|Created by||Stephen Hillenburg|
|Theme music composer||Derek Drymon
|Opening theme||“SpongeBob SquarePants Theme”, performed by Patrick Pinney|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||9|
|No. of episodes||189 (aired)
360 (segments) (List of episodes)
|Running time||22 minutes|
|Distributor||MTV Networks International|
|Original run||May 1, 1999 – present|
|Related shows||Rocko’s Modern Life|
SpongeBob SquarePants is an American animated television series created by marine biologist and animator Stephen Hillenburg. The series chronicles the adventures and endeavors of the title character and his various friends in the fictional underwater city of Bikini Bottom. The series’ popularity has made it a media franchise, as well as the highest rated series to ever air on Nickelodeon, and the most distributed property of MTV Networks. The media franchise has generated $8 billion in merchandising revenue for Nickelodeon.
Many of the ideas for the series originated in an unpublished, educational comic book titled The Intertidal Zone, which Hillenburg created in the mid-1980s. He began developing SpongeBob SquarePants into a television series in 1996 upon the cancellation of Rocko’s Modern Life, and turned to Tom Kenny, who had worked with him on that series, to voice the titular character. SpongeBob was originally going to be named SpongeBoy, and the series was to be called SpongeBoy Ahoy!, but these were changed, as the name was already trademarked.
Nickelodeon held a preview for the series in the United States on May 1, 1999, following the television airing of the 1999 Kids’ Choice Awards. The series officially premiered on July 17, 1999. It has received worldwide critical acclaim since its premiere and gained enormous popularity by its second season. A feature film, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, was released in theaters on November 19, 2004, and a sequel is currently in production, with a projected release date of February 6, 2015. On July 21, 2012, the series was renewed and aired its ninth season, beginning with the episode “Extreme Spots“.
Despite its widespread popularity, the series has been involved in several public controversies, including one centered on speculation over SpongeBob’s intended sexual orientation. The series has been nominated for a variety of different awards, including 17 Annie Awards (with six wins), 17 Golden Reel Awards (with eight wins), 15 Emmy Awards (with one win), 13 Kids’ Choice Awards (with 12 wins), and four BAFTA Children’s Awards (with two wins). In 2011, a newly described species of mushroom, Spongiforma squarepantsii, was named after the cartoon’s title character.
- 1 Development
- 2 Production
- 3 Broadcast
- 4 Characters
- 5 Setting
- 6 Reception
- 7 Other media
- 8 Merchandise
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Series creator Stephen Hillenburg first became fascinated with the ocean as a child. Also at a young age, he began developing his artistic abilities. However, these two interests would not coincide for a long time—the idea of drawing fish seemed boring to him. During college, he majored in marine biology and minored in art. After graduating in 1984, he joined the Ocean Institute, an organization in Dana Point, California, dedicated to educating the public about marine science and maritime history.
While Hillenburg was there, he created a precursor to SpongeBob SquarePants: a comic book titled The Intertidal Zone, which was used by the institute to teach visiting students about the animal life of tide pools. The comic starred various anthropomorphic sea lifeforms, many of which would evolve into SpongeBob characters. Hillenburg tried to get the comic professionally published, but none of the companies to which he sent it were interested.
During his time of employment at the Ocean Institute, Hillenburg attended an animation festival and determined that he wanted to pursue a career in that field. He had already been planning on returning to college for a master’s degree in art. Instead, he studied experimental animation at the California Institute of the Arts. His thesis film, Wormholes, is about the theory of relativity. It was screened at festivals, and at one of these, Hillenburg met Joe Murray, the creator of the popular Nickelodeon animated series, Rocko’s Modern Life. Murray was impressed by the style of the film and offered Hillenburg a job. Hillenburg joined the series as a director and later, during the fourth season, he took on the roles of producer and creative director.
Martin Olson, one of the writers for Rocko’s Modern Life, saw The Intertidal Zone and encouraged Hillenburg to create a television series with a similar concept. At that point, Hillenburg had not even considered creating his own series. However, he realized that if he ever did, this would be the best approach. He began to further develop some of the characters from The Intertidal Zone, including one named Bob the Sponge — Hillenburg has described this character as “the announcer” of the comic. He wanted his series to stand out from the most popular cartoons of the time and felt that these were exemplified by buddy comedies, such as Ren and Stimpy. So, he decided to focus on one central character; the weirdest sea creature that he could think of. This led him to the sponge. Bob the Sponge resembles an actual sea sponge, and at first Hillenburg continued this design. In determining the new character’s personality, Hillenburg drew inspiration from innocent, child-like figures that he enjoyed, such as Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Jerry Lewis, and Pee-wee Herman. He then considered modeling the character after a kitchen sponge and realized that this idea would perfectly match the character’s square personality.
To voice the central character of the series, Hillenburg turned to Tom Kenny, whose career in animation had started alongside Hillenburg’s on Rocko’s Modern Life. Elements of Kenny’s own personality were employed in further developing the character. Initially, Hillenburg wanted to use the name SpongeBoy – the character would have had no last name, and the series would have been called SpongeBoy Ahoy! However the Nickelodeon legal department discovered – after voice acting had been completed for the original seven-minute pilot episode – that the name “SpongeBoy” was already in use for a mop product. Flaming Carrot Comics creator Bob Burden also owned the trademark to a character of the same name. In choosing a replacement name, Hillenburg felt that he still had to use the word “Sponge”, so that viewers would not mistake the character for a “Cheese Man”. He settled on the name “SpongeBob”. “SquarePants” was then chosen as a family name after Kenny saw a picture of the character and remarked, “Boy, look at this sponge in square pants, thinking he can get a job in a fast food place.” Hillenburg loved the phrase upon hearing Kenny say it and felt that it would reinforce the character’s nerdiness.
“The execs from Nickelodeon flew out to Burbank, and we pitched it to them from the storyboards. We had squeezy toys, wore Hawaiian shirts and used a boom box to play the Tiny Tim song [‘Livin’ in the Sunlight, Lovin’ in the Moonlight‘] that comes on in the third act. We really went all out in that pitch because we knew the pilot lived or died by if the execs laughed. When it was over, they walked out of the room to discuss it. We figured they would fly back to New York and we’d hear in a few weeks. We were surprised when they came back in what seemed like minutes and said they wanted to make it”.
