Television: Soaking Up Attention

SpongeBob SquarePants, indomitable invertebrate, floats to the top of the sea of kids' programming

In America, if you want to be successful, you go to college, study hard and pack your head full of arcane knowledge. Then you head for Hollywood and learn to tell plankton jokes. That, anyway, was the route to fame and fortune for Stephen Hillenburg, an avid surfer, scuba diver and marine-biology teacher fascinated with tide-pool life. After he later went to art school and became an animator, he decided to base his debut cartoon, loosely, on the creatures that he had made his life's study. Very loosely. His star: a talking sponge who wears a tie, flips Krabbie Patties at...

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