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PopEntertainment.com > Feature Interviews - Producers > Features Interviews A to E > John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky

John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky

Kings of the Hill

by Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.  Posted: January 26, 2007.

There’s a dirty little secret that Hollywood doesn’t tell all the people who move there in pursuit of wealth and power from working in television.  Even if you get involved with a popular show – and that’s certainly a long shot to begin with – it’s rare that your job will last more than about five years.  It’s a real abnormality for a show to last much more than that.  Series often will have the white hot popular moment and then fade away as quickly as they appeared.  (Twin Peaks or Ally McBeal, anyone?) 

Slow and steady has never been the prevailing wisdom in Hollywood.  It’s the way of life in the fictional town of Arlen, Texas, though.  Arlen is the setting of the subtly insightful animated comedy King of the Hill, which is – unbelievably – starting its eleventh season on the air.  The series, like the lifestyle it portrays, is quiet, laid back, reserved, thoughtful and much smarter and funnier than you’d originally expect.  Created by Austin, Texas auteur Mike Judge – who also created that much more frenetic classic MTV cartoon Beavis and Butthead as well as the cult-classic film Office Space – the reins have since been turned over to executive producers and writers John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky. 

Altschuler and Krinsky were relatively unknown in television circles in 1998 when they became staff writers on the series, but over the years they have worked their way up the ladder and earned the total trust of Judge.  Judge is still very involved in the direction of the show and does voices including that of lead character Hank Hill – a right-leaning propane salesman who believes in God, football, propane, family and the importance of having a good set of tools.  However, the uniquely quirky voices of Hank and his friends and family are marshaled by the two executive producers who bucked the odds and found a steady long-term gig in the most short-term of industries. 

Shortly before the eleventh season premiere was due to air, Altschuler and Krinsky sat down with us to chat about life with the Hills.

I read that you met at the University of North Carolina.  How did the two of you become a team? 

John Altschuler:  Well, oddly enough, there was this guy in my English class sophomore year, who said, “Yeah, you’re pretty funny.  My roommate is funny.  You should meet him.”  It was Dave. 

Dave Krinsky: Then we met and at the time there was a student-run cable network just starting up and we thought: We have a lot of the same comedic background.  We really should do a show together.  So we did. 

How did you get involved in your first series, The High Life?  I know it didn’t last for too long, but it was supposed to be a really good show… 

John Altschuler: It lasted eight episodes.  What happened was, Dave and I, when we were in college we had written some stuff and got published by National Lampoon back when it existed…  We came out here and were production assistants – gophers – for like two and a half years.  We had finally sold a screenplay or two, but nothing had been produced, when we got a call, virtually out of the blue, from this woman – Carolyn Strauss at HBO, who had read our screenplay.  She said, “Look, we’ve got this new show…  [It's created by] this guy Adam Resnick [and made by] Worldwide Pants [David Letterman’s production company]…  Will you take a look at it?”  We loved it.  Dave and I were sharing an apartment in Burbank.  We were paying $650.00 a month rent.  It was a two-bedroom one-bath.  We loved it.  She goes, “Would you guys move to New York to work on it?”   We were, like, doing nothing…  We were like, uhh, yeah…  She goes, “Can you move in three days?”  So we literally just sort of packed, locked up the apartment and three days later we were at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York, working for Adam Resnick, doing The High Life. 

King of the Hill is going into its eleventh season.  When you started working on the show – I believe in 1998 – could you have ever imagined that in 2007 you’d be not only still working on the show, but be the supervising executive producers? 

Dave Krinsky: No way.  Early on, I thought every year if we last another year we’d be pleased. 

John Altschuler: The one thing… Mike Judge liked our take and thought that it was very grounded and real early on.  So we always knew there was a little bit of a connection there.  It just got stronger and stronger.  Then, lo and behold, we’ve been running it the last six or seven seasons. 

You are sort of in the heart of arguably the greatest time for adult animation – with shows like your own, the Simpsons, Family Guy, Mike’s old series Beavis and Butthead…   Why do you think animation is so trenchant for our time? 

