Can The Simpsons Go on Without Its Most Important Citizen?

Mr. Burns vows to take vengeance on Springfield. You'll rue the day you crossed C. Montgomery Burns!

“Fifteen minutes from now, I will wreak a terrible vengeance on this city. No one will be spared. NO ONE!

– C. Montgomery Burns to Channel 6’s Kent Brockman

Harry Shearer isn’t coming back to The Simpsons. There will be no more Ned Flanders. There will be no more Waylon Smithers, and maybe most most frighteningly, there will be no more Mr. Burns. Burns can take half the town of Springfield with him. He already has a plan to wall up a still-living Waylon Smithers in his sarcophagus when he dies.

Burns has half of Springfield in his pocket, the other half on his payroll. He once blocked sunlight to the entire town just to get a tighter stranglehold on the energy monopoly he enjoys so much. The oldest man in Springfield could, of course, hold out longer for further talks, but he prefers the hands-on touch you only get with hired goons. Remember, he put a hit out on the Rolling Stones because they gave birth to The Ramones.

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Mr. Charles Montgomery Burns, once affectionately called Monty, before that person had the words “Mr. Burns” tattooed on his inner thigh, reluctantly, is Springfield, USA’s richest and most powerful citizen. If he wants to fire the entire town of Springfield, he can. And it looks like he just did. Who can afford to hire them? Artie Ziff left Springfield so long ago that Jon Lovitz can’t tell that voice from his film critic. Mr. Burns has his finger poised on the button that will release the hounds.

When Harry Shearer, who sidelines on bass as Derek Albion Smalls in Spinal Tap, leaves Springfield, the town loses Reverend Lovejoy, Kent Brockman, Dr. Hibbert, Lenny Leonard, Principal Skinner, Otto Mann and Rainier Wolfcastle. When Mr. Burns leaves Springfield, the town will shrivel up and wither away. Who will run their power? Who will pay their salaries?

The nuclear plant is the largest employer in that area, except maybe the Monstromart, and Burns has swallowed up smaller businesses. He thrice owned The First Church of Springfield, which he commercialized, putting up advertisements (a neon Jesus and a Lard Lad statue) and adding impulse stalls where worshippers got a chance to be Jesus in a Last Supper cutout poser. He also added a jumbotron with a God Cam. He thinks of everything. And this was in the days before he partnered with Elon Musk.

What are The Simpsons going to do? Recast? That could cost hundreds of dollars and several characters’ lives. Where are they going to get that money without Mr. Burns, who was valued at $1.3 billion by Forbes. From Fox? Fox? They’ve been trying to kill The Simpsons since before Maggie could talk.

Burns is obviously tired of the slackjawed troglodytes and the Joe Lunch Pails and Judy Six Packs who wrote the show, suggesting the producers hire “a thousand monkeys working at a thousand typewriters,” thought not the Jade Monkey which was found in Burns’ glove compartment. 

“I rate the last three seasons as among the worst,” Shearer complained in an interview for Britain’s Teletext in 2004, though everyone thought he was trying on Comic Book Guy’s voice, to the chagrin of Hank Azaria. If only we’d listened to that young man, instead of walling him up in the abandoned coke oven.

Mr. Burns was in Springfield before there was a Springfield. Why, he built that town, or at least underpaid people to rebuild it after the whole Jebediah Springfield (a.k.a. Hans Sprungfeld) debacle. Shearer has been on The Simpsons for 26 years. He is part of the foundation it is built on.

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Shearer has been acting since he was a kid and he worked with the best. He was ten years old when he played in Abbott and Costello Go to Mars in 1953 and he’d already made his bones on the The Jack Benny Program. Remember Eddie Haskell from Leave It To Beaver? Well, you wouldn’t be able to google him now if Shearer’s mom didn’t keep Harry home so he could have a normal childhood.

When Burns was a kid, he left behind his family and his teddy bear Bobo, to live with a twisted, loveless billionaire. Mr. Burns admitted his age in the “Simpson and Delilah” episode. Harry Shearer was in the classic Victor Mature Biblical epic The Robe in 1953.  Burns is somewhere between 81 and 104. His social security number is Naught, naught, naught, naught, naught, naught, naught, naught, 2. He hasn’t lived an entirely happy life. His first fiancé, he’s had three, Gertrude, died of loneliness and rabies.

