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Cartoons primed for Prime Time

By Devin D. O'Leary

SEPTEMBER 8, 1997:  There's no denying it: Cartoons are establishing the kind of prime-time beachhead they haven't had since "The Flintstones" ruled the airwaves in the 1960s. From Comedy Central's "Dr. Katz" to MTV's "Daria" right on over to FOX's one-two punch of "The Simpsons" and "King of the Hill," fans of animated entertainment are having a field day.

We're just weeks away from the season premieres of all the network shows, and FOX is pulling out the big guns to promo their animated efforts. The syndicated network recently announced its largest promotion ever. FOX, in association with Pepsi-Co. and Kaufman & Broad Homes, will be giving away a 2,200-square-foot replica of the Simpsons' abode. The cartoon-colored house--located in Henderson, Nev., a suburb of Las Vegas--is exact right down to the corn-cob print curtains in Marge's kitchen. Sweepstakes tickets are available on packages of Mug Root Beer, Lipton Brisk Iced Tea, Slice and Josta. The winning number will be announced sweepstakes-style on "The Simpsons" season premiere later this month. Start guzzling that soda now!

Not to be outdone, "King of the Hill" has announced its own contest. A "Texas-sized" Hank Hill and Son Look-Alike Contest kicked off last week. Do you and your son (or dad) look like Hank and Bobby Hill? If you do (god help you), send your names, addresses, phone numbers, photos and a brief description of why you look and act like the Hill boys. The address is PO Box 900, Beverly Hills, CA 90213. Deadline is Sept. 10. Grand prize winners snag a trip for two to the L.A. premiere party for "King of the Hill," where you can meet the creators and see The Refreshments live (they're the ones who do the show's theme song).

It's no surprise that FOX is pulling out all the stops to promote its two animated hits. Even when the majority of the work is done in Third World nations like Korea, animated shows are more expensive to produce than live action. The only way to turn a profit is to make it into syndication as "The Simpsons" did recently. "The Simpsons" is still strong in its Sunday night timeslot, but the big surprise of last season was the success of "King of the Hill"--animator Mike Judge's follow-up to "Beavis and Butt-head" (ending up its run on MTV this season). "King of the Hill" garnered more consistent ratings than its well-known lead-in and, truth be told, milked more consistent laughs than last season's Simpson efforts. Perhaps "The Simpsons" is showing its age. Perhaps "King of the Hill" is just a breath of fresh air. Either way, I've got my calendar circled.

"The Simpsons" shows at 7 p.m. Sundays on KASA FOX Channel 2. "King of the Hill" shows at 7:30 p.m. Both shows will have their season premieres on Sept. 21.

--Devin D. O'Leary

TV e-mail: devin@alibi.com

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