Harry Shearer Leaving The Simpsons Over Contract Dispute

Michael Schneider
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The Simpsons Mr. Burns

Not so exxxcellent: It turns out the contract renegotiations to bring back The Simpsons cast for two more seasons didn't go as smoothly as originally thought.

Late Wednesday night, comedian Harry Shearer, who has voiced characters like Mr. Burns and Ned Flanders on the show since its 1989 beginnings, announced on Twitter that he was no longer a part of The Simpsons.

"From [executive producer] James L. Brooks' lawyer: "show will go on, Harry will not be part of it, wish him the best,'" Shearer wrote on Twitter. "This because I wanted what we've always had: the freedom to do other work. Of course, I wish him the very best."

But those Tweets have some show insiders still puzzled. Those sources say Shearer was offered the same deal as the other Simpsons actors, worth $14 million for two years—and a promise that he could record the show via the phone. They also say Simpsons talent have been free to moonlight elsewhere. (Although it's unclear whether that includes voicing other animated projects.)

What's more, according to insiders, Shearer had been known to not show up (even by phone) for recording sessions, incurring attendance penalties. But in the new contract, those penalties were removed.

In an official statement, Brooks, Matt Groening and Al Jean said, "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." Added Jean on Twitter: "The show will go on, made by people who love it and see in it the most wonderful vehicle for satire ever." And in another Tweet: "My dream in life is for someone to treat me the way the Simpsons treated Harry."

Jean also said on Twitter that the door wasn't completely shut: "In life I never say never." But he also says the show will recast Shearer's roles if it comes to that. "No yellow wedding," he joked, in reference to Game of Thrones' red wedding.

Fox and 20th Century Fox, which produces The Simpsons, announced the 27th and 28th seasons of the show at the start of May, even though Shearer hadn't signed on. The decision was made to go on because the show's five other main actors (Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith and Hank Azaria) had already made deals. Table reads were required to begin on May 4 in order to meet production deadlines; Shearer was also asked to join.

This is not the first time Shearer went his own way when it came to cast renegotiations. In 2011, during the last negotiation standoff between The Simpsons and its stars, Shearer put out a statement (outside of his co-stars) suggesting Fox cut his salary more than 70 percent—in exchange for a share of the show's profits.

During that standoff, Fox was looking to cut the stars' pay (then at around $400,000 an episode) by as much as half. Ultimately, both sides came to a new deal.

More than 10 years ago, during another renegotiation, production halted on the show's 2004-05 season after the Simpsons cast didn't show up to the year's first table reads. And in 1998, talks hit such a snag that the studio threatened to replace the voice actors via a casting call.

But this time, Shearer contends his dispute isn't about the D'oh.

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