Rumor Control: Harry Shearer (Possibly/Probably) Leaving Zombie Simpsons

Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadasssss Song15

“Nobody’s mentioned me, have they?” – Principal Skinner
“I thought I heard someone say your name in the cafeteria, but they might have been saying ‘skim milk’.” – Bart Simpson

The internet is full of reports that Harry Shearer will not be doing voices for the recently announced two season renewal.  This being the internet, the certitude of the headlines ran a bit ahead of the actual information.  Here are the facts:

1.  Over the last couple of days, TMZ (I know, gross) reported that Shearer was not on board with the most recent renewal.

2.  Late last night (though since I think he’s in Britain it might have been morning for him), Shearer tweeted the following:

from James L. Brooks’ lawyer: “show will go on, Harry will not be part of it, wish him the best.”. (1/2)

This because I wanted what we’ve always had: the freedom to do other work. Of course, I wish him the very best. (2/2)

Thanks, Simpsons fans, for your support.

Shearer subsequently turned down a couple of media interview requests.

3.  That was followed a couple of hours later by Jean tweeting:

.@TheSimpsons #everysimpsonsever The show will go on, made by people who love it and see in it the most wonderful vehicle for satire ever.

@simpsonswiki @TheSimpsons recast if Harry does not return. No yellow wedding.

Jean was very active, replying to people and generally doing his job as the public face of the show.

4.  A couple of hours later, James L. Brooks replied (also on Twitter):

Hey, we tried. We’re still trying. Harry, no kidding, let’s talk.

5.  After speaking with a couple of media outlets, Jean did a quick interview with Entertainment Weekly in which he said that they were still hoping to work things out, but that if Shearer was out the door, they would recast his parts, probably with multiple people.  As to the question of why, he gave a round-about answer (bold italics are mine):

What is that period of time? Weeks? Well, it’s pretty vague because we have seven holdover [episodes] that Harry did in the fall, so there’s a big period of time. Obviously, we just want to know what he wants. We’ve rededicated ourselves this season to making the show better and not just saying, ‘Okay, we’re just happy for the pickup.’ We really care about it and everybody’s coming to more [table reads] and doing more on the show, so if he’d like to be a part of that, we’d love him. And if not, we’d like to know and then we’ll go another way.

Would you describe yourself as hopeful then that this could be resolved? I have no idea. I didn’t know he was going to tweet last night. That was very surprising. And the tweets were confusing because he had an offer. It wasn’t like we didn’t offer him a substantial thing. No. 2, he mentioned that he wanted to do outside projects. 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. So that’s one confusion I had. For the last several years, he’s done reads on the phone. He doesn’t always participate. We’ve excused him for several and he records, as long as it’s done in time, when it’s convenient for him. So it’s not a scheduling thing and he says it’s not a money thing, so I’m not sure what he’s thinking.

So, all the sturm und drang aside, all that appears to have happened is that, through a couple of unexpected tweets, Shearer broke off a negotiation and dropped a big, steaming PR shitpile in the collective lap of Jean, Brooks, and FOX.

What does all this mean?  Well, it could end up meaning nothing.  This isn’t the first time Shearer has been unhappy in public during negotiations for renewal.  In the linked interview, Jean was deliberately cagey about how long they could go on without Shearer, but based on what we know about production schedules, it could easily be months before they’d actually need him to record new episodes.  If they announce new cast members, that’d probably mean it’s a done deal, but I’d guess we’re a ways away from that.

There are, however, a couple of circumstantial pieces of evidence that this isn’t a public negotiating ploy on Shearer’s part and does indeed mean he’s leaving the show.  The first and biggest is that the other five main cast members have already signed.  Jean makes it clear in that interview that Shearer has been given the same offer the rest of them already took, so even just negotiating with him at this point would upset a deal that already took them months longer than usual to reach.

There’s also the fact that Shearer has never actually called it quits before.  He’s needled the show and ragged on FOX, but to my knowledge he’s never said he was done.

