The Simpsons, even after more than three decades on the air, aren’t afraid of making big changes if they think something needs to be done a different way. It’s one of the main reasons, among many I suppose, that the show has had such incredible staying power. They’ve been able to shift and adapt to the times and make it so they are constantly evaluating decisions. One of those changes will come in the next episode when the popular character Dr. Hibbert will have a new actor voicing the role.
Harry Shearer has voiced the role of Dr. Hibbert since 1990 during the show’s second season. On Sunday’s The Simpsons episode, Shearer uttered his last words for the character and will be recast moving forward. Next up will be Kevin Michael Richardson voicing the role. The Hibbert character has been a mainstay on the show almost since its inception, lending a level of brains and intellect we really don’t see from anyone else except maybe Lisa. He’s a hilarious character, originally modeled off a parody of Bill Cosby’s Dr. Huxtable from the popular 1980s sitcom.
The decision for The Simpsons to pivot the role stems from a bigger initiative to remove white voice actors from roles of characters who were of a different race. Dr. Hibbert is an African-American character and Harry Shearer is white. The show had come under some scrutiny over the last few years in the lack of diversity among the cast even though the characters in the actual show represented a wide array of people and cultures.
Another The Simpsons character who falls into this category and is being recast will be Hank Azaria’s voicing of Carl, Homer’s friend and part of the famed Lenny and Carl duo. Azaria had already been vocal about not wanting to voice the character of convenience store owner Apu, citing the possible cultural insensitivity around the role and the character’s depiction.
There aren’t any plans to retroactively provide voiceovers for past episodes which are now available in the Disney+ catalog and available for streaming. The plans around the new roles are only for future appearances. And for what it’s worth, Harry Shearer still has plenty to do on the show. The talented voice actor is still taking on the roles of Mr. Burns, Waylon Smithers, Ned Flanders, and Principal Skinner to name just a few. He’s integral to the production and a big reason for the show’s success. He just won’t be taking on certain characters moving forward.
Again, a big reason for The Simpsons having such incredible longevity is the ability to constantly reevaluate their decisions and making solid choices around production. This latest example is one of those is expanding the voice cast to be more representative of the characters. The show has now been on the air for 32 seasons and is pushing towards 700 episodes. You don’t make it that long by being stuck in the same processes and paradigms for the full run. The Simpsons, at its core, is still very much the same show. But just is willing to make changes when the time is right.