– Long before its premiere on May 1st,1999, the idea for SpongeBob SquarePants was first conceived in the late ’80s at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, California. That’s where Stephen Hillenburg was working as a marine biologist. While at college, Hillenburg majored in marine biology with a minor in art. Looking for a way to marry these two passions together, he created a comic book called The Intertidal Zone,which was used to educate children at the Ocean Institute. The comic consisted of anthropomorphic sea creatures, many of which would eventually evolve into SpongeBob SquarePants characters, including the comic’s main character Bob the Sponge. Nothing came up the comic right away. But it motivated him to go back to college, where he could focus on his art work.
While studying animation at the California Institute of the Arts, Hillenburg made a few animated short films that eventually caught the attention of Joe Murray,who was currently staffing his new Nickelodeon TV show Rocko’s Modern Life. Hillenburg worked on the show for its four-season run, and during that time,he met writers Derek Drymon, Nick Jennings, and Tim Hill, who would all go on to help develop SpongeBob SquarePants and also met the voice actor Tom Kenny, who would go on to voice the titular character of SpongeBob. After Rocko’s Modern Life ended,Hillenburg decided to adapt his comic, The Intertidal Zone, into a TV show, and that’s the day SpongeBob SquarePants was born. But that’s not what this video is about. SpongeBob SquarePants quickly became a pop-culture phenomenon when it premiered in the spring of 1999,surpassing Rugrats as Nickelodeon’s highest-rated show of all time within only a year. And a lot of its success stemmed from the fact that nearly 40% of its audience was from the 18 to 34 age demographic. This wasn’t a show merely designed for children. SpongeBob appealed to a wide-ranging audience with its cast of lovable characters and its unique blend of slapstick humor filled with physical comedy and double entendres, and after eleven seasons and two feature films, SpongeBob SquarePants has grown into amulti billion-dollar empire with what seems like an endless amount of merchandise and products including clothes, shoes, toys, beds,school supplies, video games, and even theme park rides.
However, after the first film, Stephen Hillenburg decided to leave the show out of fear of SpongeBob growing stale, repetitive, and jumping the shark. Many of the original staff writers left as well with Hillenburg, sparking a large overhaul of the creative force. But with SpongeBob’s popularity on the rise, Nickelodeon refused to kill its biggest cash cow, and so the show continued on with a new show runner at the helm and Hillenburg in the smaller advisory role behind the scenes. 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 as a writer, you have to move on. The show would never be the same. Which is why I think SpongeBob SquarePants died on May 6th, 2005, with the premiere of the season 4 episode”Fear of a Krabby Patty,””Shell of a Man. “The episode itself isn’t what killed the show, and SpongeBob continued to have some good episodes sprinkled throughout. But the show’s overall quality was noticeably lacking after Hillenburg’s departure. And I believe this speaks to the importance of having a clearly defined voice in control of the creative force when guiding a show with such a unique style.
Aaron Sorkin with The West Wing, Amy Sherman-Palladino with Gilmore Girls, and Dan Harmon with Community are just a few examples of creators with distinct writing styles in the shows they left at some point during production. For the West Wing and Gilmore Girls, the new writers were left trying to replicate Aaron Sorkin and Amy Sherman-Palladino’s clever, fast-paced dialogue, but that’s only the surface level style. The substance underneath dealing with character relationships,character motivations, and engaging storylines was severely lacking, and for Community, the new writers tried to replicate crazy genre themed episodes that the show became known for. But they were never able to balance that with the heart and excellent story structure which Dan Harmon is able to do so well. The same is true for SpongeBob SquarePants. When Hillenburg was the showrunner, the show had more slapstick humor and clever gags like Looney Tunes, which is why it appealed to all ages. But when Hillenburg left, the new writers weren’t able to strike the same tonal balance as effectively. SpongeBob SquarePants was quickly reduced to cheap laughs and gross-out humor in episodes such as The Splinter, Whatever Happened to SpongeBob, and House Fancy. This brand of humor completely pandered to children while ostracizing the large portion of older viewers. But perhaps the most noted shift in Hillenburg’s absense is the Flanderization of the main characters. Now, if you’ve never heard the term Flanderization before, you’re not alone. It’s a relatively new term for the process by which one of the character’s traits is overstated and exaggerated to the point where it becomes the character’s only trait. the term derives from Ned Flanders of The Simpsons, a character who once possessed multiple layers and dimensions. . . – Homer. . . Affordable tract housing made us neighbors, but you made us friends. – To Ned Flanders,the richest left-handed man in town. – . . . but has since been reduced to nothing more than a religious joke. – Uh-oh. – What is it, Ned?- I got two teens in a public park going at it like a couple of gibbons in the backseat of Noah’s Ark. – The same Flanderization process happens to a number of comedy shows because it’s a quick way to get an easy unearned laugh.
In the case of SpongeBob SquarePants, SpongeBob’s initial childhood innocence in genuine but misguided nature has turned into blatant idiocy over time. The once lovable character audiences enjoyed watching is now frustrating and annoying more than anything. Other relatable and layered characters in the show have also devolved into one-trait jokes. Patrick is dumb. Squidward is irritable. Mr. Krabs is greedy. Sandy is smart. This Flanderization process breeds bland and unlikable characters. It shows a lack of understanding of the characters and a lack of understanding of the entire show as a whole, which is why Hillenburg’s absence has been severely felt. A showrunner must not only understand the surface layer style of a show but also the sub-level substance of the world and its characters, and no one knows them better than Hillenburg, who breathed life into these characters in the world of Bikini Bottom years ago. SpongeBob’s gradual decline in quality continued for years, but on February 6th, 2015,SpongeBob SquarePants experienced a slight resurgence with its second film, Sponge out of Water. Not a complete return to form, but Hillenburg coming back as a writer helped interject a much-needed sense of creativity and wit that had been severely missing. After the film, Hillenburg stayed on as a series full-time writer, and since his return,SpongeBob SquarePants has had a string of great episodes in its tenth and eleventh season. The show may never recapture the same magic that made the first three seasons and the first movie so special and unique. But the writers are now making bold and exciting creative decisions that are making SpongeBob fun to watch again, and perhaps that’s enough to offer a glimmer of hope for the future. – Are ya ready, kids?- Aye-aye, Captain!- I can’t hear you!- Aye-aye, Captain!- Ohhh. . . Entertain The Elk puts out two new videos a month, so if you haven’t already, please subscribe below. That way you don’t miss out on any new content whenever it drops. If you enjoyed this video, please like it, share it with your friends, and leave me a comment below. Tell me when you think SpongeBob died or if you think it’s still alive. And if you’re able to support this channel financially so I can make more of these videos,I’ll put a link below to where you can go to my Patreon page. Patrons get early access to videos, get exclusive audio commentaries, T-shirts, and other cool rewards, so go check it out if you’re able to. Thanks, everyone, for watching and for all your write-ins asking for this video. If there’s other videos you’d like to see in the future for me to explore, other cartoons or anything in general,to explore the day it died, please leave me a comment below. Thanks again, and I’ll see you next time.