One genuinely surprising thing emerged from CBS’ executive session Tuesday at the summer TV press tour: “Kevin Can Wait” is killing off a major character in its second-season premiere.
It’s a big reset for the show — but one that seems unlikely to give a serious boost to the show’s steady but unspectacular ratings.
In early June, CBS announced Leah Remini, “Kevin Can Wait” star Kevin James’ former on-screen spouse from “The King of Queens,” would join the show full-time in Season 2. Remini guest-starred in the final two episodes of Season 1 as a former NYPD colleague of James’ retired cop.
Shortly after that came news that Erinn Hayes, who played James’ wife, was let go from “Kevin Can Wait.” Tuesday, CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl told reporters the show will deal with Hayes’ departure by revealing her character, Donna, has died. The show will then jump ahead in time and reset with Kevin living as a widower.
The news certainly got “Kevin Can Wait” a lot more attention than it has recently, and CBS will have lots of time to promote Remini’s regular role on the show before Season 2 premieres on Sept. 25. As for whether the move will goose ratings, color us skeptical.
Remini’s two guest appearances didn’t make a noticeable difference in “Kevin’s” numbers. The four episodes leading up to her appearance averaged a 1.18 rating among adults 18-49 and 6.17 million viewers the night they aired.
The final two were in line (slightly down, but not in a statistically significant way) with that average: They delivered a 1.15 in the 18-49 demographic and 5.97 million viewers. Remini’s first appearance produced a small bump (1.2 vs. 1.1) over the prior week, but the finale came back down to 1.1.
It’s a small sample, to be sure, and it seems likely that the Season 2 premiere, at least, will perform better than the finale (though it’s a reach to think it will match the post-“Big Bang Theory” 2.6 the series premiere got last year). Some of that might be attributable to interest in the shake-up, some of that might be Remini’s full-time presence, and some of it will be the natural lift shows get at the start of a season.
Whether the change sets “Kevin Can Wait” up for long-term success remains to be seen. But a big boost from the shake-up doesn’t seem likely.