Harry Shearer came up through the radio comedy group The Credibility Gap, co-wrote the film Real Life with multiple Simpsons guest voice Albert Brooks, wrote for Fernwood 2 Night, Martin Mull’s Mary Hartman Mary Hartman spinoff and wrote and acted on Saturday Night Live.

During the reconstruction of Europe after World War II, President Harry S. Truman personally hired Mr. Burns to present a specially-printed trillion dollar bill as the United States contribution to the effort.

Harry Shearer directed his first feature film Teddy Bears’ Picnic in 2002. It was based on the conspiratorial enclave for billionaires called Bohemian Grove. Mr. Burns first film was A Burns for All Seasons and he owns several trees on Bohemian Grove. He planted them. Though when one displeased him he ordered a lacket to have have its acorns killed and make the tree watch. When Burns was at Yale he was a member of Skull and Bones, contributing one of each to the frat house before graduating in 1914.

The only way I see of righting this terrible wrong without resorting to bringing in a new voice would be for Fox to hire Christopher Collins, who was the original voice actor for Burns in the episode “Homer’s Odyssey.” Sadly, Collins died on June 12, 1994, at the age of 44. I’m sure Seth MacFarlane already messengered his resume. He’d do it for free and mop up after the offices closed.

The Simpsons just signed for a new season. The only other thing that would make sense would be for the Simpsons family to take a long vacation outside of Springfield and hope that the producers can bring it up to a level, and include a profitable back end, that would lure Shearer back.

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With Shearer out of contract negotiations, Burns would be free of the straitjacketing Smithers, who once thwarted an attempt by the billionaire to take candy from a baby, and allow him to wallow in his own crapulence.

But maybe it’s not over. James L. Brooks tweeted “Hey, we tried. We’re still trying. Harry, no kidding, let’s talk.”

Shearer’s done this before. The last time The Simpsons cast negotiated, in 2011m he was the last holdout.  Al Jean, producer and showrunner, told The Hollywood Reporter he was “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.”

Jean was further confused when “Harry tweeted something to the extent that he was leaving the show — implying he wasn’t wanted — which isn’t true. We made him an offer and we’re once more saying, ‘Do you want to come back like everybody else and work hard and care about the show? Great.’ 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. I hope he comes back.”

Then Jean dropped the bomb. “If he chooses not to come back, we’ll recast. We will not kill his characters; that’s one way to go. I’m sure there will be plusses and minuses with that and, at the moment, I’m hoping he comes back. But if he doesn’t in a reasonable time, we’ll have to do the other options.”

Jean didn’t say whether the producers were looking at anyone yet, but “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).”

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But first Jean used The Hollywood Reporter interview to get the message through to Shearer, who lives in England and usually communicates via carrier pigeon. “Please call [executive producer] Jim Brooks and tell him what you want. And if you don’t want to do this show, tell him, but explain what’s on your mind. Will the show go on without him? It will.”

But will C. Montgomery Burns allow someone else to put on his skin? That remains to be seen.

“All right, you ragtag bunch of misfits! You hate me, and I hate you even more. So I want you to remember some inspiring words that someone else might have told you over the course of your lives, and go out there and win,” Burns instructed his attorneys.

“After all, negotiations make strange bedfellows,” Burns once told labor leader, Homer J. Simpson, who also thwarted Burns’ campaign for governor and whose wife he courted and who painted him in the nude. Burns also ran over Simpson’s son and was shot by one of his daughters and had his career saved by another of his daughters.

So, I’m rooting for the owner of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. After all, Mr. Burns once negotiated a billion dollar plutonium deal with a Nigerian king for twenty goats. While Sam Simon may have given away every last cent he had before he died, the patron saint of animal protection that he proudly was, Burns would trade it all in for just a little bit more. Shearer just wants a little more. It’s not just about the back end, he wants the quality of the show to return to its revolutionary roots. Burns, who masqueraded as Wavy Gravy, has no use for revolution, unless he is being directed by Senor Spielbergo. 

As for Mr. Burns, for now I think I speak for him when I say: “Mindless drones! Return to your ugly families!”

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