SpongeBob SquarePants (2009 logo).png

This article documents the history and development of SpongeBob SquarePants.



Early inspirations

The series' creator Stephen Hillenburg first became fascinated with the ocean as a child and began developing his artistic abilities at a young age. Although these interests would not overlap for some time—the idea of drawing fish seemed boring to him—Hillenburg pursued both during college, receiving a major in marine biology and a minor 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.[1][2]

At the institute, Hillenburg's love of the ocean began to influence his artistry. He created a comic book titled The Intertidal Zone, used by the institute to teach visiting students about the animal life of tide pools.[2] The comic starred various anthropomorphic sea lifeforms, many of which would evolve into SpongeBob SquarePants characters. Hillenburg tried to get the comic professionally published, but none of the companies he sent it to were interested.[2]


SpongeBob SquarePants characters, original cast sketch by Stephen Hillenburg.jpg

While working as a staff artist at the Ocean Institute, Hillenburg entertained plans to return eventually to college for a master's degree in art. Before this could materialize, he attended an animation festival, which inspired him to make a slight change in course. Instead of continuing his education with a traditional art program, Hillenburg chose to study experimental animation at the California Institute of the Arts.[2] His thesis film, Wormholes, is about the theory of relativity.[3] It was screened at festivals, and at one of these, Hillenburg met Rocko's Modern Life creator Joe Murray. Impressed by the style of the film, Murray offered Hillenburg a job.[3][4] Hillenburg joined the series as a director and later, during the fourth season, he took on the roles of producer and creative director.[3][4][5]

Martin Olson, one of the writers for Rocko's Modern Life, read 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, but he realized that if he ever did, this would be the best approach.[2][3] He began to develop some of the characters from The Intertidal Zone, including the comic's "announcer", Bob the Sponge.[2] He wanted his series to stand out from most popular cartoons of the time, which he felt were exemplified by buddy comedies like The Ren & Stimpy Show. As a result, Hillenburg decided to focus on a single main character: the "weirdest" sea creature he could think of. This led him to the sponge.[2] The Intertidal Zone's Bob the Sponge resembled an actual sea sponge, and at first, Hillenburg continued to use this design.[2][3][4] In determining the new character's behavior, Hillenburg drew inspiration from innocent, childlike figures that he enjoyed, such as Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Jerry Lewis, and Pee-wee Herman.[2][4][6][7] He then considered modeling the character after a kitchen sponge, which he realized would match the character's square personality perfectly.[2][3][4] Patrick, Mr. Krabs, Pearl, and Squidward were the next characters Hillenburg created for the show.[8]

To voice the series' central character, 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 to develop the character further.[9] Initially, Hillenburg wanted to use the name SpongeBoy—with no last name—and the series was to have been called SpongeBoy Ahoy![9] 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.[9] In choosing a replacement name, Hillenburg felt he still had to use the word "Sponge", so that viewers would not mistake the character for a "Cheese Man", and settled on the name "SpongeBob". "SquarePants" was 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 and felt it would reinforce the character's nerdiness.

Assembling the crew

Derek Drymon, who served as creative director for the first three seasons, has said that Hillenburg wanted to surround himself with a "team of young and hungry people".[6] Many of the major contributors to SpongeBob SquarePants had worked before with Hillenburg on Rocko's Modern Life: this included: Drymon, art director Nick Jennings, supervising director Alan Smart, writer / voice actor Doug Lawrence, and Tim Hill, who helped develop the series bible.[6][7]

