Nickelodeon has renewed the hit animated series SpongeBob SquarePants for a ninth season today, which will begin airing in 2012. The 26-episode order will drive the series past the 200 episode milestone.

SpongeBob SquarePants, which started airing on Nickelodeon in 1999, has been the top-rated children's series for the past 10 years in the ages 2-11 demographic. It also ranks as basic cable's top animated show in total viewers, with the series airing in over 171 territories worldwide. Here's what executive producer and showrunner Paul Tibbitt had to say about the announcement:

We never imagined we would be on for that long but we're going to keep going. The trick is to try to keep the episodes funny and simple and press from there."

Stephen Hillenburg created the series and Paul Tibbitt took over the day-to-day responsibilities after the third season. SpongeBob SquarePants will air its latest animated special, The Legend of Bikini Bottom on January 28.