Bill Nye is trying to save the world, not edit old copies of his 1990s TV show.
Nye’s new Netflix series “Bill Nye Saves the World” has drawn the ire of some right-wing critics, who aren’t fans of his take on issues like climate change. That’s perhaps why those same critics were quick last month to pounce on the discovery that repeats of his 20-year-old series “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” now streaming on Netflix, have been edited down.
In one instance, an eagle-eyed viewer noted that one old episode no longer include a rather mundane segment in which a young woman explains sex chromosomes, and how they lead to whether a person becomes biologically male or female. Just as science has evolved in its understanding of gender identity, in his new series Nye points out that “we see more combinations in real life” than just XX and XY combinations.
That episode originally aired in January 1996 – and it’s probably no surprise that a show about science would want to make sure viewers weren’t subject to out of date information. (In another example, when “Sesame Street” released a collection of early 1970s episodes on DVD in the 2000s, it contained a warning that the the show’s educational materials were no longer valid, and that the episodes were meant for nostalgic consumption.)
But the truth of the matter is much more mundane: Neither Netflix, nor Nye, had anything to do with the edit. And like most alleged conspiracies in Hollywood, the answer is simple: It came down to money, not censorship.
As a matter of fact, Disney/ABC Domestic Television confirmed to IndieWire that the episodes were edited down in 2007 when Buena Vista, which originally distributed the show, decided to offer up episodes via direct-to-consumer sales.
“Bill Nye the Science Guy” was originally produced by Seattle public TV station KCTS for PBS stations, but was eventually distributed to commercial TV stations as well by Disney’s Buena Vista label. Between 1993 and 1998, a full 100 episodes were produced.
Disney later purchased the show outright, and still owns it today.
When the company decided to start selling old episodes on iTunes and other platforms, Disney quickly determined it wouldn’t make financial sense to upload all 100, and the company picked 31 of the most popular titles to distribute.
“It was a financial consideration,” said a spokesperson. “This sale isn’t super lucrative, so it doesn’t make sense to do all of them.”
This isn’t “Friends,” and the cost of distributing all 100 episodes would overshadow any pennies it got back in profit. Of those selected 31 episodes, the company still had to go through and determine what music and talent rights they had – and whether they could get clearance from performers. In some cases, if Disney couldn’t get ahold of an actor, that segment was pulled.
And indeed, Disney said many segments were pulled from those episodes due to standard music and clearance issues.
In other words, the (likely) low-level staffer charged with clearing the rights for “Bill Nye the Science Guy” in 2007 wasn’t thinking at all about gender politics – he or she probably wasn’t even listening to what that young person standing in front of the chalkboard was saying. That person couldn’t be found (it had been 10 years after all, and back in 1996 no one was including a digital run in actor contracts) – so the segment was yanked.
When Netflix added “Bill Nye the Science Guy” to its lineup, Disney/ABC gave the streamer the 31 episodes that had been cleared in the after market. (The remaining 69 episodes sit somewhere in a vault, but it probably won’t ever be worth clearing and paying royalties on those episodes.)
It’s another reminder that show business is, first and foremost, a business. In a world where people seem to now want to believe every conspiracy theory (witness the recent outrage over ABC’s decision to cancel the expensive and aging “Last Man Standing,” which many were convinced was politically motivated), the truth is often a lot more mundane.