- SpongeBob SquarePants, Nickelodeon’s flagship hit, has become one of the biggest animated hits of all time and shows no signs of ending soon.
- The show’s creator originally intended for it to end in 2004, but Nickelodeon recognized its success and ordered more seasons.
- The eventual end of SpongeBob will likely coincide with the end of traditional cable TV as networks like Nickelodeon transition to streaming platforms like Paramount+.
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Try and find a more iconic opening line to a modern kid’s cartoon. Since its 1999 debut, SpongeBob SquarePants has become not just one of Nickelodeon’s biggest hits but one of the biggest animated hits of all time. Gearing up for its 25th anniversary next year, SpongeBob has surpassed the run lengths of every other Nickelodeon animated show. Given that it is effectively Nickelodeon’s mascot, it makes sense that the network is in no rush to let it go. Could that ever change?
In September 2023, Nickelodeon renewed its flagship hit for a 15th season, ensuring that it will continue to run for the next several years. But what happens beyond that? From a creative standpoint, should the franchise end before it’s completely bled dry? If you ask others, the end should have occurred years ago. In an entertainment landscape where cable TV is dying a slow death, the splat network can still rely on the sponge. They will want to hold onto that as long as they can. If it’s up to Nickelodeon, the sponge will run until the universe burns out. But is that realistic? Let’s look at what we know and how the eventual endgame could play out.
The Story of SpongeBob SquarePants
Everyone knows the story of SpongeBob. Created by the late Stephen Hillenburg, the show follows the titular yellow sponge and his friends living in the underwater city of Bikini Bottom. SpongeBob, Patrick, Squidward, Sandy, Mr. Krabs, Plankton, and the rest have all become synonymous with iconic animated programs. First debuting on May 1, 1999, SpongeBob has aired continuously ever since. Its multiple television specials have given Nickelodeon some of their highest-rated broadcasts ever. Though modern premieres draw roughly just 200k to 300k total viewers, that’s still enough to be the network’s biggest draw. The past 25 years have also given us spin-offs, movies, and even spin-off Sandy Cheeks movies.
It’s difficult to imagine Nickelodeon without SpongeBob, which is likely why they haven’t imagined it either. A quarter of a century into its run, there’s no end in sight. And can you really blame Nickelodeon for not letting it go? What would take its place? The rest of their animated lineup consists of the sponge’s spin-offs, Paramount+ imports, and The Loud House. While The Loud House was once imagined as an eventual SpongeBob successor, it’s seen its own declining reception.
SpongeBob has at least a few more years just through its current order. A 15th season was ordered this year before the 14th season had even premiered. Since seasons take roughly two to three years to air, we could see the 15th season push the show close to the 30th anniversary in 2029. That’s a lot of sponge. Could that be the time to bow out? Who knows what cable TV will look like at the end of this decade? Maybe Nickelodeon’s linear network will no longer exist. Still, according to some, the ending should have come a lot sooner.
What the Creator Wanted
Creator Stephen Hillenburg intended for the show to end in 2004, after the third season and first movie’s release. The first movie did act as a quasi-series finale. SpongeBob became manager, a second Krusty Krab opened, and Plankton finally went to jail. But even back then, Nickelodeon knew SpongeBob was something special. They ordered a fourth season after the movie, and Hillenburg exited the show.
Those who prioritize quality over quantity may have preferred Hillenburg’s original vision, as the first three seasons are widely considered the show’s “golden era.” The seasons between the first and second movies, specifically the fifth, sixth, and seventh, are regarded as the weakest points.
Modern seasons have seen a slight rebound in quality due to new animation stylization and increased references to past episodes. However, that’s not enough for many fans who still insist SpongeBob is past its prime. Numerous spin-offs and movies have made the SpongeBob franchise just a reflection of what it once was. While it wouldn’t be remembered for its long run if it had ended in 2004, it may have instead been remembered as a show with an almost-perfect reputation.
What Is the Endgame?
So, when will the SpongeBob finale eventually come? In all likelihood, the show will end when Nickelodeon itself ends. Cable TV is on borrowed time, and eventually, traditional linear networks will close down. It could be next year, in five years, or ten.
Nickelodeon has already begun pushing more and more of their upcoming originals to Paramount+ to prepare for what is inevitably coming. Maybe they’ll do the same for the sponge when the network goes. Or maybe SpongeBob should end along with cable TV as a symbol of a bygone era. It is SpongeBob, after all, so there’s a strong possibility that kids a few decades from now will watch the forty-fifth season and twentieth movie on whatever media service exists in the future.