first gained our attention as the pop-culture obsessed Kelly Kapoor on The Office. In 2011, she wrote the book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). Now the Cambridge, Mass. native is the creator, executive producer and star of the FOX comedy The Mindy Project (Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m.) We caught up with Kaling at the Television Critics Association Press Tour in Pasadena last week where she talked about what it’s been like to run her own show, why the show broke up Mindy and Josh and if we’ll see Kelly back on The Office.
What’s been the biggest surprise to you about being an executive producer on The Mindy Project?
Kaling: I was used to fighting to sort of get my way on The Office and on this show I’m just as vehement, but I actually get to have it the way I want it. I’m getting used to being very careful about that. OK, if I say it’s going to be this way, then I have to really stand by it. That’s been wonderful and a little frightening.
Your show was picked up for a full season but is still struggling a bit in the ratings. Do you think about how to get more people watching the show?
Kaling: Anytime I start thinking about how to control people watching it I think it’s sort of a disappointing and ultimately not-that-smart path. The only thing that we can ever do is, “OK, I only get to live one life on this planet so just make a show—no matter what, no matter how long it lasts on the air—that I’m so psyched about and that I think is so funny episode to episode. Just make a fun show that all of my peers and snobby friends love.” And by the way, I’m learning so much. [When the show premiered], I didn’t know what was going to work. Now my staff is a bunch of nerds and so am I. So we really study the episodes and try to find out what’s working. The good news these episodes in January and February are really a result of what we’ve learned.
What are your goals for the show?
Kaling: I’m as competitive as the next person. I want this to be a hit show. I don’t want to do a show that is a niche boutique show. I grew up loving hit shows. Cheers I loved. On The Office when we were like a huge show, that made me feel great. I don’t think you can con your way into being a hit show. We just got to do it the hard way. I think if we just keep making it, it will come and I feel so confident about it. We have amazing episodes. The writing is getting better and better. The guest stars are sick. I’m so proud of the people who want to do the show, who call me up and ask to do the show. [Upcoming guest stars include Allison Williams of Girls, BJ Novak of The Office and Seth Rogen].
Mindy and Josh (Tommy Dewey) broke up, but many fans had become quite attached to Josh. Why did you decide to break them up?
Kaling: Tommy Dewey was the best, and what a surprise I thought. We started the show and she’s single and then it sort of seemed anti-intuitive, even to me, that I suddenly then got into a relationship. And it wasn’t Bridget Jones. It was this is a girl who is dating someone seriously and moreover he was so funny. And it’s not often you see a tall blond man who has the comedy chops of a legitimately funny guy—that’s why he kind of stayed as long as he did. Tommy is going to be in some amazing comedy pilot and become a superstar, but we love working with him. He’s so fun. He actually went to college with Ellie Kemper [Erin on The Office. Kemper also guest starred as Josh’s girlfriend on The Mindy Project].
Will we see Josh again?
Kaling: We’ve written him into an episode this spring, so we hope he comes back.
What about Mindy and the rest of the doctors’ animosity towards midwives? What’s that about?
Kaling: My mom [who was an OB/GYN] was friends with a lot of midwives and a lot of nurses and what’s interesting is they thought we were coming down very hard on midwives, when in fact the characters who are very flawed themselves and arrogant are coming down hard on these arrogant male midwives, which is such a rarity. This is such a caricature of midwives. Mark Duplass [who plays midwife Brendan] was dripping in sarcasm. What’s good is they actually end up being very deft and really good at their jobs.
The Office ends its run this May. Will we see Kelly Kapoor back on the show?
Kaling: I hope so. I had lunch with Greg Daniels [The Office executive producer] yesterday and we were talking about it. The Office was the writers on my show’s favorite show before they came and did this. They were like, ‘Please go do The Office’ because they think it’s so fun and they think it’s helpful for our show to have me on another show, and I agree with them. So if my schedule allows I would love to do that.