Finally, there are Jean’s highlighted comments above.  If it’s true that they’ve “rededicated” themselves and want more active participation from people, Shearer might not want the hassle.  He’s been content to (literally) phone it in these last few years, but he values his time a lot more than a few extra million bucks he may never spend anyway, so why bother?  He knows damn well the show is a shadow of itself, and if everyone’s just there for the money and he doesn’t need the money . . . well, that may be all she wrote.

Whatever his specific reasons, at the moment the safest assumption is that Harry Shearer will not be a member of the cast for the UABF production run.  If that holds, the last episode with his voice will be broadcast next season, probably in November or December.  We’ll see what happens, but unlike the renewal that always seemed like it was going to get done, this is uncharted territory.

39 Responses to “Rumor Control: Harry Shearer (Possibly/Probably) Leaving Zombie Simpsons”

  1. 1 derp
    14 May 2015 at 4:09 pm

    I don’t want to see the Simpsons die by voice actors dropping off. It’s just an undignified way to go.

    • 2 Sarah J
      14 May 2015 at 5:02 pm

      At this point, it seems clear that FOX won’t let the show die with dignity. It already barely resembles what it used to be and the ratings just keep dropping. It’s gonna go out with barely a whimper.

    • 3 Sandra Pearson
      14 May 2015 at 5:15 pm

      That’s probably what will end up happening, considering that FOX didn’t let the show end before the 2000s.

    • 4 Bleeding Gums Murphy
      14 May 2015 at 5:19 pm

      Your comment comes 18 years too late.

  2. 6 Gabbo
    14 May 2015 at 4:21 pm

    “Plus, they can replace them, and no one can tell the diddley-ifference!”

    Wow, Ned saw it coming years ago.

  3. 7 MBG
    14 May 2015 at 5:13 pm

    I heard rumors of voice actors leaving – I think I had a bet going, actually. Harry Shearer’s honestly a surprise. I was betting on Yeardley Smith (voices one character, it’s the least popular one, has apparently gotten in trouble with Fox already about getting paid the same as everyone else in spite of the above).

    Harry Shearer is definitely one of the worse-case options. Losing Shearer means giving up about a third of the show’s characters, including the most prominent non-family characters (Flanders, Burns, Skinner). Whether they recast his characters or not, Springfield is going to look a lot more like a ghost town. He isn’t the most damaging loss the show could have taken (Carthright or Castellaneta), but he’s up there.

    • 8 Angelm Young
      14 May 2015 at 5:57 pm

      As much as I like taking Hollywood rumors with a grain of salt, I have a sick feeling this isn’t a rumor, given that Shearer has hated the show since season four (he began phoning it in ever since “Kristy Gets Kanceled in protest of the celebrity guest stars in that episode and really gave up on the show after the “Principal Skinner is really Armin Tamzarian” episode) and has really been vocal about the show ‘s decline since then.

      • 9 torbiecat
        14 May 2015 at 6:59 pm

        I don’t think it’s rumor, either. I think on the same day that that TMZ article broke out, someone had noticed that Shearer had removed that tagline about voicing Mr. Burns, Smithers, Flanders, Skinner, Lenny, and Otto from his Twitter account. I think he’s had enough.

  4. 10 Noah P
    14 May 2015 at 5:56 pm

    Part of me wants to audition if they recast. Just to see how far I’d get.

  5. 14 May 2015 at 6:05 pm

    Harry Shearer literally phoning it in on The Simpsons. Honestly of the remaining cast I can see Hank Azaria dropping out next since he has a moderately successful career as a character actor. I also see Dan Castellaneta or Julie Kavner flat out retiring. Yearling has an in with being good friends with James L. Brooks but the hand thing means the money. Nancy Cartwright is a Scientology joke away from pulling an Issac Hayes and leaving the show.

    • 16 Angelm Young
      14 May 2015 at 6:10 pm

      Hank Azaria does seem likely to leave next, since he is doing voicework on another cartoon (Bordertown), though I always picture Kavner either retiring or dying in order to get out of playing Marge.