John Altschuler: You know, I apologize for not having a great answer.  I think that what we’ve seen about animation – at least in our perspective, and I think this goes throughout – is that a lot of these things, from South Park to King of the Hill deal with the serious world around you.  Animation allows you just a little bit of distance so you can really laugh. 

The creators of the Simpsons have often said that they can get away with a lot of things just because they are animated that they would never be able to in a live action series… 

Dave Krinsky: Well, they can.  We can’t. 

John Altschuler: We’re not allowed to.  You wouldn’t believe.  We’re like literally… [With] Standards and Practices, we’re complaining, wait, they can do this on The Simpsons…  They go, “Well, that’s a cartoonish show.  You’re a real show.”  So you’re like (dejected) okay…  It really is frustrating, because our standards issues are much stricter. 

How do you keep it fresh after so many seasons? 

Dave Krinsky: I think the key to that lies first in the characters that Mike created.  Because, they are just really interesting, layered characters.  By keeping them constant, we can use whatever is going on in the world to explore through our characters.  Since there is always something changing in the world, something to piss Hank Hill off, there always seems to be grist for the mill. 

With the cultural divide right now in this country between the red states and the blue states – is it a bit of a balancing act to keep the Hills true to themselves and their beliefs without condescending towards them or making them less likable? 

John Altschuler: To be blunt, we sort of see it like nothing about this show has changed.  This cultural divide, you know, I think I’ve heard about it through my entire life and I’m 43 years old.  It ain’t going anywhere.  It’s been there.  What is interesting about our show is it’s simply a middle American look at the elite.  Okay, well that ain’t going anywhere.  The fact is, we’re as popular in Michigan as we are in Florida as we are in…  Because we have a very centrist, common sense approach to all these issues.  Look: red state, blue state…  When you’ve got one state that’s within a thousand votes of each other, the fact that one’s the color red and [the other is] the color blue doesn’t really mean anything. 

Dave Krinsky: But your point about the word condescension is important here, because we always try to police that.  We don’t want to be condescending towards our characters because we identify with them.  We think our fans identify with them. 

I saw an old interview that John did with your college UNC in which you said that you were trying to make Arlen seem like a new Mayberry – a slow-paced easy-going southern town rather than the big bustling cities or suburbs which usually get much more airplay.  Why do you think this lifestyle doesn’t always get its due on television and film? 

John Altschuler: You know, my only theory is because maybe too many or a great deal of the people involved in our industry are from New York or Los Angeles or believe that their destiny lies in New York or Los Angeles.  So, you have people appealing to themselves and preaching to the choir.  I think that’s part of the problem of everything being set in Los Angeles and New York.  One thing that’s kind of nice is that Mike Judge is based in Austin and Dave and I just you know, we don’t dislike Los Angeles, but we have very strong roots in other places. 

With all the great voice talent you have – Mike, of course, and people like Kathy [Najimy] and Brittany [Murphy] and Stephen [Root] – do you write with their voices in mind? 

John Altschuler: You know, they’re just so good that we don’t even…  This is going to sound odd, but we stay true to the characters.  The fact is, when the characters are consistent, they can pull off anything we send their way.  So it’s mostly just a luxury to know that as complex, as weird as… whatever we throw at them as long as the character is consistent, they are going to be able to pull it off. 

You also get an incredible amount of celebs to do voicework for the show – Tom Petty, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, Meryl Streep, Willie Nelson and many others.  Does it surprise you that such huge names want to be on your show, and why do you think that they are so into it? 

Dave Krinsky:  I think that part of the appeal is that they are able to do work here that is hard to find anywhere else.  We take on a lot of interesting issues that other shows don’t take on.  We have very vivid characters that people seem to find attractive.  I also find they really get a kick out of working with our regulars.  Whenever any of these big stars come in and come to our table read, they’re just kind of looking around at all our regulars.  They just seem amazed by their abilities. 