In 1997, while pitching the cartoon to Nickelodeon executives, Hillenburg donned a Hawaiian shirt, brought along an “underwater terrarium with models of the characters”, and played Hawaiian music to set the theme. The setup was described by Nickelodeon executive Eric Coleman as “pretty amazing”. When they were given money and two weeks to write the pilot episode “Help Wanted“, Derek Drymon, Stephen Hillenberg, and Nick Jennings returned with what was described by Nickelodeon official Albie Hecht as, “a performance [he] wished [he] had on tape”. Although executive producer Derek Drymon described the pitch as stressful, he said it went “very well”. Kevin Kay and Hecht had to step outside because they were “exhausted from laughing,” which worried the cartoonists.
In an interview, Cyma Zarghami, the current president of Nickelodeon, said, “their [Nickelodeon executives’] immediate reaction was to see it again, both because they liked it and it was unlike anything they’d ever seen before”. Zarghami was one of four executives in the room when SpongeBob SquarePants was screened for the first time.
Executive producers and showrunners
“It reached a point where I felt I’d contributed a lot and said what I wanted to say. At that point, the show needed new blood, and so I selected Paul [Tibbitt] to produce. I totally trusted him. I always enjoyed the way he captured the SpongeBob character’s sense of humor. And as a writer, you have to move on—I’m developing new projects”.
Series creator Stephen Hillenburg has served as the executive producer over the course of the series’ entire history, and functioned as the showrunner from the series’ debut in 1999 until 2004. The series went on hiatus, after Hillenburg halted production in 2002 to work on a feature film of the series, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. Once the film was finalized and the third season finished, Hillenburg resigned as the series’ showrunner. Although this means that Hillenburg no longer has a direct role in the production of the series, he has maintained an advisory role and still reviews each episode.
When the film was completed, Hillenburg wanted to end the series “so [it] wouldn’t jump the shark.” However, Nickelodeon wanted more episodes, so Hillenburg appointed Paul Tibbitt, who previously served as the show’s supervising producer, writer, director, and storyboard artist, to take over his role as showrunner and produce further seasons. Hillenburg considered Tibbitt one of his favorite members of the show’s crew, and “totally trusted him”. Tibbitt still holds the showrunner position, and also functions as an executive producer.
For SpongeBob SquarePants a team of five outline and premise writers creates the initial storylines. Writer Luke Brookshier said, “SpongeBob is written differently than many television shows”. Writing for an episode of the series starts with a two-page outline. A storyboard director then takes the outline and develops it into a full episode – jokes and dialogue are added during this stage. Another writer for the series, Merriwether Williams, described in an interview that she and Mr. Lawrence would write a draft for an episode in an afternoon and be done at 4 o’clock.
Hillenburg decided early on, prior to starting the production of the series, that he wanted SpongeBob SquarePants to be storyboard-driven, rather than script-driven. This required an approach in which artists “would take a skeletal story outline and flesh it out with sight gags, dialogue and a structure that would strike a balance between narrative and whimsy”. Hillenburg originally wanted “a team of young and hungry people” to work on the series. The primary figures, who had previously worked with Hillenburg on Rocko’s Modern Life, consisted of Alan Smart, Nick Jennings, and Derek Drymon. Head writer Steven Banks said, “The writers come up with an idea and write premises and outlines describing the story, and the storyboarders (who are also writers) write the dialogue while they draw the storyboard panels. Most other shows are script-driven. We don’t write scripts and that has made all the difference!”
The writing staff often used their individual life experiences for inspirations to come up with the storylines of the series’ episodes. For example, the episode “Sailor Mouth,” in which SpongeBob and Patrick learn profanity, was inspired by creative director Derek Drymon’s experience of getting in trouble as a child for using the f-word in front of his mother. Drymon said, “The scene where Patrick is running to Mr. Krabs to tattle, with SpongeBob chasing him, is pretty much how it happened in real life”. The end of the episode, in which Mr. Krabs uses even more profanity than SpongeBob and Patrick, was inspired “by the fact that my [Drymon’s] mother has a sailor mouth herself”. The idea for the episode “The Secret Box” also came from one of Drymon’s childhood experiences. Hillenburg explained, “Drymon had a secret box [as a kid] and started telling us about it. We wanted to make fun of him and use it.”
Almost every episode is divided into two 11-minute segments. Hillenburg explained that “[I] never really wanted to deliberately try to write a half-hour show”. He added, “I wrote the shows to where they felt right”. Each 11-minute segment takes about nine months to produce.
Kenny provides the voices of SpongeBob SquarePants, SpongeBob’s pet snail Gary, the French Narrator, Harold SquarePants, Patchy the Pirate, and the Dirty Bubble. Kenny previously worked with Hillenburg on Rocko’s Modern Life and, when Hillenburg created SpongeBob SquarePants, he approached Kenny to voice the character. The voice of SpongeBob was originally used by Kenny for a minor background character in Rocko’s Modern Life. Kenny says that SpongeBob’s high-pitched laugh was specifically created to be unique. They wanted an annoying laugh in the tradition of Popeye and Woody Woodpecker.
Fagerbakke provides the voices of Patrick Star and other miscellaneous characters in the series, including the City Mayor. In an interview, Fagerbakke compared himself to the character and said, “It’s extremely gratifying”. Fagerbakke modeled his performance whenever Patrick is angry after that of American actress Shelley Winters.
Bumpass provides the voice of Squidward Tentacles and other miscellaneous characters. Arthur Brown, author of Everything I Need to Know, I Learned from Cartoons!, has compared Squidward’s voice to that of Jack Benny‘s.
Carolyn Lawrence provides the voice of Sandy Cheeks. Lawrence got the role of Sandy when she was in the Los Feliz neighborhood in Los Angeles. She met Donna Grillo, a casting director, on a sidewalk. Lawrence was with a friend who knew Grillo, and she said Lawrence had an interesting voice. Grillo brought Lawrence in to audition and she got the part of Sandy. Lawrence modeled her performance of Sandy after that of American actress Holly Hunter.
