In the last two years, Nickelodeon has announced plans for a plethora of “SpongeBob SquarePants” spin-offs such as “Kamp Koral,” “The Patrick Star Show” and an untitled music-based Squidward project by Netflix. Given the show's popularity, one may ask what took Nickelodeon so long to expand the universe of their beloved franchise?
The answer is simple: show creator Stephen Hillenburg hated the idea of “SpongeBob” spinoffs. He even tried ending his show after the first movie back in 2004 before it could jump the shark and decline in quality. Nickelodeon refused to end the profitable franchise, and Hillenburg and many of the original writers left following the movie. To this day, “SpongeBob SquarePants” is still chugging out new episodes despite a noticeable decline in quality and painful personality changes to the characters for the sake of a continuation.
In November of 2018, Hillenburg tragically passed away from Lou Gehrig's disease. Naturally, Nickelodeon’s response was to announce the spinoff “Kamp Koral” a mere four months after Hillenburg's passing. Paul Tibbit, who served as showrunner on “SpongeBob” for 11 years, called Nickelodeon out on the spinoff.
Nickelodeon has even dismissed Hillenburg's statement that SpongeBob’s sexuality is unimportant to the show by sticking him with confirmed LGBTQ+ characters for 2020’s Pride Month with the quote “Celebrating #Pride with the LGBTQ+ community and their allies this month and every month.”
While it is left ambiguous if SpongeBob is an ally or LGBTQ+ member himself, the intentional vagueness combined with SpongeBob taking up the most space compared to the other characters who are actual LGBTQ+ members demonstrates Nickelodeon teasing this idea.
The issue here is not that SpongeBob might be gay, but that Nickelodeon does not care for the now-deceased creator’s vision.
Unfortunately, companies are notorious for this sort of behavior, as seen with the “Power Puff Girls” reboot being produced against the creator Craig McCracken wishes or the creator of Nickelodeon’s “Harvey Beaks” being notified that his show was being pulled from Nickelodeon and shown on the less popular channel Nicktoons via their public Twitter account– much to his dismay.
How can corporations get away with this? Creators, despite coming up with the characters people love and the sharp writing that reels the audience in, do not own their shows. A writer pitches their show concept to a studio which then buys and hopefully produces it. To quote Hillenburg, “You could never get anything made if you didn’t sell ownership to the people who are spending the money to make it.”
Writers also make next to nothing compared to the profit of the corporations that own their shows. In the wake of the digital age, writers would only get 1.2 % of revenue from shows streamed online for one-time viewing but get nothing from content downloaded from websites such as iTunes. This caused the infamous 2008 Writers Guild Strike in an attempt for fairer pay. The final deal was nowhere near what they wanted, and they were forced to settle for a profit of only 1.2% of distributor’s gross receipts on digital rentals and 0.65%-0.7% for digital purchases. Better than nothing.
When interviewed by the New York Post in 2002 about if Nickelodeon would continue “SpongeBob” following his departure, Hillenburg stated: “I think [Nickelodeon executives] respect that my contribution is important. I think they would want to maintain the original concept and quality.”
Wouldn’t that be something?
Corporations do not make the shows we love. It is the writers—the people with the jokes and vision for a masterfully crafted story—that people tune in for. Nickelodeon and companies like them need to stop treating writers as a means to an end and start giving them the financial and social credit they deserve.
Charlene Pepiot is a junior studying English at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Charlene know by emailing her @firstname.lastname@example.org.