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. 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.
Center of Bikini BottomMuch 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. Stephen Hillenburg has stated that much of Bikini Bottom was based on the real life city of Seattle. 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.
The theme music was composed by Derek Drymon, Mark Harrison, Stephen Hillenburg and Blaise Smith as part of Hank Smith Music, and is primarily based on the sea shanty, "Blow the Man Down". The song is sung by Painty the Pirate, voiced by Patrick Pinney, and can be found on the soundtrack SpongeBob SquarePants: Original Theme Highlights. A cover of the song by Avril Lavigne can be found on the SpongeBob SquarePants Movie soundtrack. Another cover by the Violent Femmes, which aired as a commercial on Nickelodeon to promote season two, can be viewed in the special features of the Nautical Nonsense/Sponge Buddies DVD. A choral version was recorded for the SpongeBob Christmas special where the last repetition of "SpongeBob SquarePants" was replaced by, "It's the SpongeBob Christmas special." The theme song is occasionally used as marching cadence. An instrumental version of the opening theme is used in Italy. The series' music editor and main composer is Nicolas Carr. Most of the background music used in the series comes from the Associated Production Music (APM) Library, some of which have also been used in shows such as The Simpsons, The Ren & Stimpy Show, The Mighty B!, Rocko's Modern Life, The X Factor, Camp Lazlo, My Gym Partner's a Monkey, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Family Guy Video Game!, and The Adventures of Pete & Pete. For competition-based episodes, some of Sam Spence's NFL Films music is used (such as "A Golden Boy Again" used in episodes such as The Fry Cook Games and "Ramblin' Man from Gramblin" is used in Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy V. "The Lineman" is also used extensively in Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy episodes). Ironically, one of Spence's more famous songs for the NFL Films library of music is an orchestral version of "Drunken Sailor" called "Up She Rises", first suggested by Steven Sabol to his father Ed because he liked the song at summer camp.
Hawaiian steel guitar music is used for comedic and dramatic effect in the show. Various compositions featuring the Hawaiian steel convey happy, sad, or goofy emotions and situations. Many are traditional Hawaiian melodies such as "Aloha 'Oe" and are usually sampled from the above-mentioned APM music library, and are from time to time performed by classic steel guitar artists, including The Woodies, The Langhorns, and The MelTones. Creator Hillenburg states that much of the music in the series was inspired by 1950s Hawaiian steel guitar tunes. Another aspect of the series' musical score is traditional sea shanties, which are used for the musical themes in the show. The most commonly used song in the series is "Drunken Sailor," though a ukulele version of the "Twelfth Street Rag" is often heard in the background as well. Unlike other Nickelodeon shows, SpongeBob features well-known independent musicians who contribute to its soundtrack. Alternative rock bands such as Wilco, The Shins, The Flaming Lips and Ween, as well as metal bands Pantera, Motörhead and Twisted Sister have made appearances on the show and movies soundtracks.
Creator Stephen Hillenburg initially conceived SpongeBob SquarePants in 1984, while he was teaching and studying marine biology at what is now the Orange County Ocean Institute. During this period, Hillenburg became fascinated with animation, and wrote a comic book entitled The Intertidal Zone starring various anthropomorphic forms of sea life, many of which would evolve into SpongeBob SquarePants characters, including "Bob the Sponge", who was the co-host of the comic and resembled an actual sea sponge, as opposed to SpongeBob who resembles a kitchen sponge. In 1987, Hillenburg left the institute to pursue his dream of becoming an animator, and began to envision the possible concept of a project involving anthropomorphic sea life, drawing several rough sketches. In 1992, Hillenburg began to attend the California Institute of the Arts to study animation, having been accepted into the institute by Jules Engel, who was impressed with Hillenburg's previous work.
While attending animation school, Hillenburg received a job on the children's TV series Mother Goose & Grimm, and worked on the series from 1991 to 1993. When attending the California Institute of the Arts, he made his thesis film entitled Wormholes, which was funded by the Princess Grace Foundation and was later displayed at various animation festivals. In 1993, Hillenburg graduated from the institute, earning a Master of Fine Arts in experimental animation. In 1995, Joe Murray, creator of Rocko's Modern Life, met Hillenburg at an animation festival, and offered him a job as a director of the series. Hillenburg then joined the Nickelodeon animated series as a writer, producer, and storyboard artist during the series' third season, continuing his position for much of the fourth season. The third season episode "Fish-N-Chumps" (November 12, 1995) was directed by Hillenburg, and involved Rocko, Heffer, and Filburt going on a fishing trip, oblivious to the fact that a pair anthropomorphic fish are attempting to catch them from underwater. While working on Rocko's Modern Life, Hillenburg became friends with Tom Kenny, who was later approached by Hillenburg to become the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants, and future SpongeBob SquarePants collaborators Mr. Lawrence, Paul Tibbitt and others.
