Producers of The Simpsons say they are baffled at the news Harry Shearer is quitting the show, and deny he does not have freedom to work on other projects.
In an extensive interview with The Hollywood Reporter, showrunner Al Jean says Shearer has been offered the same salary and terms as the rest of the cast, which includes time to work on other projects.
Here are two of the questions asked from a much longer interview:
The Simpsons was renewed for two more seasons — and now Harry claims to be done from the series. What happened here?
I’m a little baffled. The other five [voice stars] signed on May 1 and we offered him the same contract everybody else got offered, but he didn’t sign so we started reading like we were going to and [were] waiting to see if he wanted to come back or not. Then about a week ago TMZ somehow got ahold of a story that [an unnamed voice actor from the cast] wasn’t returning. Then last night Harry tweeted something to the extent that he was leaving the show — implying he wasn’t wanted — which isn’t true. We made him an offer and we’re once more saying, “Do you want to come back like everybody else and work hard and care about the show? Great.” He said he wanted to do other projects, which makes no sense because we’ve always let the cast do all the other projects they want — they have great free time. So I don’t really know what he’s up to [or] what he’s thinking. I hope he comes back. The other misinformation that has been spread is that it would jeopardize these two seasons we’re doing up until 625 episodes. That’s for sure a pickup from the network, and everybody else is pay-or-play — so we’ll make those episodes. If he chooses not to come back, we’ll recast. We will not kill his characters; that’s one way to go. I’m sure there will be plusses and minuses with that and, at the moment, I’m hoping he comes back. But if he doesn’t in a reasonable time, we’ll have to do the other options.
If the voice cast have the freedom to do other projects outside of The Simpsons, what’s Harry upset about?
He lives in England. He does a radio show and a play about Nixon. I’m not trying to be argumentative but I have no idea what we’re preventing him from doing. The time commitment for him is: there are 22 reads, which you can do via phone. One hour per phone. He can record via phone, doing more than one episode at once, and pick those up within an hour or two. So, if you do that math, I don’t know. This is why I’m really baffled. He’s saying it’s not the money, and it can’t be money because there’s not going to be a different offer he’s going to get. TMZ, [where] to be accurate, he wasn’t being quoted — I don’t know if it came from a representative of his or some other source — said something about a backend [of the profits], but that’s not it. It can’t be the availability to do other projects, and it isn’t that the deal is different than his other cast members. I don’t know. Honestly, if it was me, I would take the deal right now. I wouldn’t be waiting one second. I’m not trying to be disingenuous — I wish him well — but I don’t understand. I’m perplexed. I understand if, for example, somebody like [The Sopranos’] James Gandolfini said that this is such a stressful job; I’m working on a six-hour, six days a week, and I’m playing this horrible man and I’m exhausted. I understand that kind of person saying the job prevents them from other things, but I don’t understand it in voiceover.