meant to punish defendants for wrongdoing.
Nye, a Cornell University-trained mechanical engineer, and two other owners of the show were promised half of the show's net profits. He became suspicious in 2008 when he received a check for $585,123 and then was told to return $496,111 of it because the company claimed to have made a calculation error.
In 2014, as was his right, Nye asked for an audit. He was told, however, that Disney was backlogged and couldn't provide an accounting for three or four years. He initiated his own outside audit based on incomplete data provided by Disney.
Disney did begin the requested audit in 2016, but even then "the defendants failed to engage in the process in good faith."
Even with incomplete information, his outside auditor turned up a number of discrepancies. For example, according to the lawsuit, Disney underreported royalties, used incorrect rates, mischaracterized revenues, overcharged him for expenses, and even falsified accounting statements and invoices. One financial statement he saw said that the "Science Guy" series had earned $26 million but had somehow racked up expenses totaling $20 million.
The estimated $9,350,565 Nye claims he is owed is based on the initial, limited accounting performed by his outside auditor. He believes the amount may be even larger.
"The defendants were well aware of their wrongdoing," reads the lawsuit.