Rocko's Modern Life ended in 1996. Shortly following this, Hillenburg began working on SpongeBob SquarePants, teaming up with several Nickelodeon veterans and Rocko crew members. To voice the character of SpongeBob, Hillenburg approached Tom Kenny, who had worked with him on Rocko's Modern Life. 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 "had a nice ring to it".
While pitching the cartoon to Nickelodeon executives, Hillenburg donned a Hawaiian shirt, brought along an "underwater terrarium with models of the characters", and Hawaiian music to set the theme. The setup was described by Nick executive Eric Coleman as "pretty amazing". When given money and two weeks to write the pilot episode ("Help Wanted"), Derek Drymon, Stephen Hillenberg, and Nick Jennings returned with, described by Nickelodeon official Albie Hecht, "a performance he wished he had on tape". Although described as stressful by executive producer Derek Drymon, the pitch went "very well"; Kevin Kay and Hecht had to step outside because they were "exhausted from laughing", making the cartoonists worried.
SpongeBob's first season was only a modest success during its initial run after the series' debut in 1999, but the show still garnered enough popularity that Nickelodeon quietly renewed it for a second season. Beginning with this season, production of the series switched from traditional cel animation to digital ink and paint. During the second season's run, the show quickly achieved enormous and world wide popularity, leading to an immediate third season pick-up. The show's continued success eventually led to the creation of a feature film called The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, which was intended to be the end of the series. However, shortly after the film's release, Nickelodeon renewed the series for a fourth season. Also following the film's release, Stephen Hillenburg resigned as show runner, causing a shift in the series' production crew, as well as several of the series' writers.
Though SpongeBob SquarePants debuted in 1999, it did not become hugely popular until the following year, and it has remained popular since then. SpongeBob SquarePants was the first "low budget" Nickelodeon cartoon, according to the network, to become extremely popular. Low-budget cartoons had not garnered as much esteem as higher-rated, higher-budgeted shows, although when SpongeBob aired in 1999, it had gained a significant enough number of viewers in the ratings to be considered popular, eventually reaching worldwide popularity by 2000. SpongeBob follows other Nickelodeon shows that have attracted "older" followers: Other shows have followed in this trend as well: The Fairly OddParents won a similar fan base when it premiered in 2001, and is now second only to SpongeBob in popularity. Since 2004, IGN made SpongeBob SquarePants 15th in its top 100 animated series of all time list.
- → Main article: List of SpongeBob Squarepants episodes
Awards and nominationsEdit
|2000||Golden Reel Award||Best Sound Editing in Television Animation — Music||Episodes: "Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy" and "Pickles"||Won|
|Best Sound Editing in Television Animation — Sound||Episode: "Karate Choppers"||Won|
|2001||Annie Awards||Outstanding Individual Achievement for Voice Acting by a Female Performer in an Animated Television Production||Mary Jo Catlett as Mrs. Puff in "No Free Rides"||Nominated|
|Outstanding Individual Achievement for Voice Acting by a Male Performer in an Animated Television Production||Tom Kenny as SpongeBob in "Wormy"||Nominated|
|Outstanding Individual Achievement for a Song in an Animated Production||Peter Straus and Paul Tibbitt for the song "The Very First Christmas"||Nominated|
|2001||Golden Reel Award||Best Sound Editing in Television Animation — Sound||Episodes: "Rock Bottom" and "Arrgh"||Won|
|Best Sound Editing in Television Animation — Music||Episodes: "Fools In April" and "Neptune's Spatula"||Nominated|
|2002||Emmy Awards||Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming Less Than One Hour)||Nominated|
|2002||Golden Reel Award||Best Sound Editing in Television – Animation||Episodes: "Secret Box" and "Band Geeks"||Won|
|Best Sound Editing in Television Animation — Music||Episodes: "Jellyfish Hunter" and "The Fry Cook Games"||Nominated|
|2002||Television Critics Association Awards||Outstanding Achievement in Children's Programming||Won|
|2003||Emmy Award||Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming Less Than One Hour)||Episodes: "New Student Starfish" and "Clams"||Nominated|
|2003||Golden Reel Award||Best Sound Editing in Television Animation — Music||Episodes: "Wet Painters" and "Krusty Krab Training Video"||Won|
|Best Sound Editing in Television Animation||Episodes: "Nasty Patty" and "Idiot Box"||Won|
|2003||Kids' Choice Awards||Favorite Cartoon||Won|
|2004||Emmy Awards||Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming Less Than One Hour)||Episode: "SpongeBob B.C. (Before Comedy)"||Nominated|
|2004||Golden Reel Award||Best Sound Editing in Television Animation — Music||Episodes: "The Great Snail Race" and "Mid-Life Crustacean".||Won|
|Best Sound Editing in Television Animation — Music||Episode: "Mid-Life Crustacean".||Nominated|
|2004||Kids' Choice Awards||Favorite Cartoon||Won|