Back in May, Harry Shearer— the voice of Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, Smithers and other memorable Simpsons characters announced he would not be signing on for the upcoming 27th season. Shearer had battled with the studio/network previously over compensation, indicated that his departure was not tied to a money issue, but rather the flexibility in his schedule.
Shearer has signed the same contract as the other five primary voice actors; Dan Castellaneta, Yeardley Smith, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, and Hank Azaria. The contracts run for four seasons (including a network option for seasons 29 and 30), and are estimated at more than $300,000 per episode. Fox renewed The Simpsons for a 27th and 28th season, which will bring its episode tally to 625.
In order for production on the Simpsons to remain on schedule, they began working on season 27 without Shearer. In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, executive producer Al Jean said the if Shearer did not change his mind and return, his characters, which also include Seymour Skinner, Lenny, Dr. Hibbert, Kent Brockman, Reverend Lovejoy and Otto—would not be retired; new cast members would be hired to continue voicing those roles.
Shearer’s deal was completed in enough time to avoid that scenario, and his temporary absence behind the scenes will not be significantly felt on the new season, as they already had seven holdover episodes from last season in the can, and those include Shearer’s voices.
The season 27 premiere of The Simpsons will air on September 27.