      • 17 torbiecat
        14 May 2015 at 6:54 pm

        I’ve often thought that Julie will be next both because of the strain voicing Marge has on her voice and that she supposedly isn’t crazy about the quality of the writing, too. But I could see Hank being next, too–supposedly he’s getting a bit tired of the whole thing.

        • 18 Joshua
          14 May 2015 at 8:22 pm

          Solely based on what I’ve perceived in interviews, I think Azaria will stick with the show indefinitely. He’s nevr had a bad word to say about the show and seems to still enjoy performing the characters.

          I’d say Kavner seems the most disenchanted of the present cast. Her voice is sounding more strained with every year and I could imagine her simply retiring to save herself sounding like Jackie Bouvier permanently.

    • 19 Angelm Young
      14 May 2015 at 8:35 pm

      Nancy leaving because of a Scientology joke should have happened when they did that episode with the Movementarians. There’s something about the “Church, cult; cult, church” line that seems offensive considering that Cartwright is a Scientologist, but I guess it doesn’t matter, since she worships The Almighty Dollar more than L. Ron Hubbard or even Tom Cruise.

    • 21 Cal
      14 May 2015 at 10:22 pm

      I’ve often wondered if Castellaneta threatened to walk unless the producers started allowing him and his wife to write episodes. It’s the only plausible explanation in my mind since those episodes have been so terrible.

      • 22 Sandra Pearles
        15 May 2015 at 1:58 pm

        Around the time Mike Scully was showrunner, the series became desperate for new writers, so they did bring in friends and family to help. Mike Scully had Julie Thacker (his wife) write “The Last Tap Dance in Springfield,” Deb Lacusta (credited with Dan Castellaneta) wrote “Days of Wine and D’oh’ses,” “Gump Roast”, “The Ziff Who Came to Dinner”, “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bangalore” (Writers Guild Award nominee), “The Fight Before Christmas”, “A Mid-Summer’s Nice Dreams,” and “The Ten-Per-Cent Solution,” and Al Jean’s wife, Stephanie Gillis, wrote “See Homer Run”, “Midnight Towboy”, “The Burns and the Bees”, “Once Upon a Time in Springfield”, “Moe Letter Blues”, “Replaceable You”, “A Tree Grows in Springfield”, “Homerland”, “Treehouse of Horror XXV” and the upcoming season 27 episode “Lisa with an “S””.

        Oh, and here’s something to get your blood boiling: Gillis actually was nominated for awards for her episodes (none of them won, but for them to be nominated is enough to prove that award shows are, indeed, a farce, to quote classic Simpsons and Charlie Sweatpants):

        **”See Homer Run,” “The Burns and the Bees,” and “Moe Letter Blues” were nominated for Writers’ Guild of America awards in 2006, 2009, 2010, and 2011.
        **”The Burns and the Bees” was nominated for an Environmental Media Award in 2009.
        **”Once Upon a Time in Springfield” was nominated for an Emmy in 2010 (but Anne Hathaway received it for Best Voiceover Performance)
        **”A Tree Grows in Springfield” was nominated in 2013 for an Annie Award (it didn’t win, but she did get a Sierre / DreamAgo Villa Ruffieux Residency Award for it).

        • 23 Sandra Pearles
          15 May 2015 at 2:02 pm

          Minor correction/addition: Julie Thacker also wrote “The Old Man and the C Student” (not to be confused with “The Old Man and the Lisa” from season eight. This was the one with Bart sentenced to volunteer at the old folks’ home for making offensive jokes about the Olympics representatives and was Thacker’s first written episode) and “I’m Goin’ to Praiseland” (her last credited episode). “The Last Tap Dance in Springfield” is her most well-known, since she based it on the dancing school her five daughters went to that they didn’t like.

  6. 24 Stan
    14 May 2015 at 9:08 pm

    The shit has hit the fan, mes amis.

    • 25 Angelm Young
      14 May 2015 at 9:42 pm

      Indeed it has. Now comes the moment where we get to see who dodges the shit and who gets hit full-on in the face with it.

      • 26 Matthew
        14 May 2015 at 10:00 pm

        At what point did reading about THE SIMPSONS become more fun than watching it? Probably the last contract re-up before this one.

