When the new season of “Kevin Can Wait” premiered in September, fans saw a major, and rather sudden, change — Donna, the lead female character portrayed by Erinn Hayes, was killed off the show. This surprising departure left many fans questioning the network’s decision to write off a main character after only one season, and they received a questionable answer.
While Hayes’ character was written out of the show, Leah Remini, who used to star opposite James in “The King of Queens,” was cast as a series regular after guest starring in the first season. At a Television Critics Association panel this summer, Kelly Kahl, CBS Entertainment president, told reporters the reason Remini was kept on the show while Hayes was let go was because Remini and James had more chemistry.
“When everybody collectively saw how Leah and Kevin were together in those last couple episodes, there was an undeniable spark there,” Kahl said. “Kevin, the studios and the network all got together and wanted to keep that magic and chemistry going forward.”
For years, Hollywood has made actresses look disposable when it came to making cast changes in television series, and Hayes isn’t the first actress that has been fired for so-called “chemistry” issues or without a valid explanation. In 2002, Kim Delaney was fired from “CSI: Miami” because there “wasn’t enough dramatic chemistry between Delaney and star David Caruso and the rest of her costars,” according to Entertainment Weekly. And this year, Paula Malcomson was let go from her role as Abby Donovan on Showtime’s hit show, “Ray Donovan,” with no real explanation other than the show had to get more interesting.
These are just a few examples of times women have been let go from their roles for seemingly invalid reasons. Contrarily, when male actors are fired the reasons for termination are very clear and sometimes rather extreme, and there aren’t any blurred lines as to whether or not they should have been fired.
For example, in 2011, Warner Bros. Studio fired Charlie Sheen from “Two and a Half Men” after he refused requests made by the studio and CBS to enter rehabilitation for drug abuse, according to “The Guardian.” In 2007, Isaiah Washington was fired from ABC drama “Grey’s Anatomy” for making homophobic comments about his co-star. And about two weeks ago, Kevin Spacey was fired from “House of Cards” when multiple accusations of sexual assault were made against him.
There’s no doubt these men got what they had coming — each did something horrible and unacceptable. But why the women? Because of bad chemistry or to enhance the plot? Through many years of television, actresses have been written off shows that are centered around male characters, and the reasons women are fired from their roles make talented actresses seem expendable, revealing a male-centric culture in Hollywood.
Similarly, shows named after their male leads expand this male-centric culture further allowing female actors to be removed when something goes wrong. If a show is named after its lead male figure, removing him from the show couldn’t possibly be an option, right? Such was the case of “Ray Donovan” — when chemistry between male and female lead, Ray and Abby, became flat, it was obvious they would cut Abby to keep the show’s namesake.
Yet, when a show is named after a woman, that doesn’t necessarily stop producers from replacing the lead actress. The 1980s sitcom “Valerie” was renamed to “The Hogan Family” after its female lead, Valerie Harper, was axed from the show after a salary dispute. Clearly, the name of a show doesn’t always take priority.
Currently, there are many female led shows including “Orange is the New Black,” “Big Little Lies” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and it’s more than accurate to say Hollywood has become much more inclusive in terms of casting women. Yet, despite the gradually more equal employment of male and female actors, television networks continue to more readily replace a woman when they become dissatisfied with the work of the actors than they would a man. While having chemistry on set is important, it takes two — so why the readiness to replace one actor — a woman — over another? When the show needs to become more interesting, why is the killing of a woman seen as a common ploy?
An issue such as a lack of chemistry between actors can be resolved by teaching actors and working through their differences when playing a role. When choosing a character to write out of a show for the purposes of plot enhancement, writers and directors should remember to consider all possibilities before just committing to killing off a T.V. mom and reassess female characters’ values in the grander artistic scheme. Keeping in mind the idea of equal opportunity employment and hiring actors of any sex, race, religion, etc. isn’t enough — television networks and producers need to consider the importance of equal termination as well.