SpongeBob SquarePants is an American animated television series created by marine biologist and animator Stephen Hillenburg for Nickelodeon. The series chronicles the adventures and endeavors of the title character and his various friends in the fictional underwater city of Bikini Bottom. The series' popularity has made it a media franchise, as well as Nickelodeon network's highest rated show, and the most distributed property of MTV Networks. The media franchise has generated $8 billion in merchandising revenue for Nickelodeon.
Many of the ideas for the series originated in an unpublished, educational comic book titled The Intertidal Zone, which Hillenburg created in the mid-1980s. He began developing SpongeBob SquarePants into a television series in 1996 upon the cancellation of Rocko's Modern Life, and turned to Tom Kenny, who had worked with him on that series, to voice the titular character. SpongeBob was originally to be named SpongeBoy, and the series was to be called SpongeBoy Ahoy!, but these were changed, as the name was already trademarked.
The series was previewed on Nickelodeon in the United States on May 1, 1999, following the television airing of the 1999 Kids' Choice Awards, and officially premiered on July 17, 1999. It has received worldwide critical acclaim since its premiere and gained enormous popularity by its second season. The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, a feature-length film adaptation, was released in theaters on November 19, 2004, and a sequel is currently in production, with a projected release date of February 13, 2015. On July 21, 2012, the series was renewed and aired its ninth season, beginning with the episode "Extreme Spots".
Despite its widespread popularity, the series has been involved in several public controversies, including one centered around speculation over SpongeBob SquarePants' intended sexual orientation. The series has has been nominated for a variety of different awards , including 17 Annie Awards (with six wins), 17 Golden Reel Awards (with eight wins), 15 Emmy Awards (with one win), 16 Kids' Choice Awards (with 15 wins), and four BAFTA Children's Awards (with two wins). In 2011, a newly described species of mushroom, Spongiforma squarepantsii, was named after the cartoon's title character.