Mr. Lawrence provides the voice of the series villain, Plankton, and recurring character Larry the Lobster. At the same time when Hillenburg, Derek Drymon, and Tim Hill were writing the pilot “Help Wanted,” Hillenburg was also conducting auditions to find voices for the characters. Hillenburg originally had Lawrence in mind for the role of voicing Squidward. Drymon said, “We knew Doug from Rocko, where he was a storyboard director and where he also did the voice of Filburt. We were showing Doug the storyboard, and he started reading back to us in his Tony the Tiger/Gregory Peck voice. It was really funny, and we wound up having SpongeBob use a deep voice when he entered the Krusty Krab for the first time”. Hillenburg loved the voice and decided to give Lawrence the part of Plankton.
|Main cast members|
|Tom Kenny||Bill Fagerbakke||Rodger Bumpass||Clancy Brown||Carolyn Lawrence||Mr. Lawrence|
|SpongeBob, Gary, French Narrator, Harold SquarePants, Patchy the Pirate, Dirty Bubble, others||Patrick, others||Squidward, others||Mr. Krabs||Sandy||Plankton, Larry the Lobster, others|
The recurring characters of Karen, Mrs. Puff, Pearl and the Flying Dutchman are voiced by Kenny’s wife Jill Talley, Mary Jo Catlett, Lori Alan and Brian Doyle-Murray, respectively. Mr. Krabs’ mother, Mama Krabs, who debuted in the episode “Sailor Mouth,” was voiced by writer Paul Tibbitt. However, voice actress Sirena Irwin overtook Tibbitt’s role as the character reappeared in the fourth season episode “Enemy In-Law” in 2005. Tom Kenny portrays Patchy the Pirate, the president of the fictional SpongeBob SquarePants fan club, while series creator Hillenburg voiced the character of Potty the Parrot. After Hillenburg’s departure as showrunner in 2004, Tibbitt was given the role in voicing Potty the Parrot.
In addition to the regular cast, episodes feature guest voices from many ranges of professions, including actors, athletes, authors, musicians, and artists. Recurring guest voices include Ernest Borgnine, who voiced Mermaid Man from 1999 until his death in 2012; Tim Conway as the voice of Barnacle Boy; and Marion Ross as Grandma SquarePants. Notable guests who have provided vocal cameo appearances includes David Bowie as Lord Royal Highness in the television film Atlantis SquarePantis, Johnny Depp as the voice of the surf guru, Jack Kahuna Laguna, in the episode “SpongeBob vs. The Big One,” and Victoria Beckham as the voice of Queen Amphitrite in the episode “The Clash of Triton“.
Voice recording sessions always include a full cast of actors, which Kenny describes as “getting more unusual”. Kenny said, “That’s another thing that’s given SpongeBob its special feel. Everybody’s in the same room, doing it old radio-show style. It’s how the stuff we like was recorded”. Series writer Jay Lender said, “The recording sessions were always fun …” For the first three seasons, Hillenburg and Drymon sat in on the record studio, and they directed the actors. In the fourth season, Andrea Romano took over the role as the voice director. Wednesday is recording day, the same schedule followed by the crew since 1999. Casting supervisor Jennie Monica Hammond said, “I loved Wednesdays”.
Approximately 50 people work together in animating and producing an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants. Throughout its run, production for the series has been handled domestically at Nickelodeon Animation Studio in Burbank, California, while the finished animation has been created overseas at Rough Draft Studios in South Korea. Storyboarding for each episode is done by the crew in California. The crew in Korea then use the storyboards as a template, animating by hand, coloring cels on a computer, and painting backgrounds. Episodes are finished in California, where they are edited and have music added. Character designs are updated or modified every season to solve technical issues in the animation.
During the first season, SpongeBob SquarePants used cel animation. The series shifted to digital ink and paint animation during its second season in 2000. In 2009, executive producer Paul Tibbitt said “The first season of SpongeBob was done the old-fashioned way on cells, and every cell had to be part-painted, left to dry, paint some other colours. It’s still a time-consuming aspect of the process now, but the digital way of doing things means it doesn’t take long to correct”.
In 2008, the crew shifted to using Wacom Cintiqs for the drawings instead of pencils. The fifth season episode “Pest of the West” was the first episode in the series to which the crew applied this method. Series background designer Kenny Pittenger said, “The only real difference between the way we draw now and the way we drew then is that we abandoned pencil and paper during the fifth season”. The crew began the shift while they were working on the episode. Pittenger said, “It was while we were working on ‘Pest of the West’, one of the half-hour specials, that we made the switch … did you notice?” The shift to Wacom Cintiqs let the designers and animators draw on computer screens and make immediate changes or undo mistakes. Pittenger said, “Many neo-Luddites—er … I mean, many of my cohorts—don’t like working on them, but I find them useful. There’s no substitute for the immediacy of drawing on a piece of paper, of course, but digital nautical nonsense is still pretty fun”.
LA-based animation studio Screen Novelties created a stop-motion opening sequence for the series’ 10th anniversary special. Screen Novelties was re-enlisted a few years later to produce the eighth season episode “It’s a SpongeBob Christmas!” This was the first full-length episode in the series to be produced in stop motion animation. Mark Caballero, Seamus Walsh, and Christopher Finnegan of Screen Novelties animated the episode, and Caballero and Walsh also served as its directors.
“[The music has gone] from mostly sea shanties and Hawaiian music à la Roy Smeck meets Pee-wee Herman—still the main style for the show—in the early episodes, but it now includes film noir, West Side Story to [Henry] Mancini, Jerry Goldsmith and [Steven] Spielberg. There’s Broadway-type scores and plain old goofy, loopy, weird stuff. I try to push the envelope on this show without getting in the way of the story, and I try to push it up and way over the top when I can get away with it, all the time keeping it as funny and ridiculous as possible.”
The theme song was composed by Mark Harrison and Blaise Smith, while the lyrics to the song were written by series creator Stephen Hillenburg and the series’ original creative director Derek Drymon. The melody was inspired by the sea shanty “Blow the Man Down“. An old oil painting of a pirate is used in the opening sequence. It has been dubbed “Painty the Pirate”, and according to Tom Kenny, Hillenburg found the it in a thrift shop “years ago”. Patrick Pinney gives voice to Painty the Pirate, singing the theme song as the character. Hillenburg’s lips were imposed onto the painting and move along with the lyrics. Kenny joked that this is “about as close of a glimpse as most SpongeBob fans are ever going to get of Steve Hillenburg”, because of Hillenburg’s private nature.
