Force of Nature
So does Bill Nye the Science Guy, the educational—and surprisingly entertaining—show that Nye cowrites and stars in. Produced jointly by PBS, Disney and the National Science Foundation, Science Guy is an offbeat combination of Mr. Wizard, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and Mystery Science Theater 3000. A recent winner of two Emmys (for writing and sound editing), the half-hour show attracts nearly 4.5 million viewers each week. And while the fast-paced, stunt-heavy format is aimed at 9-to 11-year-olds, Nye's Jell-O-tossing sensibility also appeals to adults—including, as it turns out, the man who signs his checks. "He makes you understand very sophisticated concepts," says Disney chairman Michael Eisner. "I learn all those things I probably should have learned in high school."
Whether choppering into the crater of Mount St. Helens for a segment on the Earth's crust or hitting the floor for some country-and-western dancing to make a point about friction, Nye has a knack for making science entertaining. "You have to show, then tell," he says. "Science has a huge advantage—there is way, way too much cool stuff out there to show people."
For a guy who counts Carl Sagan and Steve Martin among his greatest influences, it's a dream job. Raised in Washington, Nye, the youngest of three children of Ned Nye, a retired advertising salesman, and Jacqueline Jenkins-Nye, a homemaker who went on to earn a doctorate in education, is a longtime Mr. Wizard fan. A 1973 graduate of the tony Sidwell Friends School, Nye was a member of the science club. "I was a big-time nerd," he recalls. "I wore a tie to school, for crying out loud." Later, at Cornell, he studied astronomy under Sagan, earning a degree in mechanical engineering that landed him a job in Seattle designing hydraulic systems for Boeing. He also began a second career as a standup comic and in 1986 scored a gig with a local comedy show. The Science Guy made his debut a few months later. When his lab pranks (shattering an onion by freezing it in liquid nitrogen) proved popular, Nye created a pilot for the local PBS station, and in 1993 Disney signed on as coproducer.
Now, with his show on PBS and in syndication, a Science Guy exhibit at Disney's Epcot Center, a CD-ROM on the racks and President Clinton praising his high-quality TV, the Science Guy has got it all, right? Not quite, says the 40-year-old, bike-riding bachelor. There's still his crusade to have America go metric ("I would love to be the official spokesperson for the metric system!"), not to mention his thus far unsuccessful quest to be launched into space. Until he gets into orbit, though, Nye, who lives in a two-bedroom house overlooking Seattle's Elliott Bay, keeps busy tending to matters on earth—or as he would prefer it, Earth. "The Earth and Moon should be capitalized," he says. "I'm campaigning to get this changed. I do intend to see that this happens."
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