UPDATED: This news is not excellent.
Harry Shearer, one of The Simpsons’ main voice actors, announced on Wednesday night that he is exiting the long-running animated series. Shearer posted a tweet appearing to quote a lawyer for executive producer James L. Brooks that read “show will go on, Harry will not be part of it, wish him the best.”
In a second tweet, Shearer explained: “This because I wanted what we’ve always had: the freedom to do other work. Of course, I wish him the very best.”
While the other principal cast members—Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, and Hank Azaria—had inked deals to continue with the show for two more seasons when it was renewed last week, Shearer had not yet signed a contract. To make sure that there was no delay in the airing schedule, The Simpsons began production on season 27 without Shearer, though producers remained hopeful that he would ultimately come to terms.
On Thursday morning, executive producer Al Jean confirmed the news, retweeting Shearer and noting on Twitter, “The show will go on, made by people who love it and see in it the most wonderful vehicle for satire ever.”
In a statement given to reporters, Jean added: “Harry Shearer was offered the same deal the rest of the cast accepted, and passed. The show will go on and we wish him well. Maggie took it hard.” Sources tell EW that the issue was Shearer’s schedule, and that the actor would not agree to record his dialogue “in a timely manner,” unlike the rest of the cast.
The good news is that Shearer’s characters will most definitely continue, albeit with a different actor playing his iconc roles. “We do not plan to kill off characters like Burns and Flanders but will recast with the finest voiceover talent available,” Jean said.
The loss of Shearer is significant, as he voices such beloved characters as Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, Smithers, Seymour Skinner and Otto, among many others. The 71-year-old actor/satirist/author/comedian/Spinal Tap vet, who also hosts the syndicated radio program Le Show, has been with The Simpsons since its launch in 1989.
Some of the tweets:
Representatives for Shearer and Fox could not be reached for comment. Last week, he tweeted a link to the official Fox press release about the show’s renewal, pointing out the fact that it did not mention the cast members: “Doesn’t this show have a cast?”
The show has weathered tense negotiations and contract disputes in the past, but always came out of it with the full cast intact. In 2011, as part of a way to reduce costs for the aging show, 20th Century Fox, the studio that produces The Simpsons, told the actors that they would have to take a 45-percent pay cut from their $400,000-plus-per episode deals to keep the show alive. (Shearer released a public statement during the stalemate, proposing a 70-percent pay cut in exchange for some profit participation.) The cast eventually agreed to a salary reduction, though not as steep as 45 percent; they’re believed to be earning more than $300,00 per episode. In 1998, the studio threatened to replace the actors before both sides came to terms.
Fox will air the season 26 finale of The Simpsons on May 17.