January 03, 2011 at 07:42 PM EST

Nickelodeon has renewed SpongeBob SquarePants for a ninth season, ensuring that the enormously popular cartoon will surpass 200 original episodes. “SpongeBob‘s success in reaching over 200 episodes is a testament to creator Stephen Hillenburg’s vision, comedic sensibility and his dynamic, lovable characters,” said Brown Johnson, President, Animation, Nickelodeon and MTVN Kids and Family Group.  “The series now joins the club of contemporary classic Nicktoons that have hit this benchmark, so we’re incredibly proud.” The wacky tales of an enthusiastic sea sponge have been the No. 1 ranked animated TV series with children, ages 2-11. The new deal calls for the network to air 26 new episodes in 2012.

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