Although Drymon would go on to have a significant influence on SpongeBob SquarePants, he was not offered a role on the series initially. As a late recruit to Rocko's Modern Life, he had not established much of a relationship with Hillenburg before SpongeBob's conception. Hillenburg first sought out Drymon's storyboard partner, Mark O'Hare—but he had just created the soon-to-be syndicated comic strip, Citizen Dog.[6] While he would later join SpongeBob as a writer,[10] he lacked the time to get involved with both projects from the outset.[6] Drymon has said, "I remember Hillenburg's bringing it up to Mark in our office and asking him if he'd be interested in working on it ... I was all ready to say yes to the offer, but Steve didn't ask; he just left the room. I was pretty desperate ... so I ran into the hall after him and basically begged him for the job. He didn't jump at the chance."[6] Once Hillenburg had given it some thought and decided to bring Drymon on as creative director, the two began meeting at Hillenburg's house several times a week to develop the series. Drymon has identified this period as having begun in 1996, shortly after the end of Rocko's Modern Life.[6]

Jennings was also instrumental in SpongeBob's genesis.[11] Kenny has called him "one of SpongeBob's early graphics mentors".[7] On weekends, Kenny joined Hillenburg, Jennings, and Drymon for creative sessions where they recorded ideas on a tape recorder.[7] Kenny performed audio tests as SpongeBob during these sessions, while Hillenburg voice acted the other characters.[7]

Hill contributed scripts for several first-season episodes (including the pilot)[12][13][14][15] and was offered the role of story editor, but turned it down—he would go on to pursue a career as a family film director.[16][17] In his stead, Pete Burns was brought in for the job. Burns hailed from Chicago and had never met any of the principal players on SpongeBob before joining the team.[6]


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".[3] They were given money and two weeks to write the pilot episode, "Help Wanted".[3] Drymon, Hillenburg, and Jennings returned with what was described by Nickelodeon official Albie Hecht as, "a performance [he] wished [he] had on tape".[3] Although executive producer Derek Drymon described the pitch as stressful, he said it went "very well".[3] Kevin Kay and Hecht had to step outside because they were "exhausted from laughing", which worried the cartoonists.[3]

In an interview, Cyma Zarghami, then-president of Nickelodeon, said, "[the executives'] immediate reaction was to see it again, both because they liked it and it was unlike anything they'd ever seen before".[18] Zarghami was one of four executives in the room when SpongeBob SquarePants was screened for the first time.[18]

Executive producers and showrunners

Until his death in 2018, Hillenburg served as the executive producer over the course of the series' entire history and functioned as its showrunner from its debut in 1999 until 2004. The series went on hiatus in 2002, after Hillenburg halted production to work on The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie.[19] Once the film was finalized and the third season finished, Hillenburg resigned as the series' showrunner. Although he no longer had a direct role in the series' production, he maintained an advisory role and reviewed each episode.[18][20]

When the film was completed, Hillenburg intended it to be the series finale, "so [the show] wouldn't jump the shark." However, Nickelodeon wanted more episodes.[21] Hillenburg appointed Paul Tibbitt, who had previously served on the show as a writer, director, and storyboard artist, to take over his role as showrunner to produce additional seasons.[22] Hillenburg considered Tibbitt one of his favorite members of the show's crew,[23] and "totally trusted him".[24]

On December 13, 2014, it was announced that Hillenburg would return to the series in an unspecified position.[25] On November 26, 2018, at the age of 57, Hillenburg died from complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which had been diagnosed in March 2017.[26][27] Nickelodeon confirmed via Twitter the series would continue after his death.[28] In February 2019, incoming president Brian Robbins vowed Nickelodeon would keep the show in production for as long as the network exists.[29]

As of the ninth season, former writers and storyboard directors Vincent Waller and Marc Ceccarelli act as showrunners.


