The Simpsons dealt a shocking blow the other night when mainstay series voice Harry Shearer implied his departure over Twitter, leaving behind a crucial stable of fan-favorite characters. Now, Simpsons boss Al Jean has opened up on the departure, feeling “baffled” by the actor’s demands, and considering potential replacements.

While Simpsons brass have gone on record saying that Shearer’s characters (Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, Kent Brockman, etc) wouldn’t be retired, the first priority beyond courting new voice talent lies in continued negotiations with Shearer. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, executive producer Al Jean described at-length his confusion with Shearer’s discontent, as the show allows him the freedom to record from his England home with minimal time commitment.

Moreover, Jean maintains that Shearer has (and would always have) the same deal as his fellow castmates, which allows plenty of freedom for the outside work mentioned in his tweets:

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 [… ] 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.

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.

Jean also espoused that the seven holdover episodes produced for Season 27 would keep Shearer on the series for a bit, meaning they’d have until the summer to work out any contractual disagreements. That said, Jean has yet to give full consideration to replacements, which would admittedly jar viewers, and might require several actors to fill the different roles, though a few names have come to mind:

Seeing how we have always hoped he’d come back, no we don’t have anybody where we go, “Oh, that’s the new Burns, that’s the new Flanders” or anything. There are so many talented voiceover actors that come to mind immediately. Somebody like Billy West or Maurice LaMarche (Futurama) or Tom Kenny (SpongeBob SquarePants). I’m sure since he leaked the story, we’ve already been contacted by really good people — really funny people who can do voices — so I’m sure we’ll have a lot to look at. The show will go on, and I think it will be a great show one way or the other.

Jean stressed that Shearer should still contact co-creator James L. Brooks in hopes of working out a deal, but will the Simpsons star’s latest row prove the final straw for cast and producers? Given effective replacements and enough time, could The Simpsons survive the loss of Harry Shearer?

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