The new show was set in the Mission Hill district of the fictional city of Cosmopolis, and was originally dubbed The Downtowners. The Downtowners was pitched and picked up in the fall of 1997 by Garth Ancier, the then-head of programming at the WB network, for eighteen episodes.
Lauren MacMullan, an animation director who had worked on shows such as The Critic and King of the Hill was brought on to create the show's visual style. Since the show's writing team was taking inspiration from underground comics such as Eightball by Dan Clowes, MacMullan created a style that drew inspiration from the same medium. Particular works included Hate by Peter Bagge and the work of famed cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman, whose work included the original Mad magazine. The result was an indie-comic artistic style along with a bright, clashing colour scheme.
According to Bill Oakley, the colours were actually misregistered on purpose like a comic, and the style were compositions you didn't see on TV. In fact, lots of the show's colours were not broadcastable on TV or the web, since the cells were painted with flourescent day-glow colours.
As one of many references to the show's roots, the show's opening with its simple colours and four panel design was in fact a subtle homage to the medium.
The show's fictional world was fleshed out extensively with recurring brand names, businesses, citizens, and buildings. As well, the city was peppered with hidden 'freeze-frame' jokes, from funny signs to unusual background images, designed for the more hardcore animation fans that enjoyed this kind of humour on The Simpsons.
Drawing some inspiration from real-life, (though to prevent anyone from becoming offended, the people who were inspirations are kept secret) Bill and Josh created the main characters. The show revolved around 24-year old Andy French and his 17-year old brother Kevin French, who wreaks havoc on Andy's life when he suddenly moves in with him. Also living with the French brothers were Andy's mellow best friend Jim Kuback, new age flower child Posey Tyler, and Andy's former family dog Stogie.
The show's extensive cast of supporting characters included Carlos and Natalie, a painter and professor respectively who are married and raising a baby; and Wally and Gus, a gay couple in their 60s who fight loudly and make up even louder, both on a constant basis.
With the characters in place, the cast was assembled. From the beginning the show's creators wanted veteran voice actors Tom Kenny and Nick Jameson due to their immense versatility and talent; since the show had a huge cast of supporting characters that often changed depending on the story requirements.
The rest of the cast was filled in with auditions, which is typical for almost any television program. After the auditions were held, the first choice for Andy French was Wallace Langham, who accepted the role. Although of interest to fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is that Nicholas Brenden, who played Xander on the series, was the second choice.
Scott Menville was chosen for Kevin after many other actors portrayed him as simply too nerdy, according to Bill Oakley.
Vicki Lewis was cast as Posey, thanks to a dentist appointment prior to the audition that had affected her voice, giving it Posey's unique, breathy tone. What also gave the actress an edge was that she was able to play both Posey and Natalie.
Oakley and Weinstein arranged for the show's theme music to be a shortened instrumental version of their song "Italian Leather Sofa" by their favourite band, Cake. Additionally, many independent bands were licensed to have their music played during certain episodes, including Moby, Looper, Razed in Black and many more. Eric Speier was brought on to compose the show's original music.
As production continued, one minor hurdle that arose was a conflict with the show's title, The Downtowners. An unrelated animated project at MTV entitled MTV Downtown was in production at close to the same time. As a result, the show was renamed Mission Hill, after the character's neighbourhood,
The newly re-christened Mission Hill was marketed to be to Friends or Felicity what The Simpsons was to the The Cosby Show. The Simpsons, during its early years, drew many comparisons to The Cosby Show for its contrasting, though to some more accurate, portrayal of an American family.
A sneak peek broadcast date of September 21, 1999 on the WB was set, with the show's regular timeslot being on Fridays starting September 24, 1999.
It seemed like a promising start, however it wouldn't take long for things to begin unraveling.