According to writer and storyboard artist Luke Brookshier, "SpongeBob is written differently than many television shows".[30] Unlike most of its contemporaries, SpongeBob SquarePants does not use Screenplay|written scripts.[30][31] Instead, storylines are developed by a team of five outline and premise writers. A two-page outline is then assigned to a team of storyboard directors, who produce a complete rough draft of the storyboard. One of the methods used to assemble storyboards was to use Post-it notes. Most of the dialogue and jokes are added during this stage.[19][30] Brookshier has likened this process to how cartoons were made "in the early days of animation."[30]

The decision to eschew scripts for storyboards is one that Hillenburg made early in the series' development.[19] Rocko's Modern Life had also used storyboarding derived from short outlines, and having worked on that series, Hillenburg felt strongly about adopting the process for SpongeBob SquarePants—even though Nickelodeon was beginning to show a greater preference for script-driven cartoons.[6][32] Another writer, Merriwether Williams, explained in an interview that she and Mr. Lawrence would write a draft for an episode in an afternoon and be done at 4:00 pm.[33]

The writing staff often used their personal experiences as inspiration for storylines.[6][24] For example, the episode "Sailor Mouth", where SpongeBob and Patrick learn profanity,[24] was inspired by creative director Derek Drymon's experience as a child of getting into trouble for using the f-word in front of his mother.[6] 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".[6] The end of the episode, where 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".[6] The idea for "The Secret Box" also came from one of Drymon's childhood experiences.[24][33] 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."[24]

Almost every episode is divided into two 11-minute segments. Hillenburg explained: "[I] never really wanted to deliberately try to write a half-hour show".[24] He added, "I wrote the shows to where they felt right".[24]

Voice actors

SpongeBob SquarePants features the voices of Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Rodger Bumpass, Clancy Brown, Doug Lawrence, Jill Talley, Carolyn Lawrence, Mary Jo Catlett, and Lori Alan. Most one-off and background characters are voiced by Dee Bradley Baker, Sirena Irwin, Bob Joles, Mark Fite and Thomas F. Wilson.

Kenny voices SpongeBob and a number of other characters, including SpongeBob's pet snail Gary and the French Narrator. He also physically portrays Patchy the Pirate in the show's occasional live-action segments. When Hillenburg created SpongeBob SquarePants, he approached Kenny to voice the main character.[34] Kenny originally used the voice of SpongeBob for a minor character on Rocko.[9] He forgot how to perform the voice initially and did not intend to use it afterward. Hillenburg, however, used a video clip of the episode to remind Kenny of the voice.[9] When Hillenburg heard Kenny perform the voice, he knew immediately he wanted it for his character. He said to Nickelodeon executives, "That's it—I don't want to hear anybody else do the voice. We've got SpongeBob."[7] The network insisted on auditioning more actors, but Hillenburg turned them down; in the words of Tom Kenny, "one of the advantages of having a strong creator is that the creator can say, 'No, I like that—I don't care about celebrities.'"[7] While Kenny was developing SpongeBob's voice, the show's casting crew wanted him to have a unique, high-pitched laugh in the tradition of Popeye and Woody Woodpecker.[35]

Fagerbakke voices Patrick Star[36] and other miscellaneous characters. At the same time Hillenburg, Derek Drymon and Tim Hill were writing the pilot "Help Wanted", Hillenburg was also conducting auditions to find voices for the characters.[6] Fagerbakke auditioned for the role of Patrick after Kenny had been cast.[37] Fagerbakke recalled that during this audition, "Hillenburg actually played for me a portion of Tom [Kenny]'s performance [as SpongeBob], and they were looking for a counterpoint."[37] In an interview, Fagerbakke compared himself to the character and said, "It's extremely gratifying".[38] Whenever Patrick is angry Fagerbakke models his performance after American actress Shelley Winters.

Squidward Tentacles is voiced by Rodger Bumpass, who describes him as "a very nasally, monotone kind of guy." He said the character "became a very interesting character to do" because of "his sarcasm, and then his frustration, and then his apoplexy, and so he became a wide spectrum of emotions".[39] Arthur Brown, author of Everything I Need to Know, I Learned from Cartoons!, has compared Squidward's voice to that of Jack Benny's,[40] a similarity Bumpass says is mostly unintentional.[39] Voice acting veteran Clancy Brown voices Mr. Krabs, SpongeBob's boss at the Krusty Krab. Hillenburg modeled Mr. Krabs after his former manager at a seafood restaurant, whose strong Maine accent reminded Hillenburg of a pirate.[41] Brown decided to use a "piratey" voice for the character with "a little Scottish brogue" after hearing Hillenburg's description of his boss. According to Brown, his Mr. Krabs voice was mostly improvised during his audition and it was not challenging for him to find the correct voice.

