Are Mr. Burns, Principal Skinner, and Ned Flanders leaving Springfield for good?
Longtime Simpsons actor Harry Shearer, who has voiced those roles along with Dr. Hibbert, Otto, Reverend Lovejoy, Scratchy, and many others since joining the show as a founding cast member in 1989, indicated in a very public way Wednesday night that his tenure with the long-running Fox animated series has come to an end.
Shearer, one of the show’s most vocal cast members, quoted a message from a lawyer for executive producer James L. Brooks that said: “show will go on. Harry will not be part of it, wish him the best.”
The Emmy-winning actor and comedian also said a desire to have the freedom to work on other projects was the source of the dispute, and later thanked The Simpsons fans for their support.
Earlier this month 20th Century Fox green-lit two more 22-episode seasons for The Simpsons, which has already run for a record-breaking 26 seasons—an eternity in television years. Shearer was reportedly the core cast’s lone contractual holdout as the studio and his fellow cast members geared up to start production on the 27th season.
Back in 2011, Shearer led a group of Simpsons cast members in a lengthy and public salary negotiation. The actors ended up taking pay cuts, and won none of the backend merchandising and licensing profits that Shearer lobbied passionately for in a guest article for The Daily Beast.
“As a member of the Simpsons cast for 23 years, I think it’s fair to say that we’ve had a great run and no one should feel sorry for any of us,” Shearer wrote. “But given how much joy the show has given so many people over the years—and given how many billions of dollars in profits News Corp. has earned and will earn from it—I find it hard to believe that this is Fox’s final word on the subject.”
“At least I certainly hope it isn’t, because the alternative is to cancel the show or fire me for having the gall to try to save the show by helping Fox with its new business model. Neither would be a fair result—either to those of us who have committed so many years to the show or to its loyal fans who make our effort worthwhile.”
The terms of Shearer’s departure from The Simpsons remain unclear for now, as does the fate of the many fan favorite characters he voiced. Representatives for Fox and Shearer could not be reached for comment. Stay tuned for more from Springfield as the animated dust clears.
Early Thursday morning, showrunner Al Jean responded to a Twitterverse of alarmed Simpsons fans. “The show will go on, made by people who love it and see in it the most wonderful vehicle for satire ever,” he wrote.
Jean also suggested that Shearer’s been duly indulged by Fox over the years, and that contrary to the actor’s statements, Shearer had always been allowed to pursue projects outside of The Simpsons.
Exec producer Brooks also chimed in on the social media war of words, implying that the door’s still open to Shearer re-upping with the show: “Hey, we tried. We’re still trying. Harry, no kidding, let’s talk.”
In a statement to The New York Times, Jean weighed in on the fate of the characters Shearer will leave behind in Springfield if his contract negotiations remain at an impasse. (A rep for Shearer had no comment on the status of those talks.)
“Harry Shearer was offered the same deal the rest of the cast accepted, and passed,” he said. “The show will go on and we wish him well. Maggie took it hard. We do not plan to kill off characters like Burns and Flanders but will recast with the finest voiceover talent available.”