Kevin Can Wait is going to look very different in Season 2. As previously announced, the show fired Erinn Hayes, who played Kevin James’ wife, Donna, in its freshman season. Meanwhile, Leah Remini, James’ former King of Queens costar and a Season 1 guest star, has been bumped up to become a series regular and the new female lead.
As if the abrupt switch wasn’t startling enough, it’s since been confirmed that Hayes’ character will actually be killed off, with her death being used to explain her sudden absence in Season 2. So how exactly is this drastic casting change going to work? Here’s how Hayes’ departure and Remini’s hiring will impact the sitcom’s sophomore season:
1. How Hayes’ character will die
Hayes was let go in June, but it was unclear how the series would explain her departure until August’s Television Critics Association panel. That’s when the CBS sitcom confirmed exactly how it’s dealing with Hayes’ departure: She’s being killed off.
CBS programming boss Thom Sherman addressed the decision to kill off Donna rather than write her off in a different way. “The discussions went on,” he explained, per Variety. “We talked about other things. Ultimately this what was decided with the producers that this was the best way to move forward.”
The specifics on how the character will die are still unknown.
2. How the show will address the death
If you’re thinking it seems rather harsh to get rid of the character this way, you’re not the only one. But the network — perhaps foreseeing some backlash — says it plans to treat the matter as respectfully as possible.
“I’m not sure we can make that hilarious,” CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl said of the death, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “It will be treated with dignity and respect and the show will move forward.”
Kahl also confirmed that Hayes did not have a say in how Donna was being written out.
3. There will be a time jump
So will Hayes be appearing in Season 2 at all? It looks like the answer is no. Instead, Season 2 will pick up with a time jump, with the characters moving forward some time after Donna’s death.
“The character will have passed away, and we will be moving forward in time, catching up at a later date,” Sherman told Entertainment Tonight.
4. Remini will reprise her role as Vanessa
As for Remini, she will return to the role that she originated in Season 1 — that of undercover cop, Vanessa Cellucci. As viewers learned in Kevin Can Wait’s freshman season, Vanessa is the former partner of James’ retired cop character.
5. Why producers chose to bring Remini back
Some are questioning what caused the abrupt switch in female leads, especially since it seemed there were no plans to do so before Remini guest starred on the sitcom’s Season 1 finale.
According to Kahl, it had nothing to do with Hayes’ performance and everything to do with the great chemistry (and presumably great ratings) that came from Remini and James’ on-screen reunion. “Erinn is a terrific actress; she did a great job,” Kahl stated, per The Hollywood Reporter. “When everybody collectively saw how Leah and Kevin were together in those last couple episodes, there was an undeniable spark there.”
The positive reaction spurred the eventual casting change, as he explained to press:
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 that 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.
6. What Remini has to say
So what does Remini herself have to say about it all? The actress first addressed her promotion to series regular on Instagram in June. “Dreams do come true #blessed #grateful,” she wrote alongside a photo of a Deadline article confirming the news.
She has since spoken out about it again, explaining to Stephen Colbert, “At the end of his first season, I played his ex-partner. We were cops together, we were detectives together. So I just come back as that character.”
When Colbert noted that fans seemed to love seeing the former King of Queens stars reunite, Remini responded, “I loved that. It’s an amazing feeling.”
7. What this means for Season 2
Now that Hayes is out and Remini is in, what does this mean for Season 2’s storyline? Obviously, the Gable family will still be reeling from the loss of wife and mother, Donna. But her death will also have practical repercussions on the family, in addition to emotional ones.
With his wife no longer around, James’ character, Kevin, will likely have to come out of retirement and go back to work. And you know what that means — it won’t be long before he’s crossing paths with Remini’s Vanessa again.
One thing’s for sure: many are curious to see how it will all play out, which is exactly what CBS is banking on.
Kevin Can Wait returns for Season 2 on Sept. 25.