  7. 27 Angelm Young
    14 May 2015 at 10:12 pm

    Probably around the time of the movie, since Al Jean and the other writers revealed a lot of things about how they depended too much on the test audience to find what was entertaining instead of trusting themselves.

    Or the contract renewal of season 23.

  8. 29 Anonymous
    15 May 2015 at 5:09 am

    Hasn’t Harry Shearer been been an outspoken critic of ZS for a while now? Actually I’m surprised he’s waited until now to quit. I guess the pay only temporarily quelled his dislike for reading off the ever crappy ZS scripts he’s been expected to read.

    I agree that he has been phoning in his characters for a while, and honestly, who can blame him?

    • 30 Noah P
      15 May 2015 at 5:54 am

      I did some research on this subject (read: Googling), and he’s apparently been a critic of the show since it pretty much first started. He apparently hated “Homer At The Bat” (because it’s apparently possible to hate that episode).

      • 31 torbiecat
        15 May 2015 at 8:59 am

        He supposedly isn’t a fan of “Krusty Gets Kancelled.” There was something that Jean said recently that suggested that he still takes Shearer’s criticism of “Homer at the Bat” personally, but I can’t remember if it was something he tweeted or it was a quotation in an article (which *could* had been taken out of context).

        • 32 Stan
          15 May 2015 at 12:30 pm

          A guy with an attitude and a mouth to stand up for himself. So what? Like I mentioned previously, he didn’t do it just for the money, he believed in the possibility for this show to actually success. And then he gave up. And now he got old.
          Things he did in the 70ies and the 80ies are still so great even The Simpsons doesn’t compare.

          • 33 torbiecat
            15 May 2015 at 2:56 pm

            Hey, I have no disagreement with you about that. And even if The Simpsons wasn’t occupying much of Shearer’s time, I could see how something like that is could be little nagging chore and commitment that mentally gets in the way of other projects. (You don’t have to be old to have and understand that feeling, but I imagine that it’s all the more irritating when you realize that you don’t have much time left in your life.)

            And frankly, I could see why he was concerned about “Homer at the Bat” and “Krusty Gets Cancelled,” too–probably with any other show, those episodes would had been mere fan worship for the featured celebrities, but even then, I could see how those episodes lead to the slippery slope of poorly-written guest stars and lead to the departure how realistic The Simpsons was. It’s refreshing to see someone with some form of standards because goodness knows that a lot of people lack them.

        • 34 Noah P
          15 May 2015 at 4:57 pm

          The Homer At The Bat thing was a direct quote from Jean, but I never heard he hated Krusty Gets Kancelled.
          I guess not everyone is gonna like Gabbo.

    • 35 Angelm Young
      15 May 2015 at 9:28 am

      Yes, he’s been a critic of the Zombie Simpsons seasons, but I never knew he hated the entire show. I thought he hated the episodes Kristy Gets Kanceled and the one where Principal Skinner is revealed to be Admin Tamzarian. Homer at the Bat is kind of an average episode, but it’s not that bad. I mean, they don’t kiss the baseball players’ asses and Homer actually saves the day…kinda (the whole thing about Homer getting beaned on the head counting as a hit is kind of a cop-out to me).

      • 36 Dav
        15 May 2015 at 10:25 am

        In baseball/ softball if you hit the batter they get a free base; perfect anti-climax for satirizing the end of game heroics of cheesy sports movies, imo.

        • 37 Angelm Young
          15 May 2015 at 10:43 am

          Oh, well that explains it. My knowledge of sports may be rudimentary, but I’m all for mocking cheesy sports movies.

          • 38 torbiecat
            15 May 2015 at 3:04 pm

            The ending originally was also going to feature a moment where Mr. Burns pauses to wonder how much the pay of pro baseballers cut into the bet’s payout, Smithers informing him of the costs and net profit, and Mr. Burns being annoyed that he wasn’t getting as high of a payout as he would like. I think that would had been a funny thing to put up against the whole cheesy sports movie endings trope, too, but I imagine someone pointed out that Burns should had been aware of this to begin with.

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