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Bill Nye
Bill Nye the Science Guy says he’s owed millions. (Bill Nye via Google+)

Bill Nye the Science Guy, a veteran of tussles over climate change and evolution, has just sparked a legal battle over math – specifically, the millions of dollars he says Disney and its associated ventures owes him from airings of his TV show for kids.

If Nye succeeds with his lawsuit, which was filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court, Seattle’s public television station, KCTS-TV, could benefit as well. KCTS is named as one of the participants in a partnership that was allegedly short-changed.

Nye says Disney’s Buena Vista Television and other subsidiaries provided incorrect accountings of how much was made from distributing his Emmy-winning show, titled “Bill Nye the Science Guy.” He also says Disney misapplied the formulas laid out in its contract to determine how big a share Nye, KCTS and other partners should have received.

Thursday’s 28-page filing first came to light in a report by the Deadline website.

Buena Vista Television rejected Nye’s claims. “This lawsuit is a publicity ploy,” the company said today in a statement emailed to GeekWire, “and we look forward to vigorously defending it.”

The science show, which delved into topics ranging from astronomy to microbiology, was based on a character that Nye created for the KING-TV late-night sketch show “Almost Live” in the late 1980s. Half-hour episodes of “Bill Nye the Science Guy” aired on public television from 1994 to 1999, and they’ve been redistributed ever since on a wide variety of platforms, ranging from Disney DVDs to Netflix and iTunes.

The lawsuit indicates that lawyers, accountants and auditors for Nye and Disney have been disputing the level of the payout for years. Based on the account in the lawsuit, Disney’s executives maintained that he actually owed them hundreds of thousands of dollars due to what they said was an overly generous payment in 2008, and have withheld payments since then.

Nye’s auditors contend that he’s owed at least $9,350,565, and that the actual shortfall may be even bigger. The figures depend in part on how the distribution deals are classified – for example, what qualifies as a “video device sale” under the terms of Disney’s 1993 distribution agreement. The lawsuit alleges that Disney has not been sufficiently forthcoming in providing financial documentation for auditors to review.

The lawsuit alleges that Disney and its subsidiaries have fraudulently retained “ill-gotten profits” amounting to at least $28,051,695, and that Nye should be entitled to punitive damages in excess of the money owed.

Nye is now starring in a Netflix show titled “Bill Nye Saves the World,” but that project doesn’t appear to figure in the lawsuit.

This report has been updated with the statement from a spokesperson for Buena Vista Television.

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