Doug Lawrence had met Hillenburg before on Rocko's Modern Life, on which he had voiced Filburt Turtle. While working on the pilot episode of SpongeBob, Hillenburg invited him to audition for all the characters.[42] Since other voices had been found for the main cast already, Lawrence began by voicing a variety of minor characters. This included Plankton, who was initially only set to appear in one episode.[42][6] Lawrence recalls that Nickelodeon executives told Hillenburg, "'we could stunt-cast this. You know, we could have Bruce Willis do this voice.' And Steve was just like, 'it's Doug [Lawrence], don't you hear it? This is the character! This is the guy!'"[42] Jill Talley, Tom Kenny's wife, voices Karen Plankton.[43] Being a Chicago native, she uses a Midwestern accent for the character.[44] Electronic sound effects are underlaid by the series' audio engineers to create a robotic sound when she speaks.[45] Talley and Mr. Lawrence often improvise Plankton and Karen's dialogue. Lawrence called improvisation his "favorite part of the voice over" in 2009.[46] He elaborated in a 2012 interview, saying, "I always enjoy the back-and-forth. [Talley and I] start to actually overlap so much talking to each other that [the voice directors] have to tell us, 'hey, stop doing that, separate what you're saying!'"[42]

Carolyn Lawrence voices Sandy Cheeks. She was in Los Feliz, Los Angeles, with a friend who knew SpongeBob SquarePants casting director Donna Grillo. Her friend said to Grillo that Lawrence had "an interesting voice". Grillo invited her to audition and she got the role.[47][48] American actress Mary Jo Catlett,[49] who is known for her live-action roles on television programs from the 1970s such as Diff'rent Strokes and M*A*S*H provides Mrs. Puff's voice.[44] As of 2017, voicing Mrs. Puff has become her only regular television role; Catlett described herself as "basically retired" in 2013, since she feels that voicing Mrs. Puff requires less preparation than her performances in person.[50] Lori Alan voices Pearl Krabs.[51] During her audition for the role, Alan was shown an early drawing of the characters and noted that Pearl was much larger than the rest of the cast. She decided to reflect the character's size in her voice by making it deep and full in tone. She aimed to make it invoke the sound of whales’ low vocalizations while also sounding "spoiled and lovable."[52] In an interview with AfterBuzz TV, Alan said she knew Pearl "had to sound somewhat like a child," but needed "an abnormally large voice."[53]

In addition to the regular cast, episodes feature guest voices from many 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;[54] Tim Conway, who voiced Barnacle Boy from 1999 to until his death in 2019;[55] Brian Doyle-Murray as the Flying Dutchman;[56] and Marion Ross as Grandma SquarePants.[57] Notable guests who have provided vocal cameo appearances include David Bowie as Lord Royal Highness in "Atlantis SquarePantis";[58][59] John Goodman as the voice of Santa Claus in "It's a SpongeBob Christmas!"; Johnny Depp as the surf guru, Jack Kahuna Laguna, in "SpongeBob SquarePants vs. The Big One";[60] and Victoria Beckham as the voice of Queen Amphitrite in "The Clash of Triton".[61][62]

Voice recording sessions always include a full cast of actors, which Kenny describes as "getting more unusual".[7] 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".[7] Series writer Jay Lender said, "The recording sessions were always fun ..."[63] For the first three seasons, Hillenburg and Drymon sat in the recording studio and directed the actors.[64] Andrea Romano became the voice director in the fourth season,[64] and Tom Kenny took over the role during the ninth. Wednesday is recording day, the same schedule followed by the crew since 1999.[64] Casting supervisor Jennie Monica Hammond said, "I loved Wednesdays".[64]


