By Ryan Ricks
SpongeBob SquarePants is getting a spin-off. The new prequel, Kamp Koral, was announced by Nickelodeon in June 2019. So yes, this 20-year-old cartoon about a talking sea sponge and his nautical friends that has no aspects whatsoever that would warrant a spin-off, is getting a spin-off.
But let’s rewind a little bit. We all knew this was coming. Kamp Koral did not completely blindside SpongeBob fans and the cartoon community at large. Earlier this year, Nickelodeon, under its new president, Brian Robbins, announced that new SpongeBob spin-offs are on their way. Robbins told Variety that “[SpongeBob’s] our Marvel Universe” and that this is a chance to “tell an original story about SpongeBob and Patrick, or maybe tell a Sandy Cheeks stand-alone story, or can Plankton have his own?”
But let’s rewind even further. On November 26, 2018, the creator of SpongeBob, Stephen Hillenburg, unfortunately passed away. It was a tragedy that shook the cartoon world. Hillenburg had only just started coming back to SpongeBob after resigning as showrunner in 2003. He’d returned to work on the 2015 movie sequel, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, and went on to work on the later seasons of the show.
This timeline of events may seem rather unconnected when shown like this. The creator of SpongeBob passes, and then Nickelodeon announces some expansions to the property. But it’s when you add in some key contextual details that the picture becomes much more sinister. After the announcement of Kamp Koral, Paul Tibbitt, widely seen as one of Hillenburg’s most trusted staff members (Hillenburg appointed him as showrunner of SpongeBob when he originally left the position), posted this on Twitter:
“I do not mean any disrespect to my colleagues who are working on this show. They are good people and talented artists. But this is some greedy, lazy executive-ing right here, and they ALL know full well Steve would have HATED this. Shame on them.”
Recall that Hillenburg passed in November 2018. Not even four months after that, Nickelodeon green-lighted several SpongeBob spin-offs, and then four months after that, they announced a brand new show which doesn’t even seem necessary. Really puts things in a whole new perspective.
Sadly this type of greedy, shady behavior is the type of thing Nickelodeon has come to be known for. For example, there was the entire Harvey Beaks situation.
Perhaps you don’t know what Harvey Beaks is. Harvey Beaks was a cartoon that premiered on Nickelodeon in March 2015. It was created by C. H. Greenblatt, who also worked on SpongeBob from its beginning to 2005. The show actually ran for a few years before ending in December 2017. Now, with someone like Greenblatt creating it and a network like Nickelodeon running it, you might be asking yourself why haven’t you heard of this show before?
Well, you can mostly thank Nickelodeon for that. When Harvey Beaks first aired, the show was moved around a lot on the schedule. New episodes of the cartoon were delayed, most notably in the summer of 2015, when all the new episodes of Harvey Beaks were pushed to September, with the staff of the show learning of this just days in advance. Even Greenblatt himself was frustrated with the network according to Cartoon Brew, though later he would comment that his frustrations were “not a knock on the network in general.”
That defense of Nickelodeon would change in November 2016, when he revealed in a deleted Tumblr post that the “defense was forced.” According to Cartoon Brew, Nickelodeon’s higher-ups forced Greenblatt to write a reply in defense of the network. The reason for this sudden confession, more than a year later, is clear. Around this time was when Greenblatt found out that Nickelodeon was moving Harvey Beaks to Nicktoons, a change that would go into effect in March 2017.
But wait, you might be thinking, isn’t Nickelodeon famous for its Nicktoons? Isn’t being aired on Nicktoons the best thing for a Nickelodeon cartoon?
You should get that picture out of your mind. The Nicktoons of today is not the Nicktoons of years past. No, the Nicktoons of today is where cartoons go to die. This is mostly due to the fact that Nicktoons is a far less popular network than Nickelodeon, not to mention that the main channel doesn’t do much to acknowledge the existence of Nicktoons like it did years ago. Additionally, Nicktoons does not have so much of a cohesive theme in regards to its marketing like it used to. The shows there now are just thrown in there with not much care and attention paid to them. Repeatedly, the shows on the Nicktoons network have sharp declines in ratings and thus are quickly canceled. It’s a killing ground for the programs Nickelodeon no longer finds profitable.
Nickelodeon’s treatment of Harvey Beaks is almost the textbook definition of what not to do. The staff, who put so much of their time and energy into their creation, were almost always left in the dark when it came to scheduling. And then, when Harvey Beaks did not get the ratings that Nickelodeon desired, even though it was never given a fair shot because of the scheduling changes, they put the show on Nicktoons, their network for killing off cartoons. This blatant disrespect is pushing creators from the network and rightfully so.
Many of these disillusioned creators have brought their creations to another channel: Cartoon Network. Cartoon Network seems to do a much better job than Nickelodeon when it comes to ensuring the success of their lineups. The network has many notable modern cartoons that most fans can name, such as Adventure Time, Regular Show, Steven Universe, and, arguably, Infinity Train. However, even this supposed “haven” for creators is not without problems of its own. In fact, it has many of the same problems as Nickelodeon.
