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SpongeBob SquarePants (often referred to simply as SpongeBob) is an American animated television series, created by animator Stephen Hillenburg. Much of the series centers on the exploits and adventures of the title character and his various friends in the underwater city of Bikini Bottom. The series’ popularity has prompted the release of a media franchise, contributing to its position as Nickelodeon’s highest rated show, the most distributed property of MTV Networks, and among Nicktoons’ most watched shows. It is listed 15th in IGN’s top 100 animated series list, and is among the All-TIME 100 TV Shows as chosen by Time TV critic James Poniewozik.
When Rocko’s Modern Life ended in 1996, Hillenburg began working on SpongeBob SquarePants. He teamed up with several Nickelodeon veterans and Rocko crew members, including creative director Derek Drymon (Action League Now!, Hey Arnold!, and Rocko’s Modern Life) writers and directors Sherm Cohen, and Dan Povenmire, writer Tim Hill, actor and writer Martin Olson, animation director Alan Smart (all from Rocko’s Modern Life), and story editor Merriwether Williams (The Angry Beavers), who worked on the series for its first few seasons and switched to SpongeBob SquarePants in July 1999. To voice the character of SpongeBob, Hillenburg approached Tom Kenny, who had worked with him on Rocko’s Modern Life. “Steve described SpongeBob to me as childlike and naïve,” Kenny said in an interview. “He’s not quite an adult, he’s not quite a kid. Think a Stan Laurel, Jerry Lewis kind of child-man. Kind of like a Munchkin but not quite, kind of like a kid, but not in a Charlie Brown child’s voice on the TV shows.” Originally, SpongeBob was to be named SpongeBoy, but this name was already in use. This was discovered after voice-acting for the original seven-minute pilot was recorded in 1997. The Nickelodeon legal department discovered that the name was already in use for a mop product. Upon finding this out, Hillenburg decided that the character’s given name still had to contain “Sponge” so viewers would not mistake the character for a “Cheese Man”. Hillenburg decided to use the name “SpongeBob”. He chose “SquarePants” as a family name as it referred to the character’s square shape and it had a “nice ring to it”.
The pilot episode of SpongeBob SquarePants first aired in the United States on Nickelodeon on May 1, 1999, following the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards. The first episodes were called “Help Wanted”, “Reef Blower”, and “Tea at the Treedome”. The “official” series premiere followed on July 17, 1999, with the second episode, “Bubblestand/Ripped Pants.” The show reached enormous popularity by 2000 during the second season, and has remained popular since. A feature film of the series was released in theaters on November 19, 2004, with a sequel in development and slated for release in late-2014. The series celebrated its tenth anniversary on July 17, 2009. So far the series has aired 334 individual episodes. It is currently Nickelodeon’s longest-running cartoon, and currently in its ninth season. SpongeBob surpassed Rugrats (in terms of number of episodes) when SpongeBob aired its 173rd episode on April 11, 2012 (while Rugrats had 172 episodes). On April 12, 2012, SpongeBob aired its 174th episode and has produced 204 episodes, and more episodes will be produced, marking it as the first Nicktoon to have 200 or more episodes. On July 21, 2012, SpongeBob was renewed and aired its ninth season. This is the first SpongeBob season to have regular episodes produced in widescreen.