By Michael Starr. Source: NY Post
FOR a show he thought would "maybe" last a sea son, "SpongeBob SquarePants" creator Steven Hillenburg still can't explain the show's popularity as it celebrates its 10th anniversary.
"It's an impossible question. I'm as surprised as anyone," says Hillenburg, 47. "I honestly didn't think I'd be interviewed 10 years later about a show still going strong.
"I imagined in the beginning that a show about a sponge would maybe get at least one season and perhaps a cult audience."
It's been much more than that, of course.
"SpongeBob" has been Nickelodeon's top-rated show for seven years running (after first premiering in July 1999).
The childlike, giggly, helium-voiced SpongeBob -- who "lives in a pineapple under the sea" with pals Patrick (a starfish), Sandy Cheeks (a squirrel who wears a waterproof helmet) and cranky Squidward (a squid) -- is on par with Homer Simpson in the pantheon of animated icons.
"SpongeBob" has spawned a multi-million-dollar marketing arm, a 2004 big-screen feature that's grossed $140 million worldwide and a main character who's been claimed by many groups -- including, most prominently, the gay community.
"I never thought of SpongeBob as a gay character," Hillenburg says. "I think there's been some confusion about his behavior. He's a childlike character and, if anything, there's an absence of sexuality in his life.
"I think people confuse his sweet, innocent relationship with Patrick; it's much more like a kids' relationship. But, hey, it's a show for everybody."
Nickelodeon will celebrate that all-inclusiveness with a slew of programming, including a "SpongeBob" documentary, "Square Roots," premiering Tuesday (9 p.m.) on sister network VH1; a 50-hour marathon beginning 8 p.m. next Friday; and 10 all-new "SpongeBob" episodes premiering Sunday, July 19 (7 p.m.).
While Hillenburg says he has "no intention" of making another big-screen "SpongeBob" movie -- "Nickelodeon could push for it, but the bottom line is . . . I'm not sure if they want to do it" -- he does have several other ideas in the hopper.
And none of them are related to "SpongeBob."
"I've been de veloping a couple of other projects I'm not talking about yet . . . not a kid's show, necessarily," he says. "One is animation, a festival film idea I've been thinking about . . . and I'm still interested in exploring other avenues of animation.
"As far as a series, it's really demanding . . . If I did have an idea for another series that I was excited about, I would certainly explore that," he says.
"Right now I'm just interested in smaller projects, and what else is possible in the medium."