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Hank Hill Rules!

I stole a fax cover sheet from the production offices of King of the Hill. It’s three-hole punched and pre-printed with “To: Julie” “From: Scott Muller.” Professional discretion prohibits me from revealing the office phone number. No, No, it will not be for sale on eBay, but will go into a collection that includes a 1973 TV Guide with Diana Rigg on the cover and a copy of the “Chuckles Bites the Dust” episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show autographed “with love” by MTM herself. For its contribution to our culture, I hold King of the Hill in as high regard as anything associated with Norman Lear.

As people mingle near the breakfast buffet — or case the joint — of the fourth floor of Century City’s Watt Plaza, you can tell that the employees here work in a different world than the suit-and-tied corporate bees in the offices above, below and beyond. Here, people wear tennis shoes and funny T-shirts that show Jesus hang-gliding and say “What WOULDN’T Jesus Do?” A Ping-Pong table stands in an area where you can easily imagine writers discussing what issue of self-discovery mildly effeminate, young Bobby Hill would be exploring next. Of course, there are funny, life-sized cutouts of Hank Hill that it would be a shame if someone stole. Sure, I think about it, but besides the fact that I would have to sneak by most of the show’s cast and producers, I can hear the voice of Peggy Hill in my head saying, “Shame on you!” Especially since I am here at the behest of Fox’s publicity people, who, in honor of the show’s 200th anniversary, decided to let the media witness what is usually a closed-door process: a table-read of the script with the entire cast. Watching the cast arrive, I can tell right away there will be no scandalous outbursts. Everyone appears happy to be here, and there isn’t an ounce of Desperate Housewives–type ego-trips. They show up, grab a muffin and the script, sit down and laugh until they’re done. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that cast members can show up in their slippers and curlers if they wanted to. Lauren Tom (voice of neighbor Minh) hugs Kathy Najimy (Peggy Hill). Brittany Murphy teeters in; even her walk is cute and bubbly, and everyone seems to love her. She out-adorables both Olsen twins and any female co-star of Adam Sandler you can name. Now that she’s a bona fide movie starlet and Maxim cover gal, you might think her days of voicing cartoon characters would be over, but she must feel an affinity to Luanne, her lovable dim bulb of a character. Before executive producer John Altschuler calls everyone to order, I try to guess which of the in-various-phases-of-balding white guys around the table might be Mike Judge, the show’s creator and voice of Hank Hill. Turns out it’s none of them and the real Mike Judge makes a late entrance, looking L.A. tan and fit, though he spends most of his time in Austin. The only one we’re waiting for is the newest cast member, who I hear “is stuck on PCH.” Minutes later, Tom Petty smiles a million-dollar (as in the teeth work he’s obviously had done) sheepish smile as he takes his place at the table to read the voice of Lucky. Thus began the chorus of “You got Lucky, Babe.” Wearing crappy black Converse sneaks and a faded denim shirt, Petty dresses more like one of the characters than any of the cast. Usually you have to sleep with a rock star to see one this early in the morning. The script, which centers around Peggy tutoring Lucky to get his GED, is knee-slapping funny from start to finish, although I see an execu-boy scribble “too long” somewhere in Act 3. The dialogue is full of countless quotable lines like, “He’s got hunting accident written all over him,” which sends the room into laughing fits. King of the Hill has done for Texas rednecks what All in the Family did for bigots — made them into real people with flaws and charms and unfortunate fashion choices. Is there another character currently on television (with the exception of another cartoon beer-swilling 9-to-5-er) as real as Hank Hill? As I leave the reading with my stolen contraband, one phrase runs through my head: You got Lucky, Babe. It’s been swirling in my head ever since.