EXCLUSIVE: Nickelodeon has picked up its flagship animated series SpongeBob SquarePants for a ninth season with a 26-episode order, which will push the veteran series over the 200th episode mark. Season 9 is slated to air in 2012. SpongeBob has been TV’s No.1 animated series with kids 2-11 for 10 consecutive years. It also ranks as basic cable’s top animated show in total viewers and as MTV Networks’ most widely distributed property ever with sales in 171 territories. “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. SpongeBob creator Hillenburg executive produces the series alongside Paul Tibbitt who has been on the show since after the  pilot, serving as a director and writer on for its first three seasons and eventually taking over day-to-day responsibilities from Hillenburg. “We never imagined we would be on for that long but we’re going to keep going,” Tibbitt said. “The trick is to try to keep the episodes funny and simple and press from there.” The Nov. 11 SpongeBob special, Mystery with a Twistery, drew 6.6 million viewers, ranking as the year’s top animated telecast with kids 2-11. The series’ next special, Legends of Bikini Bottom, an hour-long anthology, will premiere on Jan. 28.