In a surprise cast move that no one appeared to have seen coming — including the actress herself — Erinn Hayes has been dropped from “Kevin Can Wait.”
In a tweet Saturday, Hayes — who played spouse, Donna, to Kevin James’ Kevin Gable — wrote, “True, I’ve been let go from the show. Very sad, I had a great experience season 1. Thank you for all the support from our wonderful fans.”
CBS announced late Friday that Leah Remini had been added to the cast — and of course said nothing about Hayes’ departure.
So the obvious question: Why? “Kevin Can Wait” is a family sitcom — James’ first in a decade — and the departure of Hayes’ Donna means the family unit is no more. The return of Remini — of course, Carrie Heffernan during “The King of Queens’” long run — suggests that “Kevin” is about to be rebooted back to the future, or at least in the general direction of James’ old comedy hit, “King of Queens.” (CBS said Remini will continue to play the character she introduced in the series finale, an undercover police officer named Vanessa Cellucci.)
The impending creative make over posed another question, too: Will “Kevin” continue to originate from Bethpage’s Gold Coast studios, where it had become the first prime-time sitcom in history to have been produced at a Long Island venue? James agreed to return to TV on the condition that the show tape near his home on Long Island. A spokeswoman for CBS said the show will stay at Gold Coast.
Showrunners appeared to have set up some sort of series redirect in the finale, when Donna said she had quit her job as a school nurse. Because her husband is also unemployed (or semiretired), that left another little hanging question: Would he then go back to work as a cop? The website TVLine, which first broke news of the Hayes’ departure on Saturday, said sources only indicated that the show would undergo “a new creative direction” next season.
Freshman ratings were fine — about 9 million viewers on average — but clearly not fine enough. James’ return to CBS was accorded top priority by CBS chief Leslie Moonves, who even sat in on table reads. One of the showrunners left early in the season as tinkering continued. CBS proclaimed “Kevin” network television’s highest-rated new comedy, but given the anemic state of network TV comedies these days — and especially last year’s freshman crop — that hardly amounted to much of an endorsement. Clearly the network had hoped for bigger-and-better here.