D'oh! Are Homer and Marge splitting up on The Simpsons? Or are the creators joking?

Homer and Marge are to separate after more than 25 years together on hit comedy The Simpsons, its executive producer revealed. -- PHOTO: THE SIMPSONS/TWITTER
Homer and Marge are to separate after more than 25 years together on hit comedy The Simpsons, its executive producer revealed. -- PHOTO: THE SIMPSONS/TWITTER

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - D'oh! Will Homer and Marge split after more than 25 years together on The Simpsons? Or are the hit animated series' creators just teasing?

The writers appeared on Wednesday to damp down divorce speculation, despite the executive producer announcing the couple's separation in an interview.

In a link on the show's Twitter feed, Al Jean said it would emerge at the start of the show's 27th season in September that a sleep disorder has put a strain on the relationship for some time.

"In the premiere, it's discovered after all the years Homer has narcolepsy and it's an incredible strain on the marriage," he told industry journal Variety. "Homer and Marge legally separate, and Homer falls in love with his pharmacist, who's voiced by Lena Dunham," he added in the comments, published earlier this week but not widely picked up on.

But the tweet did urge readers to "read more about what @AlJean is teasing for #TheSimpsons". And maybe "teasing" was the operative word because five hours later there was a tweet of a picture of Bart Simpson in a school classroom, writing "Homer and Marge are not breaking up" repeatedly on a blackboard. "RT and stop the rumors!" read the new tweet.

The Homer-and-Marge-split tease was not the only dramatic Simpsons announcement of recent days. At the weekend Entertainment Weekly reported that Homer and Marge's adventure-prone son Bart will be killed during the next season, which premieres on Sept 27.

Sideshow Bob - Krusty the Clown's evil former sidekick - will finally fullfil his long-held dream of dispatching Bart, it said. "I hated frustration comedy so we'll scratch that itch," Jean told EW.

But fear not: The execution will take place in the annual Halloween episode - which by Simpsons tradition does not fit into the usual format of the show, meaning Bart can subsequently be revived.

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 the parent network Fox. Last month, Fox announced that it had renewed the series for two more seasons, reinforcing the cartoon's status as the longest-running scripted series in US primetime television history.

In his Variety interview, Jean said one advantage of the show being picked by by Fox again is that its main character can vote in next year's US presidential elections. "We're definitely going to have Homer vote in 2016. One aspect of the pickup that made me happy is that Homer can vote again," he said.