If millennials are looking for a sign the ’90s have returned, look no further than the resurgence of Science Guy Bill Nye. Recently, the television fave of any kid who has ever had a substitute science teacher has been making his way back into the public eye, with appearances on news programs and a far-too-short stint on Dancing With the Stars this season. Now, he’ll play himself and join the nerds of Big Bang Theory in tonight’s episode of the CBS comedy, which will also feature the return of Professor Proton (Emmy-winning Bob Newhart).
“They bring [Newhart] back by having the gang meet him in a drugstore,” Nye explained to EW about the set up for tonight. “And you know Bob Newhart’s timing is just amazing. So Sheldon goes up to him and says, ‘Excuse me, Prof. Proton, you probably don’t remember me because of your advanced age’… Prof. Proton ends up talking to Leonard about this idea he has for nano-vacuum tubes, a hypothetical thing. And Sheldon, in order to compete with him, brings me on. And it turns out Prof. Proton feels that Bill Nye the Science Guy stole his shtick.”
Below, check out a Q&A with Nye discussing working with Newhart, his involvement with the show, and his pick to win Dancing With the Stars.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What did you hear about Professor Proton’s character when it originally aired last year?
BILL NYE: Well, I watch the show. I’m a geek. I’m the audience. So I watched Professor Proton the first time.…The homage [is to] Mr. Wizard, Don Herbert. And I understand that would be a sitcom’s take on Prof. Proton. But I’ve met Dr. Herbert, and he isn’t exactly Professor Proton [laughs]
So tell me how you came to be involved.
Well, I think two ways. First of all, I’ve been pleading and interacting with those people for a couple of years, suggesting that I might be useful to the show and might fit in somehow. The other thing is I think my Twitter following got high enough where they decided to put me on.
What was working with Bob Newhart like?
It was so fantastic. The guy is very professional. He shows up ready to work, he knows his lines, does the fake smile. There’s a part where Sheldon says, ‘Look how happy he is!’ and Bob Newhart has that timing where Sheldon’s looking at him and he’s smiling and the moment Sheldon turns away he’s ready to blow his brains out. It’s very funny. At one point, Prof. Proton is angry at Bill Nye. And when Bob Newhart comes at you as an actor, and he’s angry, Whoa! It took me a moment to remember that we are actors acting.
You mentioned your Twitter following. Why do you think you’re experiencing this renaissance with millennials?
I would say because I’ve finally gotten on the Twitter thing [laughs]. I think people grew up really liking the show and now we’re all grownups, not just me, and they’re able to vote and so on.
Between Dancing With the Stars and this, are you trying to get back into television?
Oh yeah. This is a turn of phrase, but the phone has been ringing off the hook. Really, the email has been dinging in like crazy with a lot of networks and cable channels that want me to work with. I’ll be on CNN this afternoon! So I’m hoping to parlay this into a show again. Because that really is my first love and that’s where I’d like to get back to work. Also, this may be delusional, but I feel like I have something to say.
I know you’ve been in the headlines a lot for speaking out about climate change and things like that and getting the right wing angry.
Yeah, and the Earth is not 10,000 years old! And it’s not just the right wing, is it? It’s people who don’t accept science as a way to know nature. The other troubling thing, when it comes to climate change, I’m pretty satisfied that the scientists that the fossil fuel industry has hired to introduce doubt about climate change, I’m pretty sure those guys, I’m thinking of a couple people in particular, they know better. They were just going for the money. …It’s the same thing that the smoking, tobacco industry used where the idea of scientific uncertainty – the idea you’d call plus or minus some percent – there’s uncertainty is the same as doubt about the whole thing; the whole thing is not true. And that’s just wrong. As my parents always said, common sense is not so common. It’s not good science.
I know you were eliminated, but who’s your pick to win Dancing With the Stars?
Well, I shouldn’t pick a favorite, but Corbin Bleu really is a great dancer. Elizabeth Berkley is a great dancer. They turn in first class performances every week. But there is more to it than just your performances and your judges scores. I was so disappointed [when I left]…now I’m working on rehabilitation so I can perform in the finale.
I’ll keep my fingers crossed. And I can’t wait to check you out on Big Bang — any chance you’ll return?
It was really a thrill. And I didn’t blow it!… I very much hope I come back. Bob Newhart has a three-appearance deal so he’ll be on once more, at least. The writing on that show is just fantastic. I used to work on a comedy show, that’s where I got my start. There’s a lot of very good actors, but the writing is the hard part. And the writing on Big Bang is something else. Everybody [on the cast] really helped me. They really wanted everyone to succeed; it was nice.