Is Fox over the Hills?

September 20, 2005|By Cox News Service

AUSTIN, TEXAS // Talk about bad timing. King of the Hill opened its 10th season two nights ago, on Emmy Sunday, a night when most networks air reruns rather than compete with the pre-awards shows or the glamorous back-patting extravaganza itself.

You can almost imagine the pain etched into Hank's face about this disrespectful decision by Fox.

Mike Judge, who created King of the Hill and voices Hank and the unintelligible Boomhauer, said last week that he was unaware the debut would go up against the Emmys. But he wasn't concerned. Hank has been taken for granted before.

Rumors swirled last season that King of the Hill, the animated sitcom that is one of TV's few guaranteed chucklefests, was going to be canceled. It wasn't, but Fox has ordered only 15 episodes this season, instead of the usual 22, and the show is unlikely to continue beyond that.

"Fox hasn't officially announced it, but people are packing their bags," Judge said. "It's OK. Ten is a good, round number, and I'm ready. I thought it was good that we quit Beavis & Butt-Head at seven. It's good not to run it into the ground."

An argument can be made that King of the Hill, which was ranked 140th at the end of last season, is still years away from its creative end. The Hills and their neighbors in Arlen still make us howl: at Bobby's obsession with pie and musicals, Peggy's enormous feet, Boomhauer's bizarre mumblings and Hank's dismay about liberals and bureaucrats.

The Simpsons is going strong creatively, heading into its 17th season. So, why not have a few more years of the Hills? It's not like Bobby will ever be too old to play himself. Or Hank will lose his hair. Time stands still in an animated world.

"At some point, I think you have to acknowledge that times are changing," Judge said. "The Simpsons works in a different way - anything goes. It's more iconic and surreal. They can go to Mars if they want to. But I wanted to keep this show realistic, which I know sounds like a waste for animation."

But, as odd as it might sound, King of the Hill is realistic. The characters could just as easily be played by actors, and the animation itself doesn't look like traditional three-fingered cartoon characters. They walk like people, talk like people and do little humanoid things like Hank's habit of pushing his glasses up on his nose.

"It's really cool to see those small, realistic motions animated," Judge said.

The Hills aren't quite as pervasive as the Simpsons, but they've certainly become part of popular culture, and not just in Texas or the rest of America. The show has been translated into several foreign languages, including Spanish, French and Portuguese, and is licensed around the world, from Japan to Kuwait to South Africa to Israel and points in between.

"It feels good to hear that anybody likes it," Judge said modestly. "To me, it works like Bob Newhart, like a warm pair of slippers. You just turn it on, and it's there. You think, `Oh, it's on. I'll just kick back and watch this.' It's kind of a lazy thing to do."

For a decade, Austin, Texas, and Dallas have fought over the right to claim fictional Arlen as their own. "There are definitely Austin influences," Judge said. "At one point, we had a Texas map and kept moving Arlen around."

Although cartoon characters don't have to change, there have been ever-so-slight changes in the King of the Hill gang in the past 10 years.

"The thing I love about Bob Newhart, Andy Griffith or The Beverly Hillbillies is how little they changed," Judge said. "It wasn't so much the character changing as you discover new things about them. Like in real life: People you think are incredibly boring turn out to be incredibly interesting. That's what happened on this show."

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