A cover of the song by Avril Lavigne can be found on the SpongeBob SquarePants Movie soundtrack. Another cover by the Violent Femmes aired on Nickelodeon as a promotion for the series moving to prime time.
Steve Belfer, one of Hillenburg’s friends from CalArts, wrote and performed the music that is played over the end credits. This theme includes ukulele music, per Hillenburg’s request. Drymon said, “It’s so long ago, it’s hard to be sure, but I remember Hillenburg having the Belfer music early on, maybe before the pilot”.
The series’ music editor and main composer is Nicolas Carr. After working with Hillenburg on Rocko’s Modern Life, Carr struggled to find a new job in his field. He had been considering a career change when Hillenburg offered him the job. The first season’s score primarily featured selections from the Associated Production Music Library, which Carr has said includes “lots of great old corny Hawaiian music and big, full, dramatic orchestral scores.” Rocko’s Modern Life also used music from this library. It was Hillenburg’s decision to adopt the approach. The selections for SpongeBob SquarePants have been described by Carr as being “more over-the-top” than those for Rocko’s Modern Life.
Hillenburg also felt that it was important for the series to develop its own music library, consisting of scores that could be reused and re-edited throughout the years. He wanted these scores to be composed by unknowns, and a group of twelve was assembled. They formed “The Sponge Divers Orchestra”, which includes Carr and Belfer. This group went on to provide the majority of the music for later seasons, although Carr still draws from the Associated Production Music Library, as well as another library that he founded himself – Animation Music Inc.
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||20||May 1, 1999||April 8, 2000|
|2||20||October 26, 2000||July 26, 2003|
|3||20||October 5, 2001||October 11, 2004|
|4||20||May 6, 2005||July 24, 2007|
|5||20||February 19, 2007||July 19, 2009|
|6||26||March 3, 2008||July 5, 2010|
|7||26||July 19, 2009||June 11, 2011|
|8||26||March 26, 2011||December 6, 2012|
|9||TBA||July 21, 2012||TBA|
The series airs on Foxtel channel Nickelodeon and Freeview channel Eleven in Australia, on Nickelodeon in New Zealand, Israel, Canada, India, and the United Kingdom and Ireland. It airs on TG4 in Ireland dubbed in Irish, YTV in Canada, Global TV in Indonesia.
“”Ten years. I never imagined working on the show to this date and this long…I really figured we might get a season and a cult following, and that might be it.”
Nickelodeon began celebrating the 10th anniversary of the series on January 18, 2009 with a live cast reading of the episode “SpongeBob vs. The Big One”. The reading – a first for the series – was held at that year’s Sundance Film Festival, and the episode, which would not premiere on T.V. until April 17, featured Johnny Depp as a guest star. Other celebratory actions taken by the network included the launching of a new website for the series (spongebob.com) and the introduction of new merchandising. A “SpongeBob and water conservation-themed element” was also added to Nickelodeon’s pro-social campaign The Big Green Help. In an interview, Tom Kenny said, “What I’m most proud of is that kids still really like [SpongeBob SquarePants] and care about it … They eagerly await new episodes. People who were young children when it started 10 years ago are still watching it and digging it and think it’s funny. That’s the loving cup for me”.
Three nights before the official anniversary date, an hour long documentary of the series, Square Roots: The Story of SpongeBob SquarePants, premiered on VH1. Critically acclaimed duo Patrick Creadon and Christine O’Malley created the film as a followup to I.O.U.S.A. – a documentary on America’s financial situation. Creadon remarked, “After spending two years examining the financial health of the United States, Christine and I were ready to tackle something a little more upbeat. Telling the SpongeBob story feels like the perfect fit.” On Friday July 17, Nickelodeon marked the official anniversary of the series, with a 50-hour television marathon titled “The Ultimate SpongeBob SpongeBash Weekend”. The marathon began with a new episode, “To SquarePants or Not to SquarePants“. Saturday saw a countdown of the top ten episodes as picked by fans, as well as an airing of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. The marathon finished on Sunday, which saw a countdown of episodes as picked by celebrities, as well as the premiere of ten new episodes.
On September 22, 2009, Paramount Home Entertainment released a 2,200 minute, 14-disc DVD set titled The First 100 Episodes. A second television film, titled Truth or Square, debuted on Nickelodeon on November 6, 2009. Several celebrities made live action cameo appearances on the film, including Rosario Dawson, LeBron James, Tina Fey, Will Ferrell, Craig Ferguson, Robin Williams and P!nk, while Ricky Gervais provided opening and closing narration for the special.
The series revolves around its title character and his various friends. SpongeBob SquarePants is an energetic and optimistic sea sponge (although his appearance more closely resembles a kitchen sponge) who lives in a pineapple under the sea with his pet snail, Gary, who meows like a cat. Living two houses down from SpongeBob is his best friend Patrick Star, a dim-witted yet friendly pink starfish who lives under a rock. Despite his “mental setbacks,” Patrick still sees himself as intelligent. Squidward Tentacles is SpongeBob’s next-door neighbor and co-worker at the Krusty Krab. Squidward is an arrogant and ill-tempered octopus who lives in an Easter Island moai and dislikes his neighbors (especially SpongeBob) for their childlike behavior. He enjoys playing the clarinet and painting self-portraits, but hates his job working at the Krusty Krab. Another close friend of SpongeBob is Sandy Cheeks, a squirrel from Texas. Sandy is a scientist and expert in karate. She lives in an underwater tree dome. When outside of her tree dome, she wears an astronaut-like suit because she cannot breathe underwater. Mr. Krabs, a miserly crab obsessed with money, is the owner of the Krusty Krab restaurant and SpongeBob’s boss. His rival, Plankton, is a small green copepod who owns a low-rank fast-food restaurant called the Chum Bucket located across the street from the Krusty Krab. Plankton spends most of his time planning to steal the recipe for Mr. Krabs’s popular Krabby Patty burgers to obtain success and put the Krusty Krab out of business.
Other recurring characters appear alongside SpongeBob. These include SpongeBob’s driving teacher Mrs. Puff, Mr. Krabs’ daughter Pearl, Plankton’s computer wife Karen, and SpongeBob and Patrick’s favorite superheroes, Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy.
