Not that “King of the Hill” creator Mike Judge is a pessimist, but he never thought — even as recently as a few months ago — that his show would reach the milestone it does Sunday — its 200th episode.
“I thought the show was canceled,” he says.
He was correct — but only partially.
Fox did can the show, which has shown a ratings decline in recent seasons. The writers even cleared out their offices and got other jobs. The animators did, too.
Then the network, recognizing the show’s small but loyal audience, had a last-minute change of heart.
Now “King of the Hill” is sticking around.
“At one point, the 201st was supposed to be the last episode,” Judge says. “I’m not sure why they canceled it or why they brought it back.”
As it stands now, “Hill” will end next season, and the finale has already been shot, Judge says. He is mum on details.
“It’s not a special episode in that somebody dies or they all move away,” he says. “But there were some tears at the last reading. Ours will be a really good episode, which feels like it could be the last one.
“There are no group hugs or anything.”
“King” debuted nine years ago. Judge had finished working on the film “Beavis and Butt-Head Do America” when “King” premiered. He says the Fox series was not his biggest priority then.
“I thought, ‘If this doesn’t work, who cares?’ I never thought it’d go on for almost 10 years,” he says. “It would have been a scary thought at the time.”
Having an animated series last nearly a decade “can get a little weird,” Judge says. “It can be weird that (teenage character) Bobby (Hill) is still the same age as he was when we started.”
Changing times have also caught up with the fictitious Hill family of Arlen, Texas, even if birthdays have not. When the show began, the Hills didn’t have a home computer or cell phones.
“I kind of had to adjust the show to how the world has changed, although the characters haven’t gotten older,” he says.
For the 200th episode, Tom Petty will supply the voice of Lucky, who wants to marry “Hill” regular Luanne (Brittany Murphy). But he won’t ask until he gets his GED, a task that Peggy (Kathy Najimy) makes difficult.
Judge has been the voice of the show’s star, propane salesman Hank Hill, during the entire run of the show. (He also does the mumbling neighbor Boomhauer and Stuart Dooley.)
For next season, Judge is bringing back country star Trace Adkins and would like to have Johnny Knoxville return, too. Housewife and substitute teacher Peggy will get her real estate license.
Over the years, Judge has felt the pressure from the network to add more drama to “Hill,” but he’s fought not to do it.
“This one guy was like, ‘We need big stars! We need life-changing episodes!’ I thought he was joking,” Judge says. “That would be like eating your seed corn.
“Sure, it’s probably a shocking thing to see a character do something completely out of character, but if you do it too many times then your character isn’t the same anymore. So ‘out of character’ doesn’t mean anything anymore.”
Judge says now is the time for the show to end.
“I’m ready for it,” he says. “I didn’t regret leaving ‘Beavis and Butt-Head’ when I did. I knew it was time. I feel the same way about this.”
DID YOU KNOW?
The fast-paced “King of the Hill” theme song was written and performed by Tempe band The Refreshments, who titled the song “Yahoos and Triangles.”
‘‘King of the Hill’’ airs 6:30 p.m. Sunday on Fox.