In an era of remakes, reboots, and content tangentially connected to popular IP of the past, we’re used to our favourite shows and movies being given a new coat of paint and rejigged for the modern era. What most of us aren’t as used to is popular kid’s shows developing their own interconnected universes. But that’s exactly what’s happening with SpongeBob SquarePants.
Brian Robbins, who was named president of Nickelodeon in October, has decided to move ahead with multiple SpongeBob-related spinoffs. Part of the reason is that Nickelodeon’s target audience are now more likely to be consuming content on YouTube, Netflix, and via smartphones, so Robbins wants to create hit shows that viewers will seek out on any screen.
Nowadays, that inevitably means shows that consumers – and in this case, parents – already have a connection to. There are reportedly multiple options for SpongeBob spinoffs right now, including an “original story about SpongeBob and Patrick” – which sounds less like a spinoff than just a continuation of the regular show – a Sandy Cheeks standalone story, or a Plankton spinoff.
“That’s our Marvel Universe”, Robbins said. “You have this amazing show that’s run for almost twenty years. I think the fans are clamouring for it”.
While that last statement is debatable, there’s no denying that SpongeBob has become a cultural icon over the last twenty years. The outpouring of support when series creator Stephen Hillenburg died in November proves how many lives the show has touched over the years.
SpongeBob isn’t the only show Nickelodeon is looking to spinoff from. They also acquired the rights to develop a series featuring Paddington, as well as spinoffs involving characters from the recent LEGO movies. They also have a hidden-camera prank show titled The Substitute planned, and have John Cena on board to host a new version of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?
It’s an interesting time to be any TV channel right now. With streaming and binge watching now a daily part of people’s lives, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get people to sit down at a designated time for a specific show. That becomes even more difficult with children’s TV.
Whether Nickelodeon’s plan to spinoff from classic characters – many of which kids these days may never have heard of – actually works will be something much of the industry will keep an eye on. Can a strategy that has worked so far flourish at any level of demographic?