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The Real Reasons Kevin Can Wait Was Canceled

CBS trimmed down their comedy lineup ahead of the network's 2018 May upfronts, canceling freshman comedies 9JKL, Living Biblically, and My, Myself, and I along with two-season wonder Superior Donuts. The cancellation that got the most attention, though, was the network dropping the ax on their Kevin James sitcom Kevin Can Wait

The show starred James as Kevin Gable, a recently retired New York cop who has to deal with the trials and tribulations of family life. Erinn Hayes and Leah Remini played the show's female leads in seasons one and two, respectively, while Taylor Spreitler, Ryan Cartwright, Gary Valentine, Leonard Earl Howze, James DiGiacomo, and Mary-Charles Jones also starred.

Although the series had big star power in James and a premise that presumably would have lent itself to multiple seasons of storylines, Kevin Can Wait didn't make it past 50 episodes. Many fans of the comedy were shocked by its cancellation, but the writing has been on the wall for a while now. Here's a look at the real reasons why Kevin Can Wait was canceled.

An ill-advised firing

The fate of Donna Gable will always hang over Kevin Can Wait. Erinn Hayes played Donna, the wife of Kevin James' Kevin, in the show's first season, but her character was killed off ahead of season 2 in favor of a reunion with James' King of Queens co-star Leah Remini. Many fans were upset to see her written off so unceremoniously.

There was never any clear reason given for Donna's death, although some have shared elaborate theories suggesting that she was murdered. James said that the decision to kill off the character had nothing to do with Hayes as an actress, and was instead because they were "literally just running out of ideas" with Kevin's family so happy and stable.

The move ultimately backfired, with fans rejecting the changes to the show. CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl admitted that the change had something to do with the show's cancellation, saying, "The show made a choice at the beginning of this year, we agreed to go along with it, and unfortunately the audience did not respond to it." Now that's some real #JusticeForDonna.

A ratings slide

Kevin Can Wait launched with an impressive 11 million viewers and a 2.58 in the key 18 to 49 demo, ultimately winding up with an average of 7.6 million viewers and a 1.61 rating for its first season. This allowed the show to anchor the network's Monday night comedy block, but the second season showed a steady decline in the ratings, launching to 10 million viewers and a 2.34 rating but quickly falling to 6.6 viewers and a 1.3 rating by its second episode. The season wound up averaging a mediocre 6.3 million viewers and a 1.18 rating. 

Kahl credited "the numbers" as to why the network decided to pull the plug on the show. "It was a strong show for us, it's had a lot of decline this year, it was heading in the wrong direction," she said. "The numbers were going down as the year went on and looking forward, it didn't look like a show that was going to be strong enough to anchor a night for us going forward." 

An expensive star

CBS is willing to shell out the big bucks for the stars they really want on their network, as they've shown with the roughly million-dollar paychecks that the main cast of The Big Bang Theory pulls in per episode. Below the principal cast of that hit sitcom, James was the next highest-paid comedy star on the network for both seasons the show was on the air, earning $200,000 per episode.

When you're shelling out that much cash for a big star, you expect them to bring in the ratings. In some cases, it's worked — Roseanne Barr earned $250,000 per episode for the Roseanne revival, which posted killer numbers for ABC. However, in James' case, the show wasn't bringing in a lot of viewers, and he was earning a paycheck bigger than Ellie Kemper for Netflix's hit Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or Donald Glover for FX's critical smash Atlanta. It's tough to justify handing down that kind of cash when you're not getting much in return. 

A critical disconnect

Although many hit sitcoms never earn critical acclaim, it definitely can't hurt. Kevin Can Wait was met with a pretty meh reception upon release, earning a depressing 29 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It didn't fare much better with audiences, hitting a 44 percent audience score on the same platform.

The A.V. Club's Erik Adams gave the premiere a C-, saying that he episode "stumbles on undercooked dialogue and the garbled perspective of its protagonist." This seems to be a similar theme throughout early reviews of the show, which noted that it didn't bring any original jokes to the table and mostly just recycled plots from every family sitcom viewers had already seen. 

The only bright spot in early reviews was Hayes' Donna, and, well, we all know what happened to her. (Or rather, we don't.) With her departure, season two fell even further into a critical downward spiral. With no chance at earning awards season attention or critical acclaim, the fate of Kevin Can Wait rested entirely on its ratings, which didn't stack up.

A pricey reunion

Leah Remini had a well-received two-episode recurring role on Kevin Can Wait before joining the main cast, and in a way, it's easy to see why producers thought that bringing her on board instead of Donna would be a great idea. She and James had 200 episodes together on King of Queens, and in the era of rebooting long-canceled shows, bringing together two former sitcom stars can look like a recipe for success.

Unfortunately, in this case, the move wound up backfiring with fans, and it also had repercussions behind the scenes. Although Remini has put her acting career on the back burner in recent years while focusing on her efforts to inform people about her inside perspective on Scientology, her name still carries a lot of weight, and CBS wound up paying her $125,000 per episode for her work. Add that on top of James' already hefty paycheck, and Kevin Can Wait becomes a show with a large budget, even before factoring in production costs. 

A lack of ownership

TV networks don't own all the shows they produce. Instead, many are made by outside studios who are paid a fee by the networks for the right to broadcast their content. However, in a time when linear, live ratings are starting to matter less and less, networks are looking more for in-house content so that they can control streaming, syndication, and VOD rights. 

Kevin Can Wait was half owned by CBS, with the other half owned by Sony Pictures Television. This might be why CBS chose to renew Matt LeBlanc's Man With a Plan and not Kevin Can Wait. While both had similar ratings and James and LeBlanc received the same paycheck for their work, CBS owns Man With A Plan outright, giving the network more opportunities for profit on the back end. With the role of ownership increasing with each new television season, it should be interesting to see what other shows see their fates sealed simply because of which studio they hail from.

A stuffed schedule

CBS announced quite a few cancellations, leaving a lot of space for comedy on their schedule. However, they already have quite a few new shows lined up to fill it.

Their upcoming series include a reboot of the comedy Murphy Brown, with Candice Bergen returning to the role that earned her two Golden Globes and five Emmys. One of the most in-demand stars of pilot seasonHappy Endings and New Girl alum Damon Wayans Jr., will star in their multicamera comedy Happy Together.

Cedric the Entertainer and Max Greenfeld lead The Neighborhood, about a sweet Midwesterner who moves to L.A., and Nina Dobrev and Tone Bell star in Fam, about an uptight woman whose dreams of an upstanding life are thrown for a loop when her hot mess of a sister moves in. Although it remains to be seen how successful their new shows will be, the possibility they represented was obviously more appealing to CBS execs than the diminishing returns shown by Kevin Can Wait.