Simpsons fans will find this turn of events nothing short of excellent: Seven weeks after tweeting that he was exiting the animated comedy, EW has learned that Harry Shearer—the voice of Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, Smithers and a flurry of other memorable characters—has agreed to rejoin Fox’s forever-running animated comedy.
We repeat: Burns is back.
Shearer has signed the same contract as did the other five primary voice actors—Dan Castellaneta, Yeardley Smith, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, and Hank Azaria—keeping the show’s original cast fully intact, EW has learned. These deals, which run for four seasons (including a network option for seasons 29 and 30), are estimated at more than $300,000 per episode. Fox recently renewed The Simpsons for a 27th and 28th season, which will bring its episode tally to 625.
Back in May, Shearer, who had battled with the studio/network previously over compensation, indicated that his departure was not tied to a money issue, but rather the flexibility in his schedule. The actor—who hosts the radio program Le Show and stars in the web series Nixon’s The One—tweeted, “I wanted what we’ve always had: the freedom to do other work.” Simpsons executive producer Al Jean told EW the following day that he found that tweet confusing, saying, “Everybody on the show does lots of outside projects. He actually gets to record on the phone and do the [table] reads on the phone. So we’ve never kept him from doing that stuff.” In that interview, Jean also said that the producers were “still hoping he might come back. Nothing’s done ‘til it’s done.” And executive producer James L. Brooks took to Twitter to reach out to Shearer: “Hey, we tried. We’re still trying. Harry, let’s talk.” On May 15, Shearer already appeared to be warming to the prospect of reconciliation, telling CNNMoney, “Stay tuned,” when asked about the possibility of a return. Two weeks later, during a Twitter exchange with a Simpsons fan, he replied: “Discussions are happening at a level where decisions can be made.”
In order for the Simpsons producers to remain on schedule, they commenced production on season 27 without him. (In any case, they already had seven holdover episodes from last season in the can, and those include Shearer’s voices.) Jean told EW last month that if Shearer did not change his mind and return, his impressive roster of characters—which also include Seymour Skinner, Lenny, Dr. Hibbert, Kent Brockman, Reverend Lovejoy and Otto—would not be retired; new cast members would be hired to continue voicing those roles. Shearer’s deal was completed in enough time to avoid that scenario, and his temporary absence behind the scenes will not be significantly felt on the new season.
The season 27 premiere of The Simpsons will air, appropriately enough, on Sept. 27.
UPDATE: Simpsons executive producer Al Jean issued this statement on Twitter:
Shearer confirmed his return with a thank-you: