BEVERLY HILLS — Kevin James, star of Long Island-based “Kevin Can Wait,” told the TV press here Wednesday that the new CBS series won’t merely be “based” on Long Island, but L.I. will have a starring role, too.
“When I was coming back to TV [after a decadelong hiatus] I wanted to do something special,” he said, “and this wasn’t just another sitcom here [in Los Angeles], which is great fun, but it would have been one of many here. But there [on Long Island], it’s something special. It’s pretty expensive to do it there, but it was such a great opportunity, and it changed the whole town, and the whole of Long Island started getting a buzz” when production started.
The show will be taped before a live audience at Gold Coast Studios in Bethpage.
“There’s a buzz about it that I’ve never felt before,” said the Stony Brook-raised James. “And it’s exciting.”
He said many outdoor locations will be used throughout Long Island, including “mom and pop pizza stores.”
“We want to keep it authentic to Long Island and that’s what’s unique about this. Long Island plays a character in this show and it gives me something to hold onto. It’s also exciting for people in the studio audience.”
In “Kevin Can Wait,” James, 50 — born Kevin George Knipfing in Mineola — plays a retired cop, who suddenly has a lot of time on his hands, along with a spouse (Erinn Hayes) and three kids who are wondering how he is going to fill it.
“Rock [Reuben, the show’s executive producer] and I grew up with a lot of guys on Long Island who were police officers, and who came up from the Academy together, then — 20 years later — they retired and were done. With retirement, you usually think about older guys, but these are in their 40s. They have this dream of what they are going to do every day — race go-karts and spend time with the family and go to Mets games — but life doesn’t always go that way.
“I connected with them because I grew up on Long Island, and they are great guys [but] it is just a matter of finding those elements that make it different” from his long-running hit on CBS, “King of Queens,” which ended in 2007.
Reuben, also here with James, said “one of the learning experiences we brought from ‘Queens’ is that it got real hard to come up with different stories week after week, so we wanted to be in an arena where we had different corridors to go down.” And those, he explained, led to the central premise of the show — that his character has almost too much time on his hands.
To fill it, “he has side jobs, where he’s able to go out and do different things in the world, and meet different people.”
“We’ll have him be a classroom dad, a crossing guard, a chauffeur,” said Reuben, a former stand-up comedian and producer of “King of Queens.” “There are so many places to go and that’s what we liked about the idea. We could see opportunities to do 200-plus episodes and not get burned out on a specific premise.”
And yes, there will be celebrity cameos. Quipped Hayes (“Children’s Hospital”), “the good news is [James] does know some other famous people.”
The series launches Sept. 19 at 8:30 p.m.