Over the summer, it was revealed that James’ TV wife, Donna (played by Erinn Hayes), would be dead when the CBS sitcom kicked off its sophomore season. Leah Remini, who starred as James’ onscreen wife for nearly a decade on King of Queens, replaced Hayes on a full-time basis.
News of Hayes’ abrupt departure was surprising to viewers. While Kevin Can Wait showrunner Rob Long said the decision to kill Donna off was done “out of respect for the character,” James had a slightly different take. (Remini, for her part, defended her place on the show, writing on premiere night that she’s “been having the time of my life being reunited with my favorite funny man.”)
"The plot of the show didn't have enough drive," James said in a new interview with the New York Daily News. "If we got through a second season, I wouldn't see us getting through a third one. We were literally just running out of ideas."
In the season two premiere, which took place a year after the finale, Donna’s absence was felt immediately. Kevin (James) struggled to pack lunch for his youngest kids, while elder daughter Kendra (Taylor Spreitler) tried to help her dad out. Things turned somber when they received a postcard from Donna’s gym, which read, “We miss you.” Later, moments before Kendra’s wedding, she and Kevin shared an emotional moment as they remembered Donna, wishing she was there for the big day.
"I get that people are like 'Whoa, why would you do this?' But it really felt like a thing like this was needed for this show to drive forward," James reiterated. "Now, I have to deal with my daughter in a different way, and she's gonna go to college, or one's getting married, or the holidays. And it deals with things in a different, weightier way."
Kevin Can Wait airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.