Voice artist Harry Shearer quits The Simpsons - or does he?

Harry Shearer, the Emmy-winning actor who voices pious neighbor Ned Flanders and greedy boss Mr Burns in The Simpsons, said Thursday he is leaving the show - but the show's manager hopes to change his mind. -- PHOTO: AFP
Harry Shearer, the Emmy-winning actor who voices pious neighbor Ned Flanders and greedy boss Mr Burns in The Simpsons, said Thursday he is leaving the show - but the show's manager hopes to change his mind. -- PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Harry Shearer, the Emmy-winning actor who voices pious neighbor Ned Flanders and greedy boss Mr Burns in The Simpsons, said Thursday he is leaving the show - but the show's manager hopes to change his mind.

Shearer, who plays Homer Simpson's "okely dokeley" neighbor Flanders and the evil billionaire Burns, tweeted a message from James L. Brooks, an executive producer of the hit series, relayed by his lawyer.

"Show will go on, Harry will not be part of it, wish him the best," Shearer quotes Brooks as saying, adding on his own behalf: "This because I wanted what we've always had: the freedom to do other work."

The hit series' showrunner, Al Jean, told the New York Times in an e-mail Thursday: "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."

He added that the characters voiced by Shearer - also including also Burns' obsequious manservant Smithers - will live on. "We do not plan to kill off characters like Burns and Flanders but will recast with the finest voiceover talent available," he told the newspaper.

But, in a subsequent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Jean said: "We're still hoping he might come back. Nothing's done 'til it's done."

Asked how he reacted when he heard about Shearer's departure tweet, he added: "My reaction is, 'Oh, he'll be back.' It's not the first time that it's been a possibility, but he always returns."

Shearer has been a part of the Simpsons cast since its debut in 1989.

The Simpsons - which first aired in December 1989 - averages 7.7 million viewers on television and online in the United States. Millions more enjoy the show in foreign markets, according to US parent network Fox. Earlier this month, Fox announced that it had renewed the long-running series for two more seasons.