“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.
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.
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.