Kevin Can Wait Is Killing Off Its Female Lead—But Why?

Kevin Can Wait viewers will face some big changes come fall: in June, news broke that Leah Remini, who made a notable guest appearance in Season 1, would return as a series regular—and that Erinn Hayes, who plays Kevin’s wife of 20 years on the show, would be out as the sitcom forges “a new creative direction.” Now we know a little more about what will happen to Hayes’s character, Donna: apparently, CBS plans to kill her off and start Season 2 with a time jump. The decision to cut Hayes from Season 2 was reportedly “not a reflection” of Hayes’s performance, which leads us to wonder why the series has chosen to go with such a blunt, unreversible write-off—the sort of exit that’s usually reserved for difficult performers, or those who have really, seriously messed up.

Remini, it’s worth noting, starred opposite Kevin James in The King of Queens—so it’s easy to understand why CBS would want to reunite the two. At a Television Critics Association panel Tuesday, CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl assured reporters that Remini’s guest spot last season was not a test-run for Hayes’s replacement. “Erinn is a terrific actress; she did a great job,” Kahl said. “When everybody collectively saw how Leah and Kevin were together in those last couple episodes, there was an undeniable spark there. Kevin, the studios, and the network all got together and wanted to keep that magic and chemistry going forward.” Kahl promised that Donna’s death will be handled “tastefully,” adding, “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.”

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Still, doesn’t Hayes deserve better than the Valerie Harper treatment? For those who need a refresher: the Mary Tyler Moore vet clashed with producers on the set of her 1980s sitcom Valerie, after she and executive producer Tony Cacciotti demanded a raise. The show was subsequently retooled as Valerie’s Family: The Hogans, and then just The Hogan Family—after Harper’s character was unceremoniously killed in a car accident.

The modern TV landscape has seen plenty of other on-set disputes that ended in performers being written off in creatively cruel ways. Jay Thomas’s character on Cheers got hit by a Zamboni after the actor joked about having to kiss Rhea Perlman, who played Carla. (Perlman disputes that she wanted Thomas off the show; instead, she has said that she didn’t like the idea of her character settling down.) Katherine Heigl left Grey’s Anatomy only after Shonda Rhimes gave her character an embarrassing case of hallucinatory brain cancer, which caused her character to think she was having an affair with her long-dead boyfriend. (The write-off came after Heigl began angling for a movie career and, perhaps more importantly, after she decided not to submit herself for an Emmy in 2008, saying, “I did not feel that I was given the material this season” to warrant a nomination.) And most recently, there was Charlie Sheen, whose Two and a Half Men antics and bad blood with Chuck Lorre ended with Lorre dropping a piano on Sheen’s character’s head.

So, what did Hayes do to deserve being thrown into this club? We’d understand CBS’s decision if the actress had, say, pulled a Joey Tribbiani and told a journalist that she sometimes writes her own lines. But as far as we can tell, she’s guilty of nothing besides not being Leah Remini. The actress had only kind words about her experience on the show when news broke of her dismissal; we’ve reached out to her publicist for further comment.

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