Kevin Can Wait: true stories from behind the scenes

The most watched new sitcom of the season, Kevin James’ Kevin Can Wait smashed pretty much all expectation when it hit the air in March. Picked up from another season in record time, the CBS sitcom follows the home life of Kevin Gable, played by Kevin James himself, a newly retired police officer from Nassau County, Long Island, who is thrilled for his “alone time, some time to chill, just to sit and think” retirement – but finds a much more chaotic household retirement and quickly realizes his family may well drive him out of retirement and back to the force, as it’s “a lot more of a mess!” As Gables says. On the first series, the focus is on the Gables family — Kevin’s wife, Donna, daughter Sara and Kendra, and son, Jack.

Each unique relationship is explored one-on-one with Kevin, the interactions starkly different, for examples, with his son, Jack, than with his daughter, Kendra, who has returned home from college. Each character’s interaction with the entire family is also examined, and though James plays the lead, major storylines follow characters in his family in their own independent interactions and adventures.


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Initially meant to be an extremely light-hearted comedy, the kind Kevin James is known for – his show The King of Queens also ran on CBS for almost a decade and was one of the most popular sitcoms on TV – towards the second season, the show takes on a (very slightly) “weightier” turn, in James’ words, turning the focus more to Kevin Gables as a character and exploring his past in the police force.

The show touches on a variety of issues, albeit a light and comedic touch: Kevin’s son, Jack, is a hypochondriac; his middle daughter, Sara, has severe anger management issues; and a common problem these days – student loans – is explored when eldest daughter Kendra moves back in with her parents after college with her fiance, broke and jobless. The show later on tackles some more serious subjects, as on the second season, Donna, Kevin’s wife – played by Erinn Hayes – has died, and he is now dealing with his role as a widower and a single father. Like with any hit, Kevin Can Wait comes with a variety of behind the scenes stories. Along with one major scandal that has angered fans very recently, here are some facts and trivia from behind the scenes of the successful sitcom.

King of sitcoms

Kevin James is known to be the star of family-oriented sitcoms where he plays the frustrated father: his previous show, The King of Queens, followed his character, Doug, and wife, Carrie, as they moved to Queens to live with Carrie’s eccentric father. James has been absent from television for 9 years, even though The King of Queens was extremely popular. His return was much awaited, and CBS show runners were not disappointed at the results when he did.

Similar to The King of Queens?

Kevin Can Wait is not hugely different than The King of Queens than other family sitcoms. It follows a retired cop, Kevin, and his wife, Donna, and three children. Kevin James is credited as the creator, lead star, and executive producer on the show. His return to television after King of Queens was much awaited; “If I was going to come back,” James said, “I wanted it to be on my terms, so the show will focus mainly on family core issues, but in a more subtle and funny way.”

A true family show

And since it is, in essence, “his” show, James is constantly playing on the fine line between reality and fiction, inviting his real-life family to enter his sitcom family life (a habit he’s been known for, especially in later seasons of The King of Queens). Series regular Gary Valentine is actually James’ real life brother – “that wasn’t much of a stretch, acting wise, you know”, James was quoted as saying. Valentine also portrayed Doug’s cousin in James’ previous sitcom. Kevin James’ other family members also guest starred on the show:

Real life meets Kevin

Kevin James’ wife, Steffiana De La Cruz, and his daughters, Shea and Sienna, have also played in the series – De La Cruz as the wife in a couple the Gables were trying to befriend, and daughters Shea and Sienna in various extra or one-line roles doing the show. The show’s theme song performer and writer, Michael Delguidice, has appeared on the show in various minor roles. All were uncredited.

The city so nice they named it twice

Kevin James hails from upstate New York, and, as mentioned before, he likes to keep his roles close – or at least inspired – by his personal life. Kevin’s character on the show is also from upstate and the so-called ‘east coast life’ take a prominent role in the show. In The King of Queens, Doug and Carrie also lived in New York. The show is filmed in New York, and the set used for the house is the same set that was used in iconic 90s sitcoms Hanging with Mr. Cooper.

Reunited

In the second season, we are introduced to a new character, Vanessa, Kevin’s rival on the force and later on his boss, played by Leah Remini. Remini is James’ long-time collaborator and co-star of The King of Queens as wife Carrie; the show also marks her return to sitcoms following a long absence in which she wrote and promoted a book. Remini’s return has delighted fans, who hope perhaps remnants of Carrie and Doug’s romance would somehow be revived in their Kevin Can Wait characters.

Days of our lives

If you feel like you recognize Taylor Spreitler, who plays Kevin’s eldest daughter, Kendra, from somewhere, it’s probably because she starred as Mia McCormick on the soap opera Days of Our Lives and won critical acclaim for her portrayal of the character. The Mississippi born actress started off her career in modeling, and at only 23, is also a pretty experienced producer. Spreitler was actually a child model and notably won pageants as a small child – starting at 6-years-old.