Approximately 50 people work together to animate and produce a SpongeBob episode.[30] Throughout its run, the series' production has been handled domestically at Nickelodeon Animation Studio in Burbank, California. The finished animation is created overseas at Rough Draft Studios in South Korea.[24][65] The California crew storyboard each episode. These are then used as templates by the crew in Korea,[24] who animate each scene by hand, color each cel on computers, and paint backgrounds. Episodes are finished in California, where they are edited and have music added.[30]

During the first season, the series used cel animation.[22] A shift was made the following year to digital ink and paint animation.[22] In 2009, executive producer Paul Tibbitt said: "The first season of SpongeBob was done the old-fashioned way on cells [sic], and every cell [sic] had to be part-painted, left to dry, paint some other colors. 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".[22]

In 2008, the crew began using Wacom Cintiqs for the drawings instead of pencils, starting with the fifth-season episode "Pest of the West". 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".[66] 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".[66]

Since 2004, the SpongeBob crew has periodically collaborated with Screen Novelties to create stop-motion sequences for special episodes. The studio produced a brief claymation scene for the climax of the first movie,[67] and was re-enlisted in 2009 to create an exclusive opening for the tenth anniversary special.[68] An abominable snow mollusk made of clay who acts as the antagonist of the half-hour episode "Frozen Face-Off" was also animated by the company.[69] Animation World Network reported that "within the SpongeBob creative team, there was always talk of doing a more involved project together" with Screen Novelties.[69] As a result, the group was asked to create an episode animated entirely in stop-motion in 2011. This became "It's a SpongeBob Christmas!",[70] which reimagined the show's characters as if they were part of a Rankin/Bass holiday film.[71] Tom Kenny, who is normally uninvolved in the writing process, contributed to the episode's plot; he said in 2012 that he and Nickelodeon "wanted to do something just like those old school, stop-motion Rankin-Bass holiday specials... which I watched over and over again when I was a kid growing up in Syracuse."[67] Unconventional materials such as baking soda, glitter, wood chips and breakfast cereal were used in mass quantities to create the special's sets.[72] Members of the Screen Novelties crew received one win and two nominations at the 30th Annie Awards,[73] a nomination at the 2013 Motion Picture Sound Editors|Golden Reel Awards,[74] and a nomination at the 2013 Annecy International Animated Film Festival for animating the episode.[75] The team built a dolphin puppet named Bubbles, voiced by Matt Berry, for The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water.[76] Sequences involving Bubbles included a blend of stop motion and traditional animation. "The Legend of Boo-Kini Bottom", a second stop-motion special, themed around Halloween and using the same character models, was produced for season 11.[77][78]


Mark Harrison and Blaise Smith composed the show's theme song.[79] Its lyrics were written by Stephen Hillenburg and the series' original creative director Derek Drymon. The melody was inspired by the sea shanty "Blow the Man Down".[4] An old oil painting of a pirate is used in the opening sequence. Dubbed "Painty the Pirate", according to Tom Kenny, Hillenburg found it in a thrift shop "years ago".[9] Patrick Pinney voices Painty the Pirate, singing the theme song as the character.[4] Hillenburg's lips were imposed onto the painting and move along with the lyrics.[9] Kenny joked this is "about as close of a glimpse as most SpongeBob fans are ever going to get of Steve Hillenburg", because of his private nature.[4]

A cover of the song by Avril Lavigne can be found on The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie soundtrack.[80][81] Another cover by the Violent Femmes aired on Nickelodeon as a promotion when the series moved to prime time.[82]

Steve Belfer, one of Hillenburg's friends from CalArts, wrote and performed the music heard over the end credits.[6] This theme includes ukulele music at Hillenburg's request.[6] 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".[6]

