The return of Kevin James to network television was a major coup for CBS after the actor’s previously successful nine-year run on the network with the sitcom, The King of Queens. Two seasons and a couple of key casting changes later, and James’ sophomore sitcom, Kevin Can Wait, became a cancelation casualty.
In an interview with Deadline, CBS Entertainment president Kevin Kahl explained the surprising decision to ax the show headlined by one of the network’s most beloved stars, saying it all came down to the numbers.
“It was a strong show for us, it’s had a lot of decline this year, it was heading in the wrong direction,” Kahl told Deadline.
“The numbers were going down as the year went on and looking forward, it didn’t look like a show that was going to be strong enough to anchor a night for us going forward.”
Kevin Can Wait kicked off to a promising start in fall, 2016, and was deemed CBS’s most watched and highest rated new comedy. But after a ratings decline and the exit of co-creator and showrunner Bruce Helford in the middle of the first season, a controversial casting change was made shortly after the show was picked up for a Season 2 renewal. Lead actress Erinn Hayes’s character, matriarch Donna Gable, was killed off and James’ King of Queens co-star Leah Remini was brought in as the show shifted its focus from Kevin Gable’s family life to his new business venture.
Ahead of the Kevin Can Wait Season 2 premiere, Kevin James explained the decision to kill off his TV wife, telling Entertainment Weekly the show was originally supposed to be about a single dad.
“The show was originally going to be about a single dad, but the way the story started going, we went with the great Erinn Hayes,” the Kevin Can Wait star explained. “But then it felt like a very familiar family sitcom again and it kind of went down the track where we felt like the show needed a little emotional weight to drive the character…It had nothing to Erinn’s acting ability or her comedic talent. This is what they needed to do to give this show some weight, to take this show in a different direction.”
James also defended the show’s handling of Donna’s death, saying that while it was “a tricky situation,” he feels like the Kevin Can Wait writers “did it in a very classy way.”
On the show’s Season 2 premiere, Kevin Can Wait viewers tuned in to find out how Hayes’ character would be written out, and many were surprised that her death wasn’t directly explained. Instead, Kevin Gable (Kevin James) got a postcard in the mail from his late wife’s gym that said “We miss you,” and his oldest daughter Kendra (Taylor Spreitler) said it’s been “over a year since she died” and that the gym shouldn’t be sending that stuff anymore. To lighten the scene up, Kevin told his daughter not to throw out the postcard because there was a coupon for a kung-fu class he wanted to use.
Unfortunately, the off-camera kill-off of Hayes’ character didn’t sit well with viewers, and Kevin Can Wait’s ratings dropped significantly for Season 2. CBS executive vice president Thom Sherman acknowledged the missteps with the once-promising sitcom, telling Deadline, “The show made a choice at the beginning of this year, we agreed to go along with it, and unfortunately the audience did not respond to it.”
You can see a scene from the Kevin Can Wait series finale below.