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‘King’ Takes the Right Path

Aug 30, 2004  •  Post A Comment

By Lee Alan Hill

Special to TelevisionWeek

Airing in the shadow of another, more highly publicized Fox animated series, “King of the Hill” has clocked an impressive TV history of its own. With an Emmy under its belt and an eighth season already in production-more seasons than any other prime-time animated show in history other than its Fox stablemate “The Simpsons”-“King” has tapped into a pronounced Middle American sensibility in ways few other series do.

“This is a show with a really original point of view,” said Craig Erwich, Fox executive VP, programming.

“It’s like the Will Rogers of 2000,” Mr. Erwich said, referring to the homespun philosopher popular in radio and TV during the 1920s and 1930s. “It’s truly got a populist style of storytelling.”

“King of the Hill” was created by Mike Judge, the animator behind “Beavis and Butt-head,” and Greg Daniels. It is the story of Hank Hill, a salt-of-the-earth Texan working at the Strickland Propane Co. At the heart of the concept, Mr. Erwich said, is the relationship between Hank and his son Bobby, a chubby middle school student.

“Our most popular episodes do feature the father-son relationship,” said David Krinsky, who is in his eighth season along with partner John Altschuler as executive producer/showrunner. “Hank is a guy trying to raise his son. He doesn’t always understand Bobby [Pamela Segall], but he loves him.

“When the show first premiered they used the catchphrase, `Andy Griffith is back, and he’s pissed off,”‘ Mr. Krinsky said. “That plays out in the stories, and it’s why we’ve been called a [politically] conservative show.”

Mr. Krinsky said the show’s orientation allows its creators to handle subject matter without the constraints imposed on other popular series. “In one episode Bobby is shown to be a crack shot with a rifle, better than Hank,” he said, “and Hank is proud of his son but kind of jealous. On almost every sitcom on the air, that story would have had to explore a beat or two about the gun control issue. On our show, we passed that by. This is Texas, where everyone has a gun. That point of view would never even cross Hank’s mind.”

“King of the Hill,” which airs Sundays at 7:30 p.m. with a repeat episode preceding it at 7 p.m., is competitive in the adults 18 to 49 demographic with about 10 million viewers weekly, according to Nielsen Media Research.

“It skews between the two coasts in its audience profile, but people from urban places like New York and Detroit have told us they get the show even if its culture is different,” Mr. Krinsky said. “They get Hank.”

Hank, who is voiced by Mr. Judge, goes crazy about everything from yoga (Johnny Depp guest-starred in the role of an instructor) to permissiveness, and it resonates. One episode featured Debra Messing as the voice of Bobby’s girlfriend of the moment, the daughter of lenient parents. It was inspired when one of the show’s writers heard about a mother who was the only parent who refused to let her child attend a coed sleepover party.

“That, of course, didn’t play for Hank,” Mr. Krinsky said. “That the show gives voice-literally, you might say-to how `regular people’ react to such things is why it has been on the air so long.”