We’re excited to launch a new video interview series on Open Salon called Expert Witness. Over the next few weeks we’ll be having video-chats with people who are known for being the best at what they do -- and in coming installments we’ll be soliciting your questions for them.
Today we’re kicking it off with Mike Judge, master satirist of the American workplace. Salon critic Stephanie Zacharek called his latest film “Extract,” the "kind of smart, openhearted comedy that doesn't come along every day," going on to say that "considering that so much movie entertainment these days comes to us pre-chewed, the appearance of 'Extract' in these last days of summer feels like a gift." This Sunday his long-running, Emmy-winning animated TV series “King of the Hill” will be airing its final episode after 13 seasons.
Judge spoke to Thomas Rogers via Skype (transcript follows).
I feel that Hollywood is sometimes out of touch with the way ordinary Americans think and feel. I remember when I saw “Do the Right Thing,” I thought there’s all this great stuff, like the old guys talking about the Korean grocery store across the street, and I was thinking someone should make a movie like this about my suburban street.
If you look at “Idiocracy," and this movie as well, it also seems like you’re not terribly optimistic about the human condition. Are you a misanthrope?
Sure, I have frustrations with people and characters but to me it’s like a release – cathartic, almost. But I don’t think that means I hate lots of people. I hope not.
Coming up in the next few days, “King of the Hill” will be going off the air after 13 seasons. What do you think has allowed it to survive for so many years?
I remember the moment when “Happy Days” went wrong. The Fonz was always a badass, a tough guy, a man of few words, and then they showed a little bit of his soft side and everyone liked that. So then they showed more soft side, and then here was no Fonzy left. It was just the soft side of Fonzy. There’s a tendency with writers to take an easy route and they’d something a little out of character for Hank. That would get a laugh because it’s out of character, so you try to do that again -- and then he’s not the character he was. We kept it the same, which is important.
There was a lot of pressure from the network -- at one point an executive saying we needed life-changing episodes -- and I just didn’t want to do that. Some of the most successful shows, that were on forever, that I’m a fan of were shows that didn’t change. I think that’s a good thing
What do you see coming after this? Is “Extract” a stepping-stone to larger-scale filmmaking?
The next big thing might be something called Brigadier Gerard, that John Altschuler and David Krinsky wrote. They’re the guys who ran ”King of the Hill” for a long time, and they’re my producing partners. It’s based on these sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories that were written like 100 years ago and they’re set in the Napoleonic Wars. That might happen in the next year or so.