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'King of the Hill'arity

Inside: Hank tells you whut about lawn care

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Hank Hill has a secret.

”Hank Hill?” my mom said when I told her I was interviewing the Texan-American star of the runaway Fox hitcom King of the Hill. ”I hear he’s … ”

Even my mom knows. Or suspects she knows: ”I hear he’s…two-dimensional.”

We’ve all heard the rumors. Hank Hill is just a cartoon character, just scribbles on a drawing board. And yes, there may be some truth to those accusations. Then again, with his verbal tics (”I tell you whut”), his commonsense philosophizing (”Keep the government out of the bedroom business!”), and his exasperating medical problems (that narrow urethra), Hank sure seems like a real person.

Don’t expect the prickly star or his tight-lipped publicist to address the rumors, however. Right to privacy and all. But animated or not, one thing’s very clear: Hank Hill is a TV star. A Texas-size one. And this is his moment.

Who’da thunk that the Hills’ little down-home sitcom — featuring the propane salesman, 40; his Boggle-champion, substitute-teacher wife, Peggy, 39; pudgy 12-year-old son, Bobby; and dimwit teenage niece Luanne — would be so dang huge? But since its January debut, the series, set in tiny Arlen, has consistently landed in the top 30, won its slot with 18-to-34-year-old viewers, and become the Fox network’s most popular series after The X-Files.

Maybe it only makes sense. King, after all, filled a gaping prime-time void. Finally TV got some real Amurricans, an alternative to those loose-moraled, city-dwelling twentysomethings littering the TV landscape (shows that King cocreator Mike Judge describes as ”underwear models reciting lines from Harvard Lampoon guys”). King‘s stories are slow and peculiar. They center on such red-blooded topics as the joys of riflery, the importance of lawn care, and much to the network’s alarm, the shame of constipation. (”I argued very strenuously that we were providing a service,” says cocreator Greg Daniels. ”If one American man had his colon checked after watching that show … ”) This season, expect Hank’s mom to bring home a Jewish boyfriend and pudgy Bobby to become a big boy model.

Judge, who also created superstars Beavis and Butt-head, says he smelled a hit from the start: ”I saw Hank in Home Depot buying some WD-40 and some putty, and I knew then that television would never be the same.” Fox president Peter Roth explains it this way: ”Hank represents a clear, disenfranchised portion of the country.”

Yes, real or not, the Hills are refreshingly different. But success has a way of spoiling folks. Already the Texas family is learning about showbiz image control: They wouldn’t pose for EW’s cover as the Beverly Hillbillies because it would be too ”hicky.” Then Peg had the stylists frantically locating a ”Dohlsee and Cabana” feather boa she’d seen on ”that Kirstie Alley.” It’s a danger, admits Judge: ”I’m worried Hank might start losing weight. We’re trying to keep him away from the heroin-chic thing.”