CBS comedy Kevin Can Wait will look considerably different when it returns in the fall for its sophomore season — namely, the female lead of the Kevin James vehicle, Erinn Hayes, has been let go and Leah Remini will reunite with her King of Queens co-star when she joins the series as a regular.
The decision to replace Haynes, who played Kevin's wife, Donna, was an organic one, CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl told reporters Tuesday at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour.
Donna, Kahl and CBS exec vp programming Thom Sherman revealed, will be killed off in the season two premiere, which will jump forward in time. Remini will reprise the role she played in the two-part season one finale — a tough, wise-cracking police officer named Vanessa Cellucci who used to work with James' character on the force. The role reunited the actress with her former TV husband, James, after the two starred on The King of Queens for nine seasons.
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"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," Kahl told reporters. "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."
The executive, fresh on the job after having replaced Glenn Geller over the summer post-upfronts, says he has seen the first few scripts and promised that Donna's death on the series will be addressed "tastefully" and used to set up the series going forward. Asked specifically how Kevin Can Wait planned to make the death of a wife and mother funny, Kahl said he wasn't sure that was possible.
"I'm not sure we can make that hilarious," he said, noting Hayes had no say in how Donna was being written out. "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."