The series' music editor and main composer is Nicolas Carr.[83] After working with Hillenburg on Rocko's Modern Life, he struggled to find a new job in his field. He had considered a career change before 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."[83] Rocko's Modern Life also used music from this library. It was Hillenburg's decision to adopt this approach. Carr has described the selections for SpongeBob SquarePants as being "more over-the-top" than those for Rocko's Modern Life.[83]

Hillenburg felt 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. The group went on to provide most 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.[83]



Main article: SpongeBob SquarePants episode list

Tenth anniversary


Nickelodeon began celebrating the series' 10th anniversary 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.[84][85] The episode, which premiered on April 17, 2010, featured Johnny Depp as a guest star.[86] Other celebratory actions taken by the network included the launching of a new website for the series ( and the introduction of new merchandise. A "SpongeBob and water conservation-themed element" was also added to Nickelodeon's pro-social campaign The Big Green Help.[84] 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."[87]

Three nights before the official anniversary date, an hour-long documentary, Square Roots: The Story of SpongeBob SquarePants, premiered on VH1.[88][84][85][87][89] 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."[84] On Friday, July 17, Nickelodeon marked the official anniversary of the series, with a 50-hour television marathon titled "The Ultimate SpongeBob SpongeBash Weekend". It 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, with a countdown of episodes picked by celebrities and the premiere of ten new episodes.[84][90][91]

Nickelodeon continued celebrating the anniversary through the rest of the year. An eight-episode DVD featuring "To SquarePants or Not to SquarePants" was released shortly after the marathon on July 21st. A 14-disc DVD set, titled The First 100 Episodes and collecting the first five seasons, followed on September 22nd. Finally, on November 6th, a special hour-length episode, "Truth or Square", debuted on Nickelodeon. It was narrated by Ricky Gervais and featured live action cameo appearances by Rosario Dawson, Craig Ferguson, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, LeBron James, P!nk, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, and Robin Williams.[92][93][94]

Twentieth anniversary

SpongeBob's Big Birthday Blowout wallpaper.jpg

On February 11, 2019, Nickelodeon announced it would recognize the twentieth anniversary of SpongeBob SquarePants with a series of celebrations known as the "Best Year Ever".[95][96] In honor of the anniversary, Pantone created color shades known as "SpongeBob SquarePants Yellow" and "Patrick Star Pink", to be used by Nickelodeon's licensing partners.[97][98][99] Romero Britto, Jon Burgerman, and the Filipino art collective Secret Fresh were commissioned by Nickelodeon to create art pieces devoted to SpongeBob SquarePants. Some of these pieces were to be adapted into commercial products.[97][98] On February 12, in conjunction with Nickelodeon's announcement of the "Best Year Ever", Cynthia Rowley presented a SpongeBob SquarePants-themed wetsuit during New York Fashion Week.[100][101][102] A month later, Marlou Breuls presented the SpongeBob SquarePants-themed "Icon Collection" during List of fashion events#Netherlands|Amsterdam Fashion Week.[103][104] That summer, Nike, Inc.|Nike, in collaboration with Kyrie Irving, released a SpongeBob SquarePants series of shoes, accessories, and apparel.[105] In July, for the first time ever, SpongeBob SquarePants became the theme of a cosmetics line, which was released as a limited time offering by HipDot Studios.[100][106][107] The "Best Year Ever" also introduced an official SpongeBob SquarePants YouTube channel and a new mobile game based on the series, along with new toy lines.[99][100]

The "Best Year Ever" formally began on July 12, 2019, with the premiere of the special hour-length episode "SpongeBob's Big Birthday Blowout".[95][96][108] It continued that month at San Diego Comic Con, with two panels, a booth, and various activities devoted to the series.[99][109] The "Best Year Ever" was recognized on Amazon Prime Day with an exclusive early release of SpongeBob SquarePants: The Best 200 Episodes Ever!, a 30-disc DVD compilation collecting The First 100 Episodes and The Next 100 Episodes box sets. The collections received a standard nationwide release on August 27.[110] The "Best Year Ever" continued into 2020, culminating with the May 22nd release of The SpongeBob Movie: It's a Wonderful Sponge.[95][96]


