If Harry Shearer's tweets are correct, he is officially leaving The Simpsons. For those of you who have been living in a cave on Mars, with your eyes closed and your fingers in your ears, Shearer is possibly the most central voice actor on the show, voicing (among others) Principal Skinner, Kent Brockman, Mr. Burns, Waylon Smithers, Ned Flanders, Reverend Lovejoy, Dr. Hibbert, Lenny Leonard, Otto Mann, Rainier Wolfcastle, the late Dr. Marvin Monroe, and about a billion one-off characters.
Apparently it's over a salary dispute, as Shearer wanted more of that sweet, sweet merchandising money (though he's also in his 70s now, so he might just be getting sick of the whole thing). This isn't the first time the notoriously prickly Shearer has threatened to walk (a long running rumor has it that the show was briefly cancelled in 2000 when he demanded too much money, only undone by the other principal voice actors essentially reigning him in). Apparently they plan to go on without him (the show did just get picked up for two more seasons), but it's hard to imagine how. Either they'll have to kill off half the town (a route they took when the voice of Maude Flanders quit, though she was far less central than many of the characters Shearer voices), or they'll have to bring in someone of Billy West's ilk who can imitate these characters. Really neither of these are desirable or even, frankly, acceptable scenarios.
I've long maintained that the only thing that would finally kill The Simpsons would be the death of one of the principal voice actors, as I assumed no one would turn down the dumpsters full of cash they're getting at this point. So will this be the final nail in the coffin of a show that's been steadily going downhill since I was about 17 or so? It's hard to say. This is, after all, the show they'll never kill.
Nothing has been announced outside of two tweets from Shearer himself, so it may be too premature to say anything. After all, this seems like the kind of thing that could be solved by simply driving a slightly bigger dump truck full of money to Shearer's house. Or it could spell the end of what has been inarguably the greatest cartoon of all time and arguably the greatest television show of all time.
If it's the former, we'll get at least two more seasons of a show that, while definitely a shell of its former self, can still have brief moments of greatness. If it's the latter, well…if you need me, I'll be curled up in fetal position clutching a bottle of whiskey.