Much of the series’ events take place in Bikini Bottom, an underwater city located in the Pacific Ocean beneath the real life tropical isle of Bikini Atoll. Much of this is supported within the context of the episodes themselves. However, despite implications of the city’s location, as well as analogies to real life, Hillenburg has stated that he wishes to leave the city isolated from the real world. The citizens of Bikini Bottom live in mostly aquatic-themed buildings, and use “boatmobiles,” amalgamations of cars and boats, as a mode of transportation. Notable establishments present in Bikini Bottom includes the Krusty Krab and Mrs. Puff’s Boating School, which have become common settings in the series since their first appearance in 1999.
When the crew began production on the pilot, they were tasked with designing the stock locations where “… the show would return to again and again, and in which most of the action would take place, such as the Krusty Krab and SpongeBob’s pineapple house”. Hillenburg had a “clear vision” of what he wanted the series to look like. The idea was “to keep everything nautical,” so the crew used a lot of rope, wooden planks, ships’ wheels, netting, anchors, boilerplates and rivets.
The series features the “sky flowers” as a main setting material. They first appeared in the pilot and have since become a common feature throughout the series. When series background designer Kenny Pittenger was asked what they were, he answered, “They function as clouds in a way, but since the show takes place underwater, they aren’t really clouds”. Since the series was influenced by tiki, the background painters have to use a lot of pattern. Pittenger said, “So really, the sky flowers are mostly a whimsical design element that Steve [Hillenburg] came up with to evoke the look of a flower-print Hawaiian shirt—or something like that. I don’t know what they are either”.
Ratings and run-length achievements
By 2001, the series had flourished into Nickelodeon’s No. 2 children’s program, after Rugrats. Nearly 40 percent of the show’s audience of 2.2 million were aged 18 to 34. As a result, Nickelodeon expanded the show’s exposure on television from Saturday morning to almost-prime time, broadcasting at 6 PM, Monday through Thursday. In 2001, Nickelodeon took the “Saturday-morning ratings crown” for the fourth straight season, grabbing a 4.8 rating/21 share (1.9 million viewers) in kids 2–11, jumping 17% compared to the previous year. In the second quarter of 2002, the series had a 6.7 rating and 2.2 million kids 2 to 11, up 22% over 2001. Forbes called the series “a $1 billion honeypot,” and said that the series was “almost single-handedly responsible for making Viacom‘s Nickelodeon the most-watched cable channel during the day and the second most popular during prime time”. It was also reported that, of the 50 million viewers who watch it every month, 20 million are adults.
In October 2002, another Nickelodeon series titled The Fairly OddParents ranked as the No. 2 program for children between 2 and 11 years old. Its ratings at that time have been almost equal to SpongeBob, which had an average of 2.2 million viewers per episode. It even briefly surpassed SpongeBob, putting it into second place, registering a 6.2 rating and nearly 2.5 million child viewers, while SpongeBob had a 6.0 rating and 2.4 million kids 2-11. Nickelodeon “recognized” the OddParents for its climbing ratings and installed it into a new time slot, previously occupied by SpongeBob, at 8 PM. In an interview, Nickelodeon president Cyma Zarghami said, “Are we banking on the fact that Fairly OddParents will be the next SpongeBob? … We are hoping. But SpongeBob is so unique, it’s hard to say if it will ever be repeated”.
SpongeBob SquarePants is one of the longest-running series on Nickelodeon. It became the Nickelodeon series with the most episodes, during its eighth season, surpassing the 172 episodes of Rugrats with 178. In its ninth season, a total of 26 episodes are in order, which would push the series over the 200th episode mark. In a statement, Brown Johnson, animation president for Nickelodeon, said, “SpongeBob’s success in reaching over 200 episodes is a testament to creator Stephen Hillenburg’s vision, comedic sensibility and his dynamic, lovable characters. The series now joins the club of contemporary classic Nicktoons that have hit this benchmark, so we’re incredibly proud”.
SpongeBob SquarePants received generally positive reviews from critics, and has been noted for its appeal towards different age groups. James Poniewozik of Time magazine considered the titular character as “the anti-Bart Simpson, temperamentally and physically: his head is as squared-off and neat as Bart’s is unruly, and he has a personality to match–conscientious, optimistic and blind to the faults in the world and those around him”. According to Laura Fries of Variety magazine, the series is “a thoughtful and inventive cartoon about a hopelessly optimistic and resilient sea sponge … Devoid of the double entendres rife in today’s animated TV shows, this is purely kid’s stuff … However, that’s not to say that SpongeBob is simplistic or even juvenile. It’s charming and whimsical, but clever enough to appeal to teens and college-aged kids, as well”. The New York Times critic Joyce Millman said SpongeBob “is clever without being impenetrable to young viewers and goofy without boring grown-ups to tears. It’s the most charming toon on television, and one of the weirdest. And it’s also good, clean fun, which makes sense because it is, after all, about a sponge”. Millman wrote, “His relentless good cheer would be irritating if he weren’t so darned lovable and his world so excellently strange … Like Pee-wee’s Playhouse, SpongeBob joyfully dances on the fine line between childhood and adulthood, guilelessness and camp, the warped and the sweet”.
Robert Thompson, a professor of communications and director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, told The New York Times, “There is something kind of unique about [SpongeBob]. It seems to be a refreshing breath from the pre-irony era. There’s no sense of the elbow-in-rib, tongue-in-cheek aesthetic that so permeates the rest of American culture–including kids’ shows like the Rugrats. I think what’s subversive about it is it’s so incredibly naive–deliberately. Because there’s nothing in it that’s trying to be hip or cool or anything else, hipness can be grafted onto it”. In a 2007 interview, Barack Obama named SpongeBob his favorite character, and admitted that SpongeBob SquarePants was “the show I watch with my daughters”. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has also said he watches the series with his children.
Awards and accolades
SpongeBob SquarePants has received many awards and nominations from several award bodies since its debut in 1999. It has been nominated for 15 Emmy Awards, and won Outstanding Special Class Animated Program in 2010. The series received 17 Annie Awards nominations, out of which it has won six times, as well as four BAFTA Children’s Awards, out of which it has won twice. Since 2004, IGN‘s regional website in the UK placed SpongeBob SquarePants 15th in its top 100 animated series of all time list. In 2006, IGN ranked the series at the same spot on its list of “Top 25 Animated Series of All Time”. In a 2013 list, the website ranked SpongeBob SquarePants 12th in “The Top 25 Animated Series for Adults”.
