This Sunday (at 7:30 pm/ET) will mark the 200th episode and 10th season finale of Fox's King of the Hill. The achievement is yet another feather in the cap of series creator Mike Judge, who turned Beavis and Butt-head into household names and directed the oft-quoted cult hit Office Space. Known as the staid sibling of The Simpsons and Family Guy, KOTH has quietly garnered solid ratings with very little marketing and even less media attention. The fact that it's kept going so long is even a surprise to Judge.
"When the show was about to go on the air, I'd been working like crazy on the Beavis and Butt-head movie," claims the dry-witted Texan. "I thought, 'Who knows what it will do? Who knows what people will make of this?' But I wasn't dreaming of 200 episodes, that's for sure."
Even if Judge had ventured to guess how people would react, it most likely wouldn't have changed his approach. Setting out to create a cartoon unlike anything that had come before, and inspired by life in the Dallas suburb where he once lived, KOTH's impetus was a simple panel cartoon. The image Judge illustrated was one he'd seen out his back window many times four guys standing in front of a fence saying, "Yep, yep, yep" and the fourth guy thinking, "Yep." Though its profundity may seem elusive, the cartoon is basically the same one that spawned some of the show's core characters and has been part of the credit sequence for all 200 outings.
Judge likens his consistent character-driven comedic style to shows like The Bob Newhart Show, but other KOTH influences might come as a bit of surprise.
"I remember when Do the Right Thing came out," Judge recalls, invoking Spike Lee's inflammatory feature. "I don't know much about that world, but it was just kind of interesting to see this dialogue that seemed very real. So when I was first writing the pilot, I was really thinking about the neighborhood I lived in and what I did day to day."
While King of the Hill may be the Texas equivalent of Do the Right Thing in its ability to capture local flavor, its conflicts tend more toward the institutional than the societal, with patriarch Hank Hill most frequently the character at odds.
"It's usually putting Hank up against something really annoying and ridiculous in the modern world," Judge says of the formula employed to create an ideal episode.
It appeared as though Hank's ordeals might come to end a little over a year ago, when Fox decided to order only five more episodes before calling it quits. In fact, the final five were completed when the show's staff began looking for new jobs. Then, suddenly, Fox decided to renew KOTH for a full 22-episode run.
"It was a little bit of a scramble to get people back," says Judge. "We talked and we looked at what we had and said, 'OK, I think we can probably do another good season.' So we decided to do it."
Speaking of scrambling, Judge has recently had to split time been King of the Hill and production of his next feature film, Idiocracy. A sci-fi comedy about a soldier who wakes up in the future to find humans have devolved into morons, the movie stars Luke Wilson and Saturday Night Live's Maya Rudolph. The effects-heavy effort opens in September and is a change of pace from his animation roots, but live action is the direction Judge sees himself moving in.
"I'm kind of thinking about Christopher Guest's career," explains Judge. "How in the '90s he started making little movies that [had] an audience. I'd like to do something like that, kind of lower-budget comedies."
If he does, Judge won't have to worry about juggling directing duties with King of the Hill. When asked if he sees the show going to 300 episodes, he doesn't hesitate to answer.
"No, in a word," he says with a chuckle. "But we've got another 20, at least."