After more than two decades as the voice of much-loved characters on the animated program The Simpsons, Harry Shearer has confirmed that he will be leaving the show. Shearer voiced many of the show’s popular characters, including nosy religious neighbor Ned Flanders, greedy and creepy tycoon Mr. Burns, and the awkwardly lonely Principal Skinner. According to CNN, the actor reportedly turned down $14 million dollars for a two-season guaranteed.
Shearer confirmed the news in a series of Tweets, indicating that he wishes to be able to take on other projects. Having been part of The Simpsons team since its start in 1989, the desire for a change in direction is understandable.
Shearer’s loss certainly won’t go unnoticed – the aforementioned characters aren’t just supporting cast members, they’re major players in the program. The Simpsons wouldn’t be The Simpsons without the ever-annoying Flanders and his hi-diddly-doos and constant preaching. Principal Skinner is often the prime target of Bart’s shenanigans at school, and Mr. Burns is the big boss that runs the entire nuclear power plant where Homer “works” (we use the term loosely).
The Simpsons will be going into its 27th season, and producer James L. Brooks has said the show would go on as planned. But with the loss of Shearer, unless they can find both a talented voice actor and spot-on impressionist that can do not just one, but all of Shearer’s major character voices, there’s some clear trouble. Or maybe hiring on three voice actors who can do each of the characters at a third of the price each could make things happen. Still, impressions are impressions – they are never as good as the original.
The Simpsons, which began as a sketch on the Tracey Ullman Show, is the longest-running sitcom on American television, the longest-running animated show, and is the longest-running American scripted primetime TV show, having snagged that title from Gunsmoke in 2009. Perhaps Brooks has been holding on too long anyway. While The Simpsons is still a lucrative money-maker in terms of branding and merchandising, ratings have been dipping.
For Shearer’s part, might he work on a follow up to Spinal Tap, the rock muckumentary he co-wrote and starred in in 1984, five years prior to joining The Simpsons? Might he return to Saturday Night Live, where he was a writer and cast member in 1979? (Likely not since he reportedly did not have a positive experience there.) Or maybe he’ll just focus more on Le Show, a public radio program he’s hosted since 1983. Whatever it is, chances are Shearer’s next move will be “Exxxx-cellent.”