The series is among the “All-TIME 100 TV Shows” as chosen by Time television critic James Poniewozik. He said, “It’s the most funny, surreal, inventive example of the explosion in creative kids’ (and adult) entertainment that Nick, Cartoon Network and their ilk made possible”. Viewers of the UK television channel Channel 4 have voted SpongeBob SquarePants at No. 28 in its 2005’s The 100 Greatest Cartoons. TV Guide listed the character of SpongeBob SquarePants at No. 9 for its “50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time”. In 2013, the publication ranked SpongeBob SquarePants the eighth “Greatest TV Cartoon of All Time”. In June 2010, Entertainment Weekly named SpongeBob one of the “100 Greatest Characters of the Last 20 Years”. However, not all critical reception for the character has been positive. AskMen‘s “Top 10 Irritating ’90s Cartoon Characters” ranked SpongeBob at No. 4 saying that his well-meaning attitude is extremely annoying.
In July 2009, Madame Tussauds wax museum in New York launched a wax sculpture of SpongeBob in celebration of the series’ 10th anniversary. SpongeBob is the first fictional character to be featured in Tussauds. In May 2011, a new species of mushroom, Spongiforma squarepantsii, was described, named after the series’ title character.
The character has also became a trend in Egypt at Cairo’s Tahrir Square. After the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, SpongeBob became a fashion phenomenon, appearing on various items of merchandise from hijabs to boxer shorts. The phenomenon led to the creation of the Tumblr project called “SpongeBob on the Nile”. The project was founded by American students Andrew Leber and Elisabeth Jaquette, and attempts to document every appearance of SpongeBob in Egypt. Sherief Elkeshta cited the phenomenon in an essay about the incoherent state of politics in Egypt in an independent monthly paper titled Midan Masr. He wrote, “Why isn’t he [SpongeBob] at least holding a Molotov cocktail? Or raising a fist?” The phenomenon has even spread to Libya, where a Libyan rebel in SpongeBob dress was photographed celebrating the revolution.
In 2013, a clip featuring soldiers in Russia marching as they sing the SpongeBob theme was posted on YouTube. According to English Russia, “One of the most popular marching songs in Russian army is SpongeBob SquarePants theme”. The video of the soldiers singing the theme was posted online on February 14, 2013. The video garnered 50,000 hits in the first week.
Criticism and controversy
In 2005, a promotional video which showed SpongeBob and other characters from children’s shows singing together to promote diversity and tolerance was attacked by an evangelical group in the United States because they saw SpongeBob being used as an “advocate for homosexuality“. James Dobson of Focus on the Family accused the makers of the video of “promoting homosexuality due to a pro-tolerance group sponsoring the video”. The incident led to questions as to whether or not SpongeBob is gay. In 2002, series creator Stephen Hillenburg denied the issue, despite the fact that SpongeBob’s popularity with gay men grew. He clarified that he considers the character to be “almost asexual“. After Dobson’s comments, Hillenburg repeated his assertion that sexual preference was never considered during the creation of the show. Tom Kenny and other production members were shocked that such an issue had arisen.
Dobson later stated that his comments were taken out of context, and that his original complaints were not with SpongeBob, the video, or any of the characters in the video, but rather with the organization that sponsored the video, We Are Family Foundation. Dobson indicated that the We Are Family Foundation posted pro-gay material on their website, but later removed it. After the controversy, John H. Thomas, the United Church of Christ‘s general minister and president, said they would welcome SpongeBob into their ministry. He said, “Jesus didn’t turn people away. Neither do we”.
Jeffrey P. Dennis, author of the journal article “The Same Thing We Do Every Night: Signifying Same-Sex Desire in Television Cartoons,” argued that SpongeBob and Sandy are not romantically in love, while adding that he believed that SpongeBob and Patrick “are paired with arguably erotic intensity”. Martin Goodman of Animation World Magazine described Dennis’ comments regarding SpongeBob and Patrick as “interesting”. In August 2012, the Ukrainian National Expert Commission for Protecting Public Morality attempted to ban the series for “promotion of homosexuality”. The Teletubbies, Family Guy, Pokémon, and The Simpsons are among other programs accused of promoting the “destruction of the family”.
In April 2009, in a tie-in partnership with Burger King and Nickelodeon, Burger King released an advertisement featuring SpongeBob and Sir Mix-a-Lot singing “Baby Got Back“. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood protested the ad for being sexist and inappropriately sexual, especially considering that SpongeBob’s fan base includes preschoolers. In an official statement released by Burger King, they claimed that “this campaign is aimed at parents”.
“The children who watched the cartoon were operating at half the capacity compared to other children.”
A 2011 study conducted at the University of Virginia published in the journal Pediatrics suggested that allowing preschool audiences to watch the series caused short term disruptions in mental function and attention span due to frequent shot changes. A Nickelodeon executive responded in an interview that the series was not intended for an audience of that age and that the study used “questionable methodology and could not possibly provide the basis for any valid findings that parents could trust”.
Criticism of declining quality and 2012 ratings slide
While the 2004 film, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, was generally well received by fans of the show, it is also considered a turning point in the show’s history, as many of said fans believe the television series has declined in quality since the film’s release. While episodes aired before the film were praised for their “uncanny brilliance”, ones aired after the film have been variously categorized as “kid-pandering attention-waster[s]”, “tedious”, “boring” and “dreck”, a “depressing plateau of mediocrity”, and “laugh-skimpy”. Following the film’s release, fans “began to turn away from the show,” causing online fansites to “[become] deserted”. Some believe the show’s ratings decline as of 2012 correlates with the alleged decline in quality, and “whatever fan support [the show] enjoys is not enough” to save it from its ratings slide.
In 2012, it was reported that the series’ ratings were declining. The average number of viewers aged 2 to 11 watching SpongeBob at any given time dropped 29% in the first quarter from a year earlier, according to Nielsen. Wall Street Journal business writer John Jannarone suggested that the age of the series and oversaturation of the series might be contributing to the decline of the series’ ratings, and might also be directly responsible for the decline in Nickelodeon’s overall ratings. Media analyst Todd Juenger directly attributes the decline in Nickelodeon’s ratings to the availability of streaming video content on services like Netflix, a provider of on-demand Internet streaming media.