Ratings and run-length achievements

Within its first month on air, SpongeBob SquarePants overtook Pokémon as the highest rated Saturday-morning children's series on television. It held an average national Nielsen rating of 4.9 among children aged two through eleven, denoting 1.9 million viewers.[111][112] Two years later, the series had firmly established itself as Nickelodeon's second highest-rated children's program, after Rugrats. SpongeBob SquarePants was credited with helping Nickelodeon take the "Saturday-morning ratings crown" for the fourth straight season in 2001.[113] The series had gained a significant adult audience by that point—nearly 40 percent of its 2.2 million viewers were aged 18 to 34.[114] In response to its weekend success, Nickelodeon gave SpongeBob SquarePants time slots at 6:00 PM and 8:00 PM, Monday through Thursday, to increase the series' exposure.[114][115] By the end of 2001 SpongeBob SquarePants boasted the highest ratings for any children's series, on all of television.[116][117][118] Weekly viewership of the series had reached around fifteen million, at least five million of whom were adults.[116]

In October 2002, The Fairly OddParents ranked as the number two program for children between two and eleven years old.[119] Its ratings at that time were almost equal to SpongeBob SquarePants' then-average of 2.2 million viewers per episode.[119] The Fairly OddParents even briefly surpassed SpongeBob SquarePants, causing it to drop into second place. At this time, The Fairly OddParents had a 6.2 rating and nearly 2.5 million child viewers, while SpongeBob SquarePants had a 6.0 rating and 2.4 million child viewers aged two to eleven.[120] Nickelodeon "recognized" The Fairly OddParents for its climbing ratings and installed it in a new 8:00 PM time slot, previously occupied by SpongeBob SquarePants.[119] In an interview, Cyma Zarghami, then-general manager and executive vice president of Nickelodeon, 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."[119]

In 2012, however, it was reported that the series' ratings were declining.[121][122] The average number of viewers aged two to eleven 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 the series' age and oversaturation might be contributing to its ratings' decline and might also be directly responsible for the decline in Nickelodeon's overall ratings.[123] Media analyst Todd Juenger attributed the decline in Nickelodeon's ratings directly to the availability of streaming video content on services like Netflix.[124]

Philippe Dauman, the president and CEO of Viacom, contradicted that notion, saying: "We are getting nice revenues through these subscription VOD deals", adding Netflix only has "some library content" on its service.[125][126] A Nickelodeon spokesman said SpongeBob is performing consistently well and remains the number one rated animated series in all of children's television.[123] He added, "There is nothing that we have seen that points to SpongeBob as a problem."[123] 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.[127]

Juenger noted SpongeBob could affect the ratings of other Nickelodeon programming because children often change channels to find their favorite programs, then stay tuned to that network.[123] Nickelodeon reduced its exposure on television. In the first quarter of 2012, the network cut back on the number of episodes it aired by 16% compared to a year earlier.[123]

On April 22, 2013, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings announced their intentions not to renew their existing deal with Viacom.[128] Viacom's deal with Netflix expired, and shows such as SpongeBob and Dora the Explorer were removed.[129] However, seasons five through eight of SpongeBob are still available to stream on Netflix in Canada.[130] On June 4, 2013, Viacom announced a multi-year licensing agreement which would move its programs, such as SpongeBob and Dora the Explorer, to, Netflix's top competitor.[131][132] Amazon agreed to pay more than $200 million to Viacom for the license, its largest subscription streaming transaction ever.[133][134]

SpongeBob SquarePants is one of Nickelodeon's longest-running series.[135] It became the network's series with the most episodes during its eighth season, surpassing the 172 episodes of Rugrats.[136] In the ninth season, its 26 episodes brought the number of episodes produced to 204.[137][138][139] In a statement, Brown Johnson, Nickelodeon's animation president 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."[140][141]


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