Bill Nye is accustomed to explaining complicated concepts to children, but even he has struggled with the byzantine mess that is studio accounting.
According to a lawsuit filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court, Nye has spent much of the last decade trying to audit Disney's profit statements for "Bill Nye the Science Guy." The result is shocking: Nye alleges that Disney has withheld $28 million in profits from distribution of the show.
According to the suit, Nye became suspicious in 2008, when Disney informed him that he owed the company nearly $500,000 due to an "accounting error."
Nye and two producers launched the show in 1992, in partnership with KCTS, the Seattle PBS affiliate. According to the suit, the show's costs were substantially underwritten by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.
See photos of Bill Nye:
CITY HALL, MANHATTAN, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2015/11/29: Educator and TV personality Bill Nye ('The Science Guy') speaks to the press at a pre-march press conference on the steps of City Hall. On the eve of the Paris Climate Summit (COP21), environmental advocates rallied near New York City's City Hall for a rendition of the Global Climate March during which participants called for the Mayor de Blasio, who will be attending the talks, to commit to a stringent and comprehensive platform of environmental initiatives. (Photo by Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 13: Bill Nye signs copies of 'Unstoppable: Harnessing Science To Change The World' at Barnes & Noble Union Square on November 13, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 10: Educator Bill Nye speaks onstage during 'How Creativity Fuels Science With Steve Aoki And Bill Nye' at The Fast Company Innovation Festival on November 10, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Fast Company)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 26: Actress, Connie Britton (L) and educator, Bill Nye speak on stage at the 2015 Global Citizen Festival to end extreme poverty by 2030 in Central Park on September 26, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Global Citizen)
TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 06: Scientist/educator Bill Nye attends 'The Science Guy: Science Can Save The World!' at National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation on August 6, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Jun Sato/Getty Images)
MILES FROM TOMORROWLAND EVENT - 'Miles from Tomorrowland' voice actors Adrian Grenier and Bill Nye, NASA astronauts Dr. Mike Massimino and Dr. Yvonne Cagle, and 'Good Morning America' chief meteorologist Ginger Zee joined Disney Junior and XPRIZE to launch 'Miles from Tomorrowland: Space Missions,' at New York Hall of Science. The learning-focused nationwide summer initiative encourages young children to engage in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) inspired activities. (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/Disney Jr. via Getty Images) BILL NYE
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 12: Bill Nye makes a few remarks at a Celebration Of Carl Sagan at The Library of Congress on November 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Television personality Bill Nye attends the 'Dancing With The Stars' Wrap Party at Sofitel Hotel on November 26, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images)
SANTA MONICA, CA - OCTOBER 20: Actor / TV personality Bill Nye arrives at Hub Network's 1st annual Halloween bash at Barker Hangar on October 20, 2013 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Chelsea Lauren/WireImage)
DANCING WITH THE STARS - 'Episode 1703' - It was Hollywood night on 'Dancing with the Stars,' as 11 remaining couples took to the ballroom floor, on 'Dancing with the Stars,' MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 30 (8:00-10:01 p.m., ET), on ABC. Featuring a spectacular opening number with the entire cast, each couple took on a dance style that they had not previously performed including the Quickstep, Foxtrot, Charleston, Cha Cha, Rumba, Paso Doble and Jive. (Photo by Adam Taylor/ABC via Getty Images)
TYNE STECKLEIN, BILL NYE
PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 15: Television personality Bill Nye attends the green carpet launch for the Evox TV debut of Ed Begley's new family show, 'On Begley Street' on September 15, 2013 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 10: Scientist Bill Nye attends the 'Man Of Steel' world premiere at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center on June 10, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 05: Bill Nye visits the SiriusXM Studio on June 5, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 09: Scientist Bill Nye attends Tesla Worldwide Debut of Model X on February 9, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Getty Images for Tesla)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - NOVEMBER 17: Bill Nye the Science Guy attends the Inaugural S.E.T. Awards at the Beverly Hills Hotel on November 17, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Mathew Imaging/WireImage)
WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 18: U.S. President Barack Obama (L) greets Bill Nye 'the Science Guy' during an event in the East Room at the White House on October 18, 2010 in Washington, DC. President Obama hosted the White House?s first Science Fair celebrating the winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering and math competitions. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 08: Actor Bill Nye 'the Science Guy' reads to children at Jumpstart?s Read for the Record at the LA Public Library on October 8, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Jumpstart)
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The following year, Nye and his partners entered into a distribution agreement with Disney subsidiary Buena Vista Television. Under the agreement, the owners of the show would receive half of the show's net profits, with one-sixth of the total going to Nye. Disney distributed the show on VHS and DVD, and in many other formats, now including Netflix and iTunes.
In 2008, Disney sent Nye his annual profit participation, which amounted to $585,123. A few months later, the company said it had made an accounting error, and requested that he return $496,111, according to the suit.
"The disturbing size of the supposed 'accounting error,' coupled with the seeming indifference of both (Buena Vista Television) and (the Walt Disney Company), left Mr. Nye suspicious of the veracity of the accounting statements he had been receiving from BVT over the years," the suit states.
According to the suit, Disney reported gross revenues of $26 million, but also reported costs of $20 million — for a show largely underwritten by federal grants.
Nye engaged an attorney and began what would become a drawn-out and largely fruitless effort to audit Disney's statements, according to the lawsuit. At one point, the company said it was experiencing a backlog of audits and would not be able to begin the process for three or four years. Once the audit commenced, the company withheld documents, or said it would produce documents and then failed to follow through, the lawsuit alleges. The auditor was not given access to the Netflix and iTunes licensing agreements, among many other records, Nye alleges.
The auditor ultimately concluded that Nye is owed $9.3 million. According to the suit, Disney had taken a number of steps to skew the profits calculation in its favor, including applying the wrong rates for distribution fees, improperly deducting foreign taxes, and mischaracterizing revenues.
The suit alleges that, in total, Disney has deprived Nye and the other owners of the show of $28 million.