Jul 22, 2021

By Kelby Clark
The latest SpongeBob SquarePants spinoff shows how the kids brand is leaning into a franchise strategy built on well-developed characters and new perspectives.

If SpongeBob SquarePants is Nickelodeon’s Mickey Mouse, then Patrick Star is its Goofy. The perennial sidekick became the star of the latest extension of the expansive SpongeBob universe with the debut of The Patrick Star Show earlier this month on Nickelodeon.

The series centers on young Patrick, including the often wild interactions he has with his family as he hosts his own TV show from his bedroom. It’s the second SpongeBob SquarePants spinoff, following Kamp Koral: SpongeBob's Under Years that premiered on Paramount+ earlier this year. It’s also an example of how ViacomCBS brands and studios are leveraging their iconic IP to create franchises that transcend platforms, characters, and markets.

“We want to speak to our core audience with immersive worlds that continue to grow and evolve with them,” says Ramsey Naito, the president and CEO of Nickelodeon Animation Studio. “Up until this year, we've only seen classic SpongeBob. Now, we have Kamp Koral, which showcases the origin of these great characters' friendships, and The Patrick Star Show, which both digs into the background of Patrick and showcases the time between Kamp Koral and the original SpongeBob series. It’s content designed to invite new audiences in and continue to entertain diehard SpongeBob fans.”

Ensuring franchise lovability and profitability comes down to three things, according to Naito. “It's about talent, vision, and most importantly answering the question: ‘Why now?’” she says. “Nickelodeon is home of some of the greatest franchisable family titles out there, and SpongeBob is a great example of how we’re strategically going about expanding our universes and making sure they continue to be amazing and add value. We're doing the exact same thing for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the exact same thing for Paw Patrol, and the exact same thing for Avatarverse or Avatar.”

In addition to creating programming for its linear cable networks and ViacomCBS internal partners Paramount Pictures and Paramount+, Nickelodeon develops content for emerging platforms like YouTube and Twitch and external partners like Netflix and Apple TV+. As a result, Nickelodeon Animation Studio has increased its slate from 10 productions to nearly 50 in less than three years. In the last year, it hired 500 people.

“We have huge strategic plans to expand these franchises and reach kids and families everywhere and anywhere with new refreshing takes that speak to our time and entertain our audience,” says Naito.

 

Patrick, the Obvious Star

 

The Patrick Star Show is the brainchild of SpongeBob co-executive producers Marc Ceccarelli and Vincent Waller.

“Patrick was definitely the next banana to get picked,” says Ceccarelli, who’s been involved with the franchise for a decade. “All of the characters that Stephen Hillenburg created for SpongeBob are super strong and have their own followings, but Patrick and SpongeBob, along with Squidward, are on somewhat of the same tier. There's a reason they live on the street.” 

To figure out how to tell Patrick’s story, Ceccarelli and Waller turned to the SpongeBob writer’s room. One of the group’s initial ideas focused on character Patchy The Pirate as a live action cartoon show host who is trapped in the belly of a whale with an old school film projector and tons of film reels of cartoons film to play for viewers. 

Ceccarelli explains that the family sitcom format they ultimately chose is a “ready-made unit for comedy” because the characters have a shared history and are always in one place. But, he and Waller agree that it was the idea to have Patrick host his own TV show in the pressure cooker situation that’s his family home which made the series concept a winning idea.

Deciding on a focus for the new series wasn’t easy, says Jennie Monica, co-executive producer of The Patrick Star Show and member of the SpongeBob team since the series premiered in 1999. “There seemed to be less that we can do with Patrick than we can with SpongeBob, because Patrick is usually more of a one-line guy with gags. So thinking about how it would work with a series took a lot of thought.”

 

New Sides to the Franchise

 

The Patrick Star Show is a departure from SpongeBob and Kamp Koral in several ways. For one, the episodes don’t have a traditional narrative arc.

“The structure is really set up to give off that kind of a channel-changing kind of feeling,” says Ceccarelli. “We wanted the show to feel like our childhood afternoons, channel surfing as our brains turned to jelly in front of the television. All of that seemed to fit Pat’s profile.

There are also several new characters, which include Patrick’s dad Cecil Star (voiced by Tom Wilson), mom Bunny Star (Cree Summer), sister Squidina Star (Jill Talley), and grandpa GrandPat Star (Dana Snyder).

 

"We want to speak to our core audience with immersive worlds that continue to grow and evolve with them."

Ramsey Naito

President and CEO of Nickelodeon Animation Studio

“It's a huge responsibility to add new characters to Steve's world. And it’s one we don't take lightly,” says Waller, who’s been involved with the franchise for more than 17 years. “We're very careful about casting and we make sure that everything sounds right, because the characters that the world already has are so strong, new additions have to be up to that level. It’s a pretty high bar to try and hit. In short, we don’t sleep very much.”

Each new episode and iteration is a chance to expand and explore the creative limits of the SpongeBob universe. Even the original series, which has been the number one animated series on TV for the last 18 years, continues to innovate.

“In the last few seasons of SpongeBob, we’ve focused more and more on side characters, trying different imaginative things, even just having SpongeBob do a cameo in an episode,” says Ceccarelli. “In the beginning of the series that was completely unheard of, but the show is so full of well-developed characters that they can be mixed and matched. I can see us coming up with stuff for a while.”

 

 

New episodes of "The Patrick Star Show" premiere Fridays at 7:00 p.m. (ET/PT) on Nickelodeon.