Cartoon Network is just as bad as, if not worse than, Nickelodeon when it comes to scheduling. Here’s what Cartoon Network’s schedule looks like the week of writing this article, provided by CN Schedule Archive on Tumblr. Admittedly, this schedule looks much better than it has in previous months and years, but that’s not saying much. Almost 70% of the schedule is covered by just two shows, which is ridiculous.
Here’s a schedule from July of this year that demonstrates some of the network’s biggest problems. Once again, more than 70% of the schedule is dominated by just two shows. And, if you look closely, there is actually a premiere of a brand-new show on the schedule too: Scooby-Doo and Guess Who?
Isn’t it interesting how a brand-new show, one from an iconic brand no less, was scheduled to premiere on a Monday morning, far from primetime, and is only shown one other time that week?
This is one of Cartoon Network’s major problems. The infamous scheduling of the network comes mostly from the fact that, like Nickelodeon, it relies on just a handful of shows to make its money. Its main “cash cow” is Teen Titans Go!, a spin-off of the popular Teen Titans cartoon from the early 2000s. While Cartoon Network mass-produces and constantly marathons this show, it disrespects creators and fans of its other productions due to the effects of this oversaturation. For example, many are aware of the long, enduring hiatuses of Steven Universe. Cartoon Network loves to hold onto episodes of this show for months at a time with no real reason at all. They’ve done this over and over, hurting ratings and leaving both fans and even the creators of the show in the dark.
Because of Cartoon Network’s scheduling, the network is stuck in a self-fulfilling prophecy. By mostly scheduling and advertising the shows that are already making them the most money, they are hurting newer and less popular shows. When these programs make less money, the network shows them less and less until they are either barely shown at all or simply canceled. If Cartoon Network just gave these shows a chance, they would probably be more popular.
This self-fulfilling prophecy doesn’t just apply to Cartoon Network’s new shows either. Take Adventure Time. The show premiered in 2010, quickly becoming a hit, drawing in two to three million viewers per episode in March 2013, according to Time. The show’s ratings numbers continued to grow from there, with each season’s successive episode premieres gaining more and more viewers.
This growth makes the complete ratings tumble the show took (its series finale only had 0.92 million viewers) all the more curious. How could a show this successful, a show that I can personally remember my middle-school classmates never shutting up about, fall so hard?
Perhaps the quality fell. Or maybe Adventure Time’s viewer base simply grew up. Or perhaps Cartoon Network is the one at fault. The final season of Adventure Time was barely promoted by the network, and it was badly scheduled on top of that. At the very least, Cartoon Network had a day-long Adventure Time marathon, and the finale premiered on Labor Day last year. But by then, years of mistreatment of the show, starting from around the premiere of the seventh season, had done its damage.
Now, Adventure Time is probably one of the worst examples one can bring up about Cartoon Network. But, that doesn’t mean it is the only example. Consider Regular Show. When Regular Show ended in January 2017, it left with slightly more pizzazz than Adventure Time. However, while the finale and the final season as a whole were heavily advertised, there wasn’t even a traditional marathon of the show when it ended. In fact, Teen Titans Go! was marathoned instead. Additionally, after ending, Regular Show did not appear on the channel again until October 2017, where it returned only due to Cartoon Network’s Halloween lineup.
The mistreatment of Adventure Time and Regular Show demonstrate that not even the moneymakers, the pioneering cartoons of the decade, are immune to bad business. The moment they stop making as much money, they are abandoned. They are probably some of the most insulting examples of networks not caring about the fans of the shows they air, as both Adventure Time and Regular Show are credited with Cartoon Network’s renaissance in the 2010s era. To see two pioneers fall like this is saddening, and to see at least part of that fall happen due to Cartoon Network’s offensive treatment is even worse.
Ultimately, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network are just two networks in a long list of channels. However, these two networks demonstrate some big problems in the animation industry and the entertainment industry at large. And all of these issues can be traced back to one major source: greed. Greed is at the heart of today’s entertainment. From the Sony vs. Disney event, to the branching off of hundreds of different streaming services (which is causing costs for consumers to rise to the same levels they were during the cable era), to the current shadiness of Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, greed is all-consuming. If you aren’t an instant hit, you’re booted, and if you are a hit but you don’t maintain it completely, you’re killed off. These decisions are understandable, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network are companies after all, but the people behind these shows and the fanbases supporting these shows are human. It’s time they be treated as such.
NOTE: After this article was completed, the trailer for the new SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run dropped. The new movie encapsulates almost everything I’ve argued about Nickelodeon in this article, so I wanted to mention it.
The fact that this movie, which has been in development for some time now, seems to just be reusing a plot from an older episode, “Have You Seen This Snail?” is peculiar, especially considering that for a while it had a different working title: It’s a Wonderful Sponge. Did the plot change, or did they just change the title? We’ll probably never know, but the possibility that the plot could’ve changed from an original story to be rehashed is disappointing.
Probably the most disappointing thing to me, however, is the mention of Camp Coral, the location of the aforementioned spin-off. It only further cements the spin-off and the disrespect of Stephen Hillenburg. The trailer for this movie premiered so close to the anniversary of Hillenburg’s death that it almost feels like a targeted insult. It epitomizes the greed that Hillenburg was against all these years, and to me, it feels like Nickelodeon still hasn’t put away their shovels, because they are continuing to defile this dead man’s legacy.
Image courtesy of Reddit