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The untold truth of King of the Hill

From 1997 to 2009, the Fox animated series King of the Hill was among the most consistently funny, smart, and sharply satirical shows on TV. Created by Mike Judge (Beavis & Butt-head) and Greg Daniels (The Simpsons), it took place in the all-American Texas town of Arlen, and depicted the lives of propane salesman Hank Hill, substitute Spanish teacher Peggy Hill, their one-of-a-kind son Bobby ("that boy ain't right"), Peggy's ditzy but sweet nephew Luanne, and their assorted neighbors and friends. Here are some things you might not have known about King of the Hill...and King of the Hill accessories. Mmm-hmm.

How Mike Judge and Greg Daniels created the world of the show

After the success of Beavis & Butt-head at MTV, Fox signed Mike Judge to a development deal and asked him to create an animated series the network could pair on its schedule with The Simpsons. Judge produced a very rough idea of a Texas-set series, after which his management and Fox executives suggested he find a seasoned comedy writer to help him flesh out a script. He got together with Greg Daniels, taking him on a trip to Texas to give him the feel for the show. Daniels understood, but added in a lot of his own material—he came up with the characters of Cotton Hill and Luanne, and the notions that Dale was a conspiracy theorist whose wife was cheating on him. Then, in lieu of a pilot episode, Judge and Daniels devised a "pencil test." In this short video, Hank Hill (voiced by Judge) pitched Fox executives on making a show about his life.

Why Boomhauer talks like that

Boomhauer is the most mysterious character on King of the Hill. Although he's one of Hank's core group of beer buddies and appears in most every episode, little is known about him—his first name and profession aren't even revealed until the series finale (Jeff and Texas Ranger, respectively). He's also impossible to understand because he speaks in a rapid-fire Texas drawl loaded up with filler phrases like "dang ol'." He's a unique creation, and could only have come from real life. Mike Judge voiced the character, and as he mentioned on an episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live, he based his technique on an irate TV viewer who once left him a rambling, incomprehensible, minute-and-a-half-long voicemail to complain about Judge's previous show, Beavis & Butt-Head.

It was canceled…and revived

Fox famously canceled Family Guy in 2002 and then brought it back in 2005. The network did the same thing with King of the Hill. The show's 11th season finale, "Lucky's Wedding Suit," aired in May 2007 and was intended to serve as a conclusion to the series. It ends nicely: Luanne gets married and moves into a house across the street from the Hills. It kind of had to be the last episode of King of the Hill, too, because Fox had canceled the show. "And I mean completely canceled, as in everyone moved out and cleaned out their desks," Mike Judge told the Chicago Tribune. Imagine their surprise when Fox ordered more episodes, and King of the Hill ended up running for another two years.

The actor who plays Dale Gribble was a Hollywood newcomer

The main King of the Hill voice cast was populated by well-known actors and experienced voice talent such as Mike Judge, Kathy Najimy (Peggy), Pamela Adlon (Bobby), Brittany Murphy (Luanne), and Stephen Root (Bill). Daniel Stern could've been part of that all-star group—the Home Alone star and The Wonder Years narrator was offered the role of chain-smoking conspiracy theorist and exterminator Dale Gribble. 

Stern reportedly wanted too much money, and producers sent him away. Around the same time, King of the Hill co-creator Greg Daniels took in a comedy showcase at a Los Angeles club where a Texas-born comic named Johnny Hardwick took the stage and told some stories about his family and upbringing. After his set, Daniels offered him a job as a writer on King of the Hill. Once in the fold, Hardwick auditioned for Dale, telling the Austin Chronicle that he took inspiration for his characterization from counterculture icon William S. Burroughs and Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused. Hardwick got the part, of course—his first-ever acting gig.

Just where is Arlen anyway?

The Hills live in Arlen, a sleepy medium-sized city in Texas about 100 miles from Dallas. Like Springfield on The Simpsons, Arlen isn't a real place. The town's name is reminiscent of Garland, a suburb of Dallas where Mike Judge once lived, but while TV's Arlen isn't part of a fictional Dallas-Fort Worth "metroplex," Judge says the town was really inspired by Richardson, a different Dallas suburb. For example, many of the residential streets feature alleys right behind the houses—perfect for standing around and drinking beer.

There was almost a live-action spinoff

King of the Hill was a long-running success for Fox with a large universe of characters, which makes it kind of surprising that the show never had a spinoff—but as it turns out, that nearly turned out differently. In the early 2000s, Fox ordered a pilot for a live-action King of the Hill spinoff called Monsignor Martinez. Written by King of the Hill's Jim Dauterive (who conceived the character) and directed by Mike Judge, it starred Venezuelan actor Ivo Cutzarida as the trigger-happy avenging priest at the center of a Spanish-language soap opera watched by Peggy Hill and other King of the Hill characters. (Whenever Monsignor Martinez laid waste to an enemy, the priest would utter his priestly catchphrase, "Vaya con Dios," or "God be with you.") Unfortunately, the show never made it past the pilot stage.

How Tom Petty got involved with the show

Producer and writer John Altschuler served as King of the Hill's showrunner for its final seasons. One of his lasting contributions was creating the character Lucky Kleinschmidt, Luanne's sketchy boyfriend and later husband. His nickname (his real name is Elroy) comes from his main source of income, a cash settlement he won because he slipped on a puddle of urine in a Costco. Lucky is voiced by rock legend Tom Petty—and he kind of looks like Tom Petty, too, which is totally by design. When describing the character to Mike Judge, Altschuler said Lucky ought to look like "Tom Petty without the success." That led producers to actually pursue Petty for the role. The rock star, who has very little acting experience outside of his music videos, enthusiastically signed up.

The story behind the 'refreshing' theme song

The Refreshments emerged from the same Tempe, Arizona, scene that produced the Gin Blossoms and other jangly, melodic guitar bands. The band had a couple of big alternative rock hits, "Banditos" and "Down Together," in 1996—around the time Fox put the word out to record labels that they needed a cool theme song for a new animated series. 

Refreshments guitarist Brian Blush told The Georgia Strait that the band was down to try after getting the news, and had some song fragments that they "were messin' around with in sound checks that we thought might work." They recorded a demo for one of those songs, "Yahoos and Triangles," at a concert in Wichita, Kansas, and asked the audience to "scream and yell as loud as you know how to" so the band "could end up getting this theme song for this television series." The Refreshments played the hard-charging instrumental piece, the crowd cheered, and a tape went to Fox. Two weeks later, the network asked them to come to a studio in Los Angeles to record the tune for real.

It might be coming back to TV

King of the Hill rode the proverbial lawnmower into the Texas twilight in September 2009. But on TV these days, everything old is new again. Lots of older TV shows are coming back—Twin Peaks, Will & Grace, and possibly King of the Hill. At the 2017 Television Critics Association summer press tour, Fox CEO and chairperson Dana Walden said "preliminary conversations" have taken place between the network and King of the Hill creators Mike Judge and Greg Daniels. Walden thinks Hank, Peggy, and the rest would "have a point of view" about America's current political and social environment" and she wants to "explore" a revival. Sounds like a pretty dang ol' great idea to us.