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When it comes to big TV shows making big casting changes behind the scenes, CBS has had its share of headline-worthy instances in the past couple of years, though usually with dramas like NCIS and Criminal Minds. Most recently, Kevin James' sitcom Kevin Can Wait has gotten attention for the shocking decision to replace lead Erinn Hayes with former King of Queens star Leah Remini ahead of Season 2's production start. Here's how CBS Entertainment President Kelly Kahl explained the reasoning behind the big switch-up.
Erinn is a terrific actress; she did a great job. When everybody collectively saw how Leah and Kevin were together in those last couple episodes, there was an undeniable spark there. Kevin, the studios and the network all got together and wanted to keep that magic and chemistry going forward. Leah was a stunt episode at the end of the season. I don't believe there was any thought toward [having her replace Hayes as the female lead]. It wasn't a test run; she was brought on as we often do stunt casting to pump a little something into the show, and it turned out really well.
Kelly Kahl's explanation is assumedly meant to placate Kevin Can Wait audience members by saying that there was no inclination to push Erinn Hayes out the door by bringing Lean Remini in for her then-guest spots, but the way it's worded still doesn't exactly make the situation sound completely two-sided. Good intentions or not, as soon as Remini and Kevin James reconnected on the set, everyone apparently made the mental switch to try and bring her on board for a more permanent basis. Well, everyone meaning "Kevin, the studios and the network," and presumably not Hayes herself.
This explanation was given by Kelly Kahl and other CBS execs during this year's TCA summer press event (via THR), where it was also unveiled that Erinn Hayes' Donna would be killed off the show, as opposed to having her absence be explained in a different way, and that Season 2's debut will mark a time jump within the narrative. Confirming that Hayes also wasn't in the conversation chain about how Donna's death would be handled, Kahl did mention that her death at least won't be handled comedically.
I'm not sure we can make that hilarious. 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. I don't want to address it until we see eventually what's on tape in the first episode.
Considering Erinn Hayes has lined up a new gig already, and hasn't kicked up any dust over the Kevin Can Wait casting change-up, it's entirely possible that this mini-controversy will mostly be swept under the sitcom living room rug by the time Season 2 starts up. After all, nostalgia is a powerful thing, and seeing Kevin James and Leah Remini back together again could not only qualm any complaints, but it could also draw more viewers to Kevin Can Wait's sophomore season than its first one. We'll be paying attention to those numbers.
Kevin Can Wait fans will get to see exactly what the show is doing with Donna's character, or the memory of her, when Season 2 premieres on Monday, September 22, at 9:00 p.m. To see everything else that's hitting the small screen both before and after that, check out our summer premiere schedule and our fall TV schedule.