Kevin James returns to TV with ‘Kevin Can Wait’

Kevin James returns to television Monday with “Kevin Can Wait,” his first regular role since starring on “The King of Queens” from 1998 to 2007 as bumbling dad Doug Heffernan. On his new CBS laffer, he plays a bumbling dad named Kevin Gable. Since “The King of Queens” ended, James has ascended to movie stardom, albeit with six Razzie nominations to show for it, including four for his work in 2015. He starred in 11 films from 2007 to 2015; ten grossed over $100 million worldwide, including four for which he received sole top billing.

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CBS is betting on that bankability to draw in viewers. The 51-year-old James plays a retiree — with the same first name — and posters simply display his image alongside the tagline, “Hello again, America.” As the big four commercial broadcast networks increasingly develop high-concept sitcoms in the hopes of piquing the interest of viewers who are flocking to cable for edgier fare, “Kevin Can Wait” represents a throwback and CBS is positioning it to become the successor to “The Big Bang Theory” as the network’s flagship comedy.

Set to air for most of the season on Mondays at 8:00 as “The King of Queens” did for the majority of its run, “Kevin Can Wait” premieres tonight at 8:30, leading out of “The Big Bang Theory,” which will air on Mondays for the next month before moving back to its normal Thursday timeslot. Reviews thus far for “Kevin Can Wait” have resulted in a preliminary score on Metacritic of just 39, indicating “generally unfavorable reviews,” although neither “The King of Queens” nor “The Big Bang Theory” was a critical smash out of the gate (or ever), with respective scores of 51 and 57.

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James created the new show with fellow “The King of Queens” executive producers Bruce Helford and Rob Reuben. Rounding out the “Kevin Can Wait” executive producers are another from “The King of Queens” in Jeff Sussman and pilot helmer Andy Fickman, who directed James last year both in the film “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2” and an episode of the children’s sitcom “Liv and Maddie.” “Kevin Can Wait” is shot with a multi-camera setup like “The King of Queens” and reteams James with supporting actor Gary Valentine.

If history really is repeating itself, “Kevin Can Wait” can look forward to awards recognition in addition to good Nielsen ratings. James scored the sole Emmy nomination for “The King of Queens” in 2006 for its penultimate season, losing to Tony Shalhoub on his third of three wins for “Monk.” The only other industry nomination for “The King of Queens” came from the Art Directors Guild for their 2003 multi-camera production design.

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With the decline of the laugh-track, studio-shot sitcom, CBS has come to dominate the Emmy races for Best Multi-Camera Cinematography and Best Multi-Camera Editing since “The King of Queens” was on the air. So these might be the best bets at a nomination for “Kevin Can Wait.” There is space for it, as the 2016 categories respectively featured the final seasons of “The Soul Man” and “Mike & Molly” as nominees; editing nominee “Horace and Pete” is also not expected to compete at the next Emmys, if ever again.

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