The former Seattleite and Boeing engineer’s new show, which tackles climate change, vaccinations and more, starts streaming Friday, April 21.
Bill Nye the Science Guy returns in a Netflix series with pretty grand expectations, given the title: “Bill Nye Saves the World.”
Formatted as a half-hour, single-topic, science-themed talk show, the 13-episode first season — debuting Friday, April 21, on the streaming service — devotes episodes to Nye’s favorite subjects (climate change, GMOs, vaccinations) and topics that took him more by surprise (video-game addiction).
The 61-year-old Nye was based in Seattle from 1977 to 2000 before moving to Los Angeles (“Bigger pond, more opportunity,” he said of the move). But even today he still sees a primary-care physician in Fremont.
Nye said the key to getting him to headline a new series was executive producer Michael Naidus.
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“He was Craig Ferguson’s showrunner for a long time,” Nye said. “[Naidus] was a guy I saw eye to eye with. And we had the resources to hire first-rate writers and shoot it in a big-time Hollywood soundstage at Sony, which is cool.”
And there’s this: “I love being on television and I love demonstrations. I like the interviews and having a real monologue. I like that it’s like a big-time show.”
Nye was recruited out of college to work as an engineer for Boeing in Seattle, landing in flight control systems on the 747 line. He left Boeing after a few years but stayed in engineering at various Seattle firms for another 20 years while in his free time trying his hand at stand-up comedy, after winning a Steve Martin look-alike contest in 1978.
“I would come home from work, take a nap and go to the comedy clubs,” Nye recalled. “I didn’t spend a lot of time writing my material, which was nothing, but I spent a lot of time on stage, which has value in itself.”
Nye crossed paths with John Keister of local sketch-comedy series “Almost Live!” at an open mic night, and Keister invited Nye to appear on the program, and the Bill Nye the Science Guy character took shape during Nye’s tenure from 1984 to 1991. Nye took the character national in “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” which originated at Seattle’s KCTS and ran from 1994 to 1999 in national TV syndication. He followed it in 2005 with KCTS’ “The Eyes of Nye,” which lasted a single season.
“KCTS went through some distress,” Nye recalled. “When we did ‘The Eyes of Nye,’ the budget started out really big, and by the time we served all these little problems at KCTS, we had a much lower budget for the show than we’d ever had for the ‘Science Guy’ show which was made several years earlier. I still meet a lot of science teachers who watched ‘The Eyes of Nye.’ I learned a lot about certain science doing the show.”
Another misstep on that series: His wardrobe.
“I tried wearing a straight tie. It was nothing,” he said. “We were trying something new. It wasn’t me.”
The bow tie and powder-blue lab coat are back in “Bill Nye Saves the World.” In his climate-change episode and two other installments, Nye is joined by towering model Karlie Kloss, who serves as one of the show’s special correspondents.
“I’ve been whining about climate change since 1990,” Nye said. “On the ‘Science Guy’ show we did several bits about climate change, and that was more than 20 years ago. And what has the United States, the world’s most influential society, done about this? Nothing. I saw today the Senate passed the nuclear option [in confirming Neal Gorsuch to the Supreme Court], and the conservatives can now do whatever they want and in general it’s anti-climate, it is anti-human and it is anti-future and they know it. They’ve seen the electoral map, and I’m pretty sure they’re out of business pretty soon.”
Nye said he hasn’t gotten more political in recent years, just frustrated with politicians who ignore science at the planet’s peril.
“Edward Jenner, who developed the first vaccine against smallpox [in 1796], didn’t do it because he was a Democrat, he did it because it worked,” Nye said. “Fossil fuel burning is causing the world to get warmer. Democrats didn’t make that happen. That’s just how it is.”
“Bill Nye Saves the World” is geared to adults more than the audience of kids who watched “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” but Nye said Netflix is really aiming at “Science Guy” viewers who are now grown up.
“It’s for anybody who’s 13 and older, but we believe, based on the experience at Netflix, it will be Millennials [who watch],” Nye said. “It’s people who grew up with ‘Science Guy.’ And those people have kids. The other day I met a couple of 6-year-olds who are watching the ‘Science Guy’ shows that their parents watched.”