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King of the Hill

Promotional still depicting Bobby, Peggy, and Hank Hill © Mike Judge. All Material From “King of the Hill” Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Television. All rights reserved.SEPTEMBER 1—DECEMBER 14, 2007

The Southwestern Writers Collection celebrates the production and creative processes behind the Emmy Award-winning animated comedy, King of the Hill, with its newest exhibit on view September 1 through December 14. A public exhibit reception and program will be held the evening of Saturday, November 10, with special guest Jim Dauterive, series writer and Executive Producer.

The show, co-created by Beavis and Butt-head creator, Mike Judge, and Simpsons writer, Greg Daniels, centers around Hank Hill, an all-American propane salesman who loves his wife Peggy, his son Bobby, his dog Ladybird, and the Dallas Cowboys (not necessarily in that order). The Hills reside in the fictitious town of Arlen, Texas, where Hank’s high-school football buddies are also his neighbors and closest friends. Right from the beginning, Hank became known as a no-nonsense embodiment of suburban Texas culture. In 1997, after only one top-rated season, Texas Monthly named him one of the “Texas Twenty”—the “most impressive, intriguing and influential Texans of the year.”

The Southwestern Writers Collection exhibit features eleven years’ worth of material collected by the show’s creative team. Since 1999, King of the Hill writer and current Executive Producer Jim Dauterive  has donated his own writing archives to the SWWC, which include research notes, story pitches, outlines, and drafts of scripts for the show, and he was instrumental in the SWWC’s acquisition of the bulk of the King of the Hill archives in 2005. The astounding amount of content documents the effort-intensive, lengthy process behind the making of this deceptively simple animated sitcom—from character development and back story to final cell animation and show promotion. The exhibit was curated by Katie Salzmann, lead archivist at the SWWC.

Prominent in the exhibit is an image of the 4' x 6' whiteboard titled “The Making of King of the Hill” used by the writers to depict the 40-week-per-episode timeline from story idea to broadcast. Other evidence of the show’s development can be seen in the original 1995 pilot script by Mike Judge and its broadcast draft (air date: January 12, 1997) written by Judge and Daniels, the show “Bible” written by Dauterive—a resource for writers and others that provides an overview of the show and the characters, and the text for an early press tour of the offices that outlines where the writers get their ideas.

The expansion of one story idea from inception to the final produced episode is the subject of one full case in the exhibit. The display traces Dauterive’s work on “Hank’s Cowboy Movie,” a season-three episode in which Hank and his friends produce a documentary movie in order to entice the Dallas Cowboys to locate their spring-training camp in Arlen. The items on display—among them Dauterive’s early drafts, the 200-plus page storyboard for the 45-page script, and the final creative notes by Judge—are just a fraction of the records that reveal the collaborative effort involved in honing a story idea to the point of broadcast.

With literally hundreds of people working on each episode, standards manuals are essential. There are several on view in the exhibit including: character-design standards; a special-effects manual with examples of how to animate stock footage such as rain, fire and wind; and a numbered list of 60-plus “do’s and don’ts” for animation directors (e.g., “Don’t make Peggy too shapely,” “Angle heads, not just eyes,” “No high fives”).

The exhibit also highlights the impact the show has had beyond broadcast, through published articles, books, and other memorabilia such as calendars and figurines. Perhaps the most solid evidence of this on view is the collection of “interview questions” sent from news media and reporters to the various characters, asking their opinions on everything from propane to relationships to world politics.

As Dauterive stated in a 1998 article for Written By magazine, “We [the writers] know these people, and we love them. That accounts a lot for the success this show has had.” Having won numerous awards, King of the Hill has earned a place in television history. Its archive at the Southwestern Writers Collection not only uniquely documents the processes involved in producing an animated series and the work of a fresh, smart, creative team behind an especially successful show, but it also preserves a snapshot view of what’s currently going on in the world as seen through the eyes of a decent Texas guy like Hank Hill.

The public is invited to the King of the Hill Exhibit Reception and Program at the Southwestern Writers Collection, with special guests including series writer and Executive Producer Jim Dauterive on November 10, 2007, at 7:00 pm. Attendees are asked to RSVP to (512) 245-2313 or Admission is free.

This event supported by: AT&T