Philippe Dauman, the president and CEO of Viacom, contradicted the notion, saying he did not think “the limited amount of Nick library content on Netflix … has had a significant impact”. A Nickelodeon spokesman said SpongeBob is performing consistently well and remains the number one rated animated series in all of children’s television. He added, “There is nothing that we have seen that points to SpongeBob as a problem”. Dauman blamed the drop on “some ratings systemic issues” at Nielsen, citing extensive set-top-box data that “does in no way reflect” the Nielsen data.
Juenger noted that SpongeBob could affect the ratings of other Nickelodeon programming because children often change channels to find their favorite programs, then stay tuned into that network. Nickelodeon recently reduced its exposure in television. In the first quarter of 2012, the network cut back on the number of episodes it aired by 16% compared with a year earlier.
On April 22, 2013, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings announced their intentions not to renew their existing deal with Viacom. Since then, Viacom’s deal with Netflix expired, and shows such as SpongeBob and Dora the Explorer were removed. On June 4, 2013, Viacom announced a multi-year licensing agreement which would move its programs, such as SpongeBob and Dora the Explorer, to Amazon.com, Netflix’s top competitor. Amazon agreed to pay more than $200 million to Viacom for the license, its largest subscription streaming transaction ever.
|Season||DVD release date|
|Region 1||Region 2||Region 4|
|1||October 28, 2003||November 7, 2005||November 30, 2006|
|2||October 19, 2004||October 23, 2006||November 30, 2006|
|3||September 27, 2005||December 3, 2007||November 8, 2007|
|4||September 12, 2006||November 3, 2008||November 7, 2008|
|January 9, 2007|
|5||September 4, 2007||November 16, 2009||December 3, 2009|
|November 18, 2008|
|6||December 8, 2009||November 29, 2010||December 2, 2010|
|December 7, 2010|
|7||December 6, 2011||September 17, 2012||September 12, 2012|
|8||March 12, 2013||October 28, 2013||October 30, 2013|
In February 2011, creator Hillenburg first announced the release of the 32-page bimonthly comic book series, SpongeBob Comics, based on the show. The release marked the first time Hillenburg authored his own books. He said, “I’m hoping that fans will enjoy finally having a SpongeBob comic book from me”. The comic book series is published by Hillenburg’s production company, United Plankton Pictures, and distributed by Bongo Comics Group. Although the characters of the series had previously appeared in Nickelodeon Magazine and in Cine-Manga, the first issue of SpongeBob Comics marked the first time the characters have appeared in their own comic books in the United States. Hillenburg described the stories from the comic books as “original and always true to the humor, characters, and universe of the SpongeBob SquarePants series”.
Chris Duffy, the former senior editor of Nickelodeon Magazine, serves as managing editor of SpongeBob Comics. Hillenburg and Duffy met with various comic book writers and artists—including James Kochalka, Hilary Barta, Graham Annable, Gregg Schigiel, and Jacob Chabot—to contribute to each issues. Retired horror comics writer and artist Stephen R. Bissette returned to write a special Halloween issue in 2012, with Tony Millionaire and Al Jaffee. In an interview with Tom Spurgeon, Bissette said, “I’ve even broken my retirement to do one work-for-hire gig [for SpongeBob Comics] so I could share everything about that kind of current job”.
In the United Kingdom, Titan Magazines publishes comics based on SpongeBob SquarePants every four weeks. These comics were first published on February 3, 2005. Titan Magazines teamed-up with Lego to release a limited edition SpongeBob-themed comic.
Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies produced The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, an animated film adaptation of the series that was released on November 19, 2004. The film was directed by creator Stephen Hillenburg, and was written by long-time series writers comprising Hillenburg, Derek Drymon, Tim Hill, Kent Osborne, Aaron Springer, and Paul Tibbitt. Hillenburg and Julia Pistor produced the film, while the film score was composed by Gregor Narholz. The film is about Plankton’s evil plan to steal King Neptune’s crown and send it to Shell City. SpongeBob and Patrick must retrieve it and save Mr. Krabs’ life from Neptune’s raft and their home, Bikini Bottom, from Plankton’s plan. The film features guest appearances by Jeffrey Tambor as King Neptune, Scarlett Johansson as the King’s daughter Mindy, Alec Baldwin as Dennis, and David Hasselhoff as himself. It received positive critical reception, and grossed over $140 million worldwide.
A sequel to the 2004 film is currently in production and is expected to be released in theaters on February 6, 2015. The series’ main cast members are set to reprise their roles, and will be traditionally animated in the manner of the series and its predecessor. The film would have a budget similar to the previous film and would not cost more than $100 million to produce.
Collections of original music featured in the series have been released on the albums SpongeBob SquarePants: Original Theme Highlights (2001), SpongeBob’s Greatest Hits (2009), and The Yellow Album (2005). The first two charted on the US Billboard 200, reaching number 171 and 122, respectively. Several songs have been recorded with the purpose of a single or album release, and have not been featured on the show. For example, the song “My Tidy Whities” written by Tom Kenny and Andy Paley was released only for the album The Best Day Ever (2006). Kenny’s inspiration for the song was “underwear humor”. Kenny said, “Underwear humor is always a surefire laugh-getter with kids … Just seeing a character that odd wearing really prosaic, normal, Kmart, three-to-a-pack underwear is a funny drawing … We thought it was funny to make a really lush, beautiful love song to his underwear”. The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie – Music from the Movie and More…, a soundtrack album featuring the score of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, was released along with the feature-length film in November 2004. Various artists including the Flaming Lips, Wilco, Ween, Motörhead, the Shins, and Avril Lavigne contributed to the soundtrack that reached number 76 on the US Billboard 200.
