It was the strangest twist of the TV season: In June, shortly after the first season finale of CBS’ Kevin James sitcom “Kevin Can Wait,” the show’s creators decided to get rid of the character played by Erinn Hayes, who starred as James’s wife.
Then, they announced they would replace Hayes with Leah Remini, best known as James’ wife on “The King of Queens,” the long-running CBS comedy that ended in 2007.
Swapping TV wives is already bizarre – and so is axing the wife and mom character on a family sitcom. Now, CBS has announced an update for those wondering how Hayes’ character will be written off the show: They’re going to kill her.
“The character will have passed away,” Thom Sherman, the network’s senior executive vice president of programming, told reporters on Tuesday at the TCA summer press tour. “We will be moving forward in time, catching up at a later date.”
A time jump after a character’s death isn’t unusual – on a grisly crime drama, that is. It happens far less frequently on shows with laugh tracks.
“I’m not sure we can make that hilarious,” CBS Entertainment President Kelly Kahl added, according to the Hollywood Reporter. “It will be treated with dignity and respect, and the show will move forward. It’s something that will have taken place in the past.”
When the news broke about Hayes’ departure two months ago, various reports assured everyone that the recasting was nothing personal, and the show was “heading in a new creative direction.” “Kevin Can Wait” averaged about 9.1 million viewers per week, making it the most-watched new comedy of the 2016-2017 TV season.
The two-part season finale featured a reunion between James and Remini, who guest-starred as James’ former partner and rival on the police force. Kahl noted that Remini wasn’t originally brought in to see if she might replace Hayes; but after seeing the dynamic between her and James, the network and studio “wanted to keep that magic and chemistry going forward.”
“When everybody collectively saw how Leah and Kevin were together in those last couple episodes, there was an undeniable spark there,” Kahl said. Variety confirmed that when Remini returns, she will play the same character that she did in the finale.
The whole premise of “Kevin Can Wait” is that James is a retired cop who’s trying to relax but still has to deal with his wacky family. It looks like things are about to take a much darker turn in the second season. Hayes’s publicist has not yet returned a request for comment about how she felt about her character being killed off.
“True, I’ve been let go from the show,” she tweeted back in June. “Very sad; I had a great experience season 1. Thank you for all the support from our wonderful fans.”
Emily Yahr, The Washington Post