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Kevin James is back on CBS in a half-hour multicamera playing a married man from New York, but the star insists Kevin Can Wait is not just a rehash of his long-running hit King of Queens. However, it’s safe to say his new series isn’t a complete departure, either.
“You always want to do something different but the same,” James told reporters Wednesday at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour. “It’s the constant battle of my career.”
Instead of the borough of Queens, Kevin Can Wait is set in Long Island and instead of playing a delivery driver, James plays a newly retired cop. Also, for the first time, the actor plays a father of three.
“We definitely wanted to some have some familiar notes in the show,” said executive producer Rock Reuben. “And take them places they haven’t been with Kevin before.”
The show may explore new territory for King of Queens fans, but it’s very familiar territory for both Reuben and James, who also is an executive producer on the series. James and Reuben grew up together on Long Island and based the premise of Kevin Can Wait on real cops they knew.
“These guys are in their forties and they’re home and they have this dream of what they’re going to do together everyday,” said James, “but it doesn’t go that way.”
A big part of that is that James’ character, like many cops in real life, must take side jobs to supplement his income. “I don’t feel that claustrophobic,” he said. “Having one job that you’re just kind of stuck in the whole time … you have nowhere really to go from there.”
Because of the storylines with James’ TV children, particularly his newly engaged eldest daughter, Reuben said there are many corridors to explore on the show, unlike King of Queens. “There’s just so many places to go,” he said. “We can hopefully have the opportunity of doing 200-plus episodes of this show and not getting too burnt out on the premise.”
James’ decision to return to such familiar territory, on CBS in a multicam sitcom shot in front of a live audience, also was influenced by another TV series he was working on that never came to fruition. James had previously been poised to return to the small screen in one of Lionsgate’s 10/90 comedies — a la Charlie Sheen’s Anger Management — but dropped out of the project. “It just didn’t feel right,” he said.
In addition to not having a live audience — “which was a massive thing for me as a performer,” the actor said — the prospect of churning out episodes so quickly felt “a little desperate,” James admitted and compared the production process to a “conveyor belt.”
“It just didn’t feel comfortable and we just kind of pulled away from it and I’m so glad I did,” he said. “Now we’re doing it the right way.”
James and the rest of the creative team have not shied away from the comparisons to King of Queens that Kevin Can Wait will likely draw. In recently released promos for the series, James the actor comes face-to-face with his former TV alter ego on King of Queens — an idea which came from James.
“It was a nice way to kind of hand the baton from one show to the next,” he said, “and make them distinct in a way.”
When asked whether his former King of Queens co-stars Leah Remini and Jerry Stiller would make guest appearances on his new series, James responded “absolutely” but stressed that the timing would have to be right. “We’re going to do that, possibly down the road for sure,” he said. “But right now I want this thing to take on its own life. It can’t help but be compared as it is, so I want to reduce that as much as possible.”
Kevin Can Wait is set to premiere Monday, Sept. 19, at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.
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