Harry Shearer, the voice of Ned Flanders, Mr. Burns and Principal Skinner on the world's most popular scripted series, "The Simpsons" -- announced via Twitter late Wednesday that he will leave the show over a work-related dispute.
Shearer broke his news in a series of three tweets just before midnight. The first read:
"from James L. Brooks' lawyer: "show will go on, Harry will not be part of it, wish him the best." (1/2)
The next: "This because I wanted what we've always had: the freedom to do other work. Of course, I wish him the very best. (2/2) "
And finally, at 2:24 a.m.: "Thanks, Simpsons fans, for your support."
A very recent tweet from showrunner Al Jean also indicates Shearer is leaving: "@thesimpsons #everysimpsonsever The show will go on, made by people who love it and see in it the most wonderful vehicle for satire ever."
And this: "Harry Shearer was offered the same deal the rest of the cast accepted, and passed. The show will go on and we wish him well.Maggie took it hard. We do not plan to kill off characters like Burns and Flanders but will recast with the finest voiceover talent available."
Fox has yet to formally comment.
The loss of Shearer, if it holds, would represent the first major cast departure in a quarter century at "The Simpsons," and, again, if it holds, presents a major creative challenge for the series, and one which doesn't need to be spelled out here. However, in past cast battles, and they have been battles, Fox has implied that it could replace any of the voices. Fans were certainly never consulted about those proposals, and had they been, their response would have been visceral and immediate: These people are utterly irreplaceable.
The loss of Shearer would represent the loss of some of "The Simpsons" most indelible creations, ranging from a saintly hair-shirt neighbor to an evil corporate overlord. Like the rest of the cast, Shearer has also had plenty of extracurricular work, including his recent live-action "Nixon's the One," on YouTube.
TMZ reported last week that one of the six had not agreed to the extension -- no name given -- while saying the holdout had balked at contractual agreements relating to back-end profits and merchandising. The entire cast agreed to a 30 percent reduction in salary in 2011, after Fox threatened to end the series, according to reports at the time.
Please check back here. We will update as we find out more.