John Altschuler: I think Dave’s right.  The subject matter that we deal with.  The depth of each script.  This is a very difficult show to write.  It’s a level of writing… and you can see it – from Ben Stiller to Brad Pitt – you can just see them light up because it’s a level of writing that isn’t out there very much.  Then, to be honest, there’s no hair and makeup.  I think they love the idea that they can come in and record and there’s no cameras on them and they can really inhabit a new and different character. 

You have a movie called Blades of Glory in production with Will Ferrell, Jon Heder and Will Arnett.  What is the film going to be about and how is movie-making different than working on TV? 

Dave Krinsky: Well, the movie is about: Will Ferrell plays the bad boy of figure skating, if you can picture something like that.  Jon Heder plays the golden boy.  They are fierce rivals until they tie at a tournament.  They’re both up on the podium and they end up getting in a fight on the podium and all mayhem breaks loose.  They get banned from the sport for life – until they find a loophole, which is that they can return to skating if they skate together as a male tandem. 

John Altschuler: They can skate in pairs, but none of the decent women skaters will skate with them.  So they are kind of trapped that way.  I think that the hardest thing… look, on King of the Hill, we have virtual complete control.  So, you know, look – great directors on Blades of Glory, great producers, great cast… but it is frustrating when you’re not deciding what’s staying and what’s going.

I also saw you were doing a script for Leisureworld.  Is screenwriting something you want to take up more, or are you looking to juggle TV and film? 

John Altschuler: We like them both.  What’s interesting is that different ideas are attractive to us.  Some things are better as movies, some things are better as TV shows.  We love King of the Hill.  As long as it’s good – and what’s nice is that every year we can decide with Mike: Are we going to do a new season?  Everybody can decide, oh, do we want to do another season?  So every year we can go, is there a reason to do more?  That’s great.  Then, the fact is that Dave and I have always written movies.  We have independent movies that we’re producing.  Then there’s rewrite work.  We just enjoy dealing with the different… whatever.  Just different worlds. 

In the end, how would you like for people to look at your work? 

John Altschuler: I’d like them to think that it was funny and stupidly smart. 

Dave Krinsky: Yeah, I think the one thing we both keep in our heads all the time is we kind of have Mike Judge and Adam Resnick looking over our shoulders – whether they’re there or not.  Because we always figure if we can make those guys laugh and not write anything that would embarrass us to them, then we’re doing well. 

Are there any misconceptions you’d like to clear up? 

Dave Krinsky: You know there are some misconceptions about it.  I don’t know if I want to clear them up.  I sort of enjoy how some people who don’t know the show think we’re making fun of rednecks.  It’s just kind of fun that they’re missing the ideas on family.  Let the family watch and see what we’re doing.  It’s gratifying to hear that. 

John Altschuler: I think Dave’s right.  We seem to anger extremes on both sides.  Look, I’ve got to tell you, we don’t have political agendas.  We just like to look at every situation individually and that’s I think what keeps it fresh and interesting.  It is kind of neat because people… we heard somebody one time say, “Well, what side are you on?”  I was like; we’re on the side of funny entertainment.  There’s no side.  But it is interesting because we pretty much… fortunately our goal is not to anger anybody.  Our goal is not to be snarky and edgy.  So, the vast bulk of people are on our side and appreciate it.  But it’s also gratifying to see the few people hopping around on both extremes.

Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.  Posted: January 26, 2007.

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Photo Credits:
#1 KING OF THE HILL: Executive producer John Altschuler.  KING OF THE HILL ™ and ©2007 TCFFC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
#2 KING OF THE HILL: Executive producer Dave Krinsky.  KING OF THE HILL ™ and ©2007 TCFFC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
#3 KING OF THE HILL: KING OF THE HILL ™ and ©2007 TCFFC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
#4 KING OF THE HILL: KING OF THE HILL ™ and ©2007 TCFFC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
#5 KING OF THE HILL: KING OF THE HILL ™ and ©2007 TCFFC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: January 26, 2007.