Theme park rides
SpongeBob SquarePants 4-D film and ride opened in various locations, including Six Flags Over Texas, Flamingo Land Resort, and the Shedd Aquarium. The ride features water squirts, real bubbles, and other sensory enhancements. In 2012, Nickelodeon teamed up again with SimEx-Iwerks Entertainment and Super 78 to produce SpongeBob SquarePants 4-D: The Great Jelly Rescue. The attraction opened in early 2013 at the Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration. The attraction was also released at the Nickelodeon Suites Resort Orlando in Orlando, Florida. The seven-minute film follows SpongeBob, Patrick and Sandy to their old hijinks while rescuing the jellyfish of Jellyfish Fields from Plankton’s evil clutches.
SpongeBob SquarePants appears at the Mall of America‘s Nickelodeon theme park re-branded from the Mall of America’s Park at MOA, formerly Camp Snoopy, to Nickelodeon Universe in the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburb of Bloomington, Minnesota. The new theme park features a SpongeBob-themed Gerstlauer Euro-Fighter custom roller coaster, the SpongeBob SquarePants Rock Bottom Plunge, which has replaced the Mystery Mine Ride and Olde Time Photo store on the west end of the theme park, which opened March 15, 2008.
Numerous video games based on the series have been produced. Some of the early games include Legend of the Lost Spatula (2001) and SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom (2003). The 2003 video game was added to the Greatest Hits by Sony. It also served as the engine basis for a video game based on the The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. Heavy Iron Studios, the game’s developers, tweaked the graphics to give the game a sharper and more imaginative look than that of Battle for Bikini Bottom. They also increased the polygon count, added several racing levels, and incorporated many of the creatures seen in the film. In 2013, Nickelodeon published and distributed SpongeBob Moves In, a freemium city-building game app developed by Kung Fu Factory for iOS.
Nickelodeon launched the first global SpongeBob SquarePants-themed short film competition, SpongeBob SquareShorts: Original Fan Tributes, in 2013. The contest encourages fans and filmmakers around the world to create original short films inspired by SpongeBob for a chance to win a prize and a trip for four people to a screening event in Hollywood. The contest opened on May 6 and ran through June 28, 2013. On July 19, 2013, Nickelodeon announced the finalists for the competition, and, on August 13, 2013, the “under 18 years of age” category was won by David of the United States for his “The Krabby Commercial,” while the “Finally Home” short by Nicole of South Africa won the “18 and over” category.
The popularity of SpongeBob SquarePants inspired merchandise from T-shirts to posters. It was reported that the franchise generated an estimated $8 billion merchandising revenue for Nickelodeon. It is also the most distributed property of MTV Networks. SpongeBob is viewed in 170 countries speaking 24 languages, and has also become “a killer merchandising app”. The title character and his friends have been used as a theme for special editions of well-known family board games, including Monopoly, Life, and Operation, as well as a SpongeBob SquarePants edition of Ants in the Pants, and Yahtzee.
In 2001, SpongeBob SquarePants signed a marketing deal with Target Corporation and Burger King, expanding its merchandising. The popularity of SpongeBob has translated well into sales figures. In 2002, SpongeBob SquarePants dolls sold at a rate of 75,000 per week, which was faster than Tickle Me Elmo dolls were selling at the time. SpongeBob has gained popularity in Japan, specifically with Japanese women. Nickelodeon’s parent company Viacom purposefully targeted marketing at women in the country. Skeptics initially doubted that SpongeBob could be popular in Japan, as the character’s design is very different from already popular designs for Hello Kitty and Pikachu. Ratings and merchandise sales showed SpongeBob SquarePants has caught on with parents and with college audiences. In a recent promotion, college-oriented website Music.com gave away 80,000 SpongeBob T-shirts, four times more than during a similar promotion for Comedy Central‘s South Park.
Kids’ meal tie-ins have been released in snacks and fast food restaurants in many different parts of the world, including Burger King in Europe and North America, as well as Wendy’s in North America, and Hungry Jack’s in Australia. A McDonald’s Happy Meal tie-in with SpongeBob-themed Happy Meal boxes and toys was released in Europe and other international markets in the summer of 2007. In Australia, the advertisement for the McDonald’s SpongeBob Happy Meal won the Pester Power Award because the ads are entice young children to want its food because of the free toy. As a tie-in beverage for the DVD release of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, 7-Eleven released the limited edition “Under-the-Sea Pineapple Slurpee” in March 2004. Pirate’s Booty released limited edition SpongeBob SquarePants Pirate’s Booty snacks in 2013.
In 2007, high-end SpongeBob-themed electronics have been introduced by Imation Electronics Products under the Npower brand, including MP3 players, digital cameras, a DVD player, and a flatscreen television. Pictures of SpongeBob SquarePants also began to appear on the labels of 8 oz. cans of Green Giant cut green beans and frozen packages of Green Giant green beans and butter sauce, which featured free stickers in 2007 as part of an initiative to encourage kids to eat their vegetables. The Simmons Jewelry Co. released a $75,000 diamond pendant as part of a SpongeBob collection. In New Zealand, the UK-based Beechdean Group unveiled the SpongeBob SquarePants Vanilla Ice Cream character product as part of a licence deal with Nickelodeon. NZ Drinks launched the SpongeBob SquarePants bottled water.
Build-A-Bear Workshop introduced the new SpongeBob SqaurePants collection in stores and online in North America on May 17, 2013. Shoppers can dress their SpongeBob and Patrick plush in a variety of clothing and accessories. Sandy Cheeks and Gary the Snail are also available as pre-stuffed minis. Build-A-Bear Workshop stores nationwide celebrated the arrival of SpongeBob with a series of special events from May 17 through May 19.
On July 13, 2013, Toyota, with Nickelodeon, unveiled a SpongeBob-inspired Toyota Highlander. The 2014 Toyota Highlander was launched on SpongeBob Day at the San Diego’s Giants v. Padres game. The SpongeBob Toyota Highlander visited seven U.S. locations during its release, including the Nickelodeon Suites Resort Orlando in Florida.
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- The dictionary definition of Appendix:SpongeBob SquarePants at Wiktionary
- Quotations related to SpongeBob SquarePants at Wikiquote
- Media related to Spongebob Squarepants at Wikimedia Commons
- Official website
- SpongeBob SquarePants at the Internet Movie Database
- SpongeBob SquarePants at TV.com
- SpongeBob SquarePants at DMOZ
- SpongeBob SquarePants at the Big Cartoon DataBase
- SpongeBob SquarePants on Facebook
- SpongeBob SquarePants on Twitter