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Spotlight on: SpongeBob SquarePants

Oct 28, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Imagine this conversation among the executives at Nickelodeon: “How about a show about a yellow sea sponge who lives in an underwater pineapple? It’ll be a hit!”
The premise sounds implausible, but `”’ has emerged as an unqualified success. In fact, the show and its title character have become so pervasive in American pop culture that SpongeBob is the most popular Halloween costume this year, according to Reinke Bros. Inc., a theatrical supply and costume shop in Denver.
The program’s producer and creator Steve Hillenberg said he didn’t expect this level of success. “I don’t know if I was figuring on the great response, but what people like is the main character and the sort of comedy that focuses on that nerdy optimism,” he said.
The show works because it is uncomplicated, he said. “It stars one character, an innocent. The show’s stories are simple. It finds humor in how characters interact rather than topical humor,” he said. “SpongeBob” is the top-rated show for kids 2 to 11 on cable and has been since the third quarter of 2001, said Kevin Kay, executive VP of production at Nickelodeon.
“We all thought the show could be big, but none of us knew how big it could be,” he said. “One of the things that attracted us to `SpongeBob’ was that it has this boundless optimism.”
To nurture the show’s potential when it first launched in 1999, Nickelodeon aired it in safe time slots with compatible shows and then slowly sprinkled a Saturday morning or Saturday night airing here and there to give it room to grow and for kids to see it in different places.
The defining moment for the show came on July 27, 2001, when Entertainment Weekly ran a story on “SpongeBob’s” success in attracting adults as well as kids, Mr. Kay said. In fact, an average of 22 million adults 18 to 49 watch it each month-the most for any Nickelodeon show. “Our dream as kids programmers is to have parents watch with kids,” he said.
The show claimed six of the top 15 ratings spots for basic cable programs during the week of Sept. 30 through Oct. 6.