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Saturday, March 23, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Soaking up Spongebob

Nickelodeon celebrates 10 years with SpongeBash

Nickelodeon celebrates 10 years of pop culture icon SpongeBob SquarePants this weekend. Nickelodeon (Nickelodeon / The Spokesman-Review)
Nickelodeon celebrates 10 years of pop culture icon SpongeBob SquarePants this weekend. Nickelodeon (Nickelodeon / The Spokesman-Review)
By Daniel Bubbeo Newsday

It’s a recipe as tasty as the one for a Krabby Patty: Take one naive yellow sponge with a disposition so sunny that he makes Pollyanna seem like an old grouch and dress him in a pair of square pants.

Season with some crazy characters, including a grumpy octopus named Squidward, the dumber-than-driftwood starfish Patrick, the penny-pinching crustacean Mr. Krabs and a meowing snail named Gary.

Sweeten with a touch of innocence and toss in a dash of edgy humor for the grown-ups and, voila!, you’ve got “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

“SpongeBob” has been wearing the pants for 10 years now when it comes to animation domination. Now Bikini Bottom’s master fry cook and those Krabby Patties are about to get super-sized. To mark the anniversary, Nickelodeon is throwing a celebration that would even put a smile on Squidward’s face.

The 50-hour “Ultimate SpongeBob SpongeBash Weekend” begins tonight at 8 with a brand-new episode, “To SquarePants or Not to SquarePants.”

“SpongeBob” has beenthe No. 1 show with kids ages 2 to 11 for seven consecutive years and draws an average of 70 million viewers each month.

Nickelodeon has soaked up a lot of cash in the forms of everything from SpongeBob macaroni and cheese to SpongeBob underwear, and a 2004 feature film that raked in $118 million.

It’s even got the president’s seal of approval. Last summer, Barack Obama told TV Guide that his favorite TV character of all time is the lovable sponge “because ‘SpongeBob’ is the show I watch with my daughters.”

All that hoopla for a show that its creators and cast figured would last only a year or two.

“We did a seven-minute pilot, which we all thought was very funny, and that alone would have been enough of an accomplishment,” says Tom Kenny, who provides the voices of SpongeBob and Gary. “But because it was funny to us, we didn’t know if anyone else would think so.”

“SpongeBob” was the brainchild of Stephen Hillenburg, a marine biologist whose second passion, animation, led to a job on the creative team of the Nicktoon “Rocko’s Modern Life,” which ran from 1993 to 1996.

Hillenburg began thinking about a cartoon that would take place amid the world of marine life.

“The idea was fresh and funny and so well thought out it was hard to resist. But it was the delivery of the hilarious pilot that sealed the deal,” says Marjorie Cohn, executive vice president of development and original programming for Nickelodeon.

Still, the idea of a sponge as a cartoon hero and the way “SpongeBob” defied logic (who knew a squirrel with her own rocket could live underwater?) made the show a bit of a risk.

“No one, including the people at the network, knew if it would last,” says Paul Tibbitt, “SpongeBob’s” executive producer. “You can make a few shows and never know when you’re going to strike a nerve. It’s nice that it happened.”

The show’s quirky blend of innocence and edginess was irresistible, though it took some time to grow on viewers.

“For the first year or two we were on, no one really paid much attention to us,” says Kenny. “Then about the third year, we suddenly started seeing the show hit the radar and grow and become a part of pop culture. …

“The show also came along at time in the ’90s when you had ‘South Park’ and ‘Ren and Stimpy.’ SpongeBob was much kinder,” Kenny adds.

“He’s always optimistic and I think people could relate to that. There’s a yearning for positivity and kindness and a nicer, more appreciative, more inclusive approach to the world.”

By the early 2000s, references to “SpongeBob” began popping up all over the tube in shows from “Two and a Half Men” to “American Idol.”

Celebrities including Scarlett Johansson, Johnny Depp and Julia Louis-Dreyfus – who in a 2001 interview called Hillenburg “truly Sponge-worthy” – made no secret of their love for the yellow guy.

“SpongeBob” shows no signs of drying up any time soon. A special episode featuring Depp racked up 5.8 million viewers in April, and a TV movie, “Truth or Square,” featuring the voices of Will Ferrell, Ricky Gervais, Robin Williams and Craig Ferguson, is slated for the fall.

“People who were young children when it started 10 years ago are still watching it and digging it and think it’s funny,” Kenny says. “That’s the loving cup for me.”

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