Star-studded

Kevin Can Wait has been sprinkled with plenty of guest star: we know Kevin James is known for sneakily breaking the fourth wall (well, -ish) by sneaking in friends as family to play… well, friends and family in his shows. In Kevin Can Wait, a few very notable guest stars have adorned the shows credit in its two seasons, some more known than others: most famously, Ray Romano appears in an episode as a hot tub salesman.

Padded credits

Other well known guests stars on the show have been Noah Syndergaard, known as Thor, a pitcher for the New York Jets – another nod to James’ insistence on making his New York pride a part of the show. Adam Sandler guest starred in the episode “Who’s Better Than Us?” as Kevin’s former partner. Sandler is good friends with James in real life. More big names on the show, all friends of James who guest starred in one episode, are Harry Connick Jr.; Loni Love; and even music legend Billy Joel.

Family and friends and family

Another star who has a past with James is Bas Rutten, who portrays the Gables’ endearing-yet-annoying Dutch neighbor Rutger Vandekamp, who lives with his mother and longtime girlfriend in the house next door to the Gables. Rutten has appeared with James in various shows and films – including The King of Queens, the Mall Cop movies, and Here Comes the Boom. He also voiced the wolf in Zookeeper and is, of course, a real life friend of Kevin James, who seems to really like to work with his long-time collaborators.

Even more family matters

Kevin James and Gary Valentine, his older brother, are not only co-stars and business partners. They also produce web series together, Dusty Peacock, which began streaming on Crackle in 2009. James also has a sister, Leslie, who also works with him, though it’s not on the screen or in any creative endeavors: she helps raise awareness and funds for Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease which Kevin James is afflicted by. And speaking of family —

Funny Valentine

Gary Valentine’s original name is Gary Knipfing (a last name he shares with Kevin James, of course, and one they both traded in for catchier, more Hollywood-suited names) and actually started in show business after working at a chiropractor’s office and then owning his own insurance agency. Much like his brother, he had a hard time ignoring the call of comedy, though he says he was “reluctant to go into [the business], you really have such a long shot at getting there”.

Surprise hit

Kevin James has an unexplainable knack for creating super hits which is “unexplainable even to [him]”. It took him a while to want to get back into sitcoms, but when he pitched the show to CBS, they expected nothing less than the success of The King of Queens, which ran for nearly a decade and was one of the most popular CBS shows ever. They ended getting even more than what they expected, with Kevin Can Wait becoming the fall lineup’s most watched sitcom on the network.

Fans over critics

Despite the show’s immense popularity, it was generally not that well received by critics, who gave it average ratings. No one can argue, however, with the show’s appeal to a wide fanbase – and certainly not with its success. Some critics praised the show for touching on some difficult subjects (such as bullying) with a tender and comedic touch. At any rate, no one can argue with the James’ charm and hilarity as Kevin: “Kevin James proves a likable, funny lead”, the Rotten Tomato website reads, “as he always does.”

Picked up

Much to the delight of numerous fans, the show has already picked up for a third season. Considering that in the second season, Kevin, in order to deal with some financial trouble (another difficult subject the show touched on with humor) – such as funding Kendra and her fiance’s wedding – returned to working a full time job (under Leah Remini’s character), fans are generally hoping for more Vanessa and Kevin interaction, considering the well-known incredibly chemistry between Remini and James.

The running gag

Erinn Hayes, who was cast to play Donna, Kevin’s wife, portrays a school nurse. On TV hit “New Girl” starring Zooey Deschanel, Hayes had a minor recurring role where she played a school nurse. This is typical of James’ work, as gags from The King of Queens (Leah Remini as his boss being the most obvious one) and other shows make their way into the series almost invisibly. Hayes was let go of the show after season one, leading us to the most talked-about behind the scenes story:

Shock

In an extremely unusual move, and one that has confused fans immensely, creators and writers of the shows have decided to write off Hayes’ character off the show – by killing her. This is nearly unheard of, as family sitcoms have a known and set pattern in TV history, and it does not include killing a core family member. Fans were stunned when, in the second season, the show’s plot had skipped a year ahead, and Hayes was simply missing. The death of her character, the lead’s wife, was hardly mentioned.

New creative direction

Though viewers expressed anger over Hayes’ disappearance, and especially the show’s poor explanation of Donna’s death, James explains this was done simply because the show was “running out of ideas.” He claims that he didn’t see a vision for a third season with the cast set up the way it was, and that a change to the family – adding a plot line difficulty where Kevin is now also a single parent and has to deal with his wife’s passing – gives the show more options for advancements and new storylines.

The fans can’t wait

Despite the many articles attempting to explain, praise or criticize the show’s decision to write off a core character, and the typhoon of rumors surrounding Hayes’ departure and the storyline decision – it being a truly shocking one in terms of classical TV family comedy structure – Kevin Can Wait still holds the reigns as most watched sitcom on the network. The character’s departure and new storyline didn’t seem to injure the show’s popularity at all. Fans, as opposed to Kevin, can’t wait – well, till the new season comes out.