In Depth

Adalian Column: Death With Dignity for ‘King of the Hill’

"King of the Hill" is the show that refuses to die. But I wish it would.

Just a few weeks ago, it looked like Hank Hill and his clan actually were going to meet their maker. Fox quietly confirmed that it wouldn’t be ordering any more episodes and that, after 13 seasons, the “King” was dead.

And then, suddenly, it wasn’t.

Word leaked out last week that ABC was mulling the notion of picking up “King” in order to provide a suitable companion for its own upcoming animated series, “The Goode Family.” The logic: Animated series are difficult to launch, particularly if a network doesn’t already have an existing animated hit. Acquiring “King,” the thinking goes, would give ABC a promotional platform off of which it could introduce viewers to “The Goode Family.”

It’s a logical theory but a really bad idea, one that speaks to so much of what’s wrong about the TV business these days.

There are so few successful young sitcoms on broadcast TV right now in part because networks are generally disinclined to do the two things most necessary to grow the genre: take risks and be patient. Picking up another network’s leftovers—no matter how tasty they might seem—is exactly the opposite of what ABC should be doing as it attempts to add more comedy to its lineup.

Like all networks right now, ABC needs to be spending as much money as possible trying out new ideas for comedies. The $25 million or more it would cost to pick up “King” would be much better spent on creating a dozen comedy pilots, or producing a couple new sitcoms that might air in the summer, when there’s less competition.

Or maybe ABC could just give the money to Chuck Lorre, who wrote ABC’s “Roseanne” during some of its seasons. His track record ain’t bad.

But with development budgets under strain everywhere, it makes no sense to shell out millions for 13 episodes of a veteran show like “King.” Even if the series did OK in the ratings—and that’s a big “if”—it seems hard to believe that it could be a long-term player for the network. So why bother with the investment?

I also don’t buy the argument that animated shows can only find an audience if they’re surrounded by other animated shows. “The Simpsons” was an island when it began; ditto “The Flintsones” when it premiered on ABC in 1960.

If ABC believes in “The Goode Family,” it simply needs to put the show on the air and keep it there for a while—years, not weeks. Air repeats—remember them?—during the summer, and keep them on no matter how low the ratings. Work out a promotional deal with Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim to give “Goode” some exposure on that channel.

In fact, if ABC insists on pairing “Goode” with another animated show, why not just acquire repeats of one of Adult Swim’s many well- (and cheaply) produced series? As a producer friend of mine noted, it would cost a lot less than picking up “King of the Hill.”

By the way, I have nothing against “King”; just the opposite, actually. The show is one of the most underappreciated on television, consistently funny and grounded in the middle-class American values not often seen on the small screen.

And over the years, I’ve been puzzled as Fox has treated “King” with near-criminal neglect, switching its time slot so frequently that viewers often couldn’t figure out if or when the show was airing. A few years ago, the network even canceled the show, only to change its mind when ratings improved a little.

Of course, Fox has footed the bill for more than 250 episodes of “King,” allowing it to become one of the longest-running animated shows in TV history. Fans of “Moonlight” or “Jericho” or “Arrested Development” would love to have had their shows treated as shabbily as Fox has treated “King of the Hill.”

It’s also heartening to see the folks at 20th Century Fox TV doing everything they can to keep the “King” franchise alive. The studio has reaped millions from the franchise already, so it’s not as if losing it would be a major blow.

Yet the death of “King” would mean the loss of dozens of jobs for writers and others involved with the series (including the super-talented Kathy Najimy, who supplies the voice of Peggy Hill). Twentieth deserves credit for trying to keep those jobs around for as long as possible.

The studio has proven to be nothing short of brilliant in managing its other animated assets. It refused to let “Family Guy” die, even after Fox canceled the show twice. It found a way to revive “Futurama” when Fox lost interest in that series.

“King” is different, though. It’s had a good run in both prime time and syndication, and soon will begin running on cable (via Adult Swim, natch). Moving it to ABC (or any other network) right now would seem desperate for all parties involved.

Hank Hill should be allowed to pass quietly, and with dignity. Sometimes it’s better to let go.