LA Premiere Of 20th Century Fox's "The Simpsons Movie" - ArrivalsHarry Shearer, who's been an integral part of the voice cast of "The Simpsons" since the series's inception, may be leaving the long-running animated show thanks to a contract dispute.

Details are scant, but Shearer -- who voices Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, and Principal Skinner, among many, many others -- set off a firestorm early Thursday when he tweeted about a letter he said he received from "Simpsons" producer James L. Brooks indicating that he was being kicked off of the show for pursuing other creative endeavors outside of Springfield.

"From 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."

Shearer followed up on those remarks in a short statement sent to CNN Money, writing, "In last four years, I've created and starred in a UK TV series and starred on London stage. Not stopping."

It's unclear if those activities are what led to this particular dispute. Per Entertainment Weekly, "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."

There's still a slight sliver of hope that Shearer's departure may not be a done deal just yet, since showrunner Al Jean was also tweeting about the incident on Thursday, sharing statements including the phrasing "if Harry does not return" (key word "if") and writing, "In life I never say never." But in a statement to CNN Money, Jean seemed fairly final about Shearer leaving the show.

"As the Simpsons continues its 27th and 28th seasons, Harry Shearer will not be within the show," Jean told CNN Money. "We do not plan to 'kill off' his characters, but replace them with the most talented members of the voice over community."

Jean added that the actor was "offered the same deal as the rest of the cast, but turned it down." According to CNN Money, that deal entailed a guaranteed $14 million for the recently-ordered next two seasons of "The Simpsons," in addition to the freedom "to do other projects if he wished."

Jean expressed puzzlement over Shearer's decision, writing on Twitter, "His statements implied he rejected final offer to do other projects, which we always let him do. It's confusing." But the showrunner also reassured fans that the series would endure, with or without Shearer's help, saying, "The show will go on, made by people who love it and see in it the most wonderful vehicle for satire ever."

We'll keep our fingers crossed for a miracle, but it looks like aspiring voice actors who've been practicing their Mr. Burns impressions over the years may want to give Al Jean a call about an audition.

[via: Harry Shearer, CNN Money]

Photo credit: Getty Images

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