TCA 2012: Mindy Kaling on Rom-Coms, Guest Stars and 'Office' Reunions

"The Mindy Project" writer, producer and star joined her cast for a wide-ranging conversation about the show, its inspiration and the bold-faced names heading to her set.
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"The Mindy Project" panel at summer TCA

Mindy Kaling is taking on things she knows well — careers that run in the family, romantic comedies and the office.

Her single camera comedy, which is being paired with New Girl on Fox's fall schedule, centers on Mindy, who despite having a successful career as a gynecologist, is unlucky in love and desperately needs to get her personal life on track before her friends and colleagues are forced to stage an intervention.

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Kaling joined her cast at the Television Critics Association's semi-annual TV confab Monday morning to discuss inspirations, cliches, guest stars and more. Here are the highlights:

Doctor, Doctor

Kaling made her character an OBGYN because it is a field she knows well. After all, her mother is a gynecologist back in Boston. “We were on the same sleep-deprived schedules,” says Kaling of some of the similarities of their career paths. She acknowledges her parents would have liked to see her pursue a profession in medicine off-screen, but, she says, “I was bad at science.” To hear her tell it, she was “largely silent until I was 15 or 16.” She continues, “I was always a comedy nerd. I’d sneak downstairs to watch Saturday Night Live and Kids in the Hall.

Cliché, Smiche

Kaling, a self-described romantic, knows the premise of her series has been tried before. And that’s just fine with her. “You don’t not want to do something that’s relatable just because it may be cliché,” she says, adding: “Formula isn’t bad if its executed at a high level; it can be kind of cozy and nice.” What's more, this is not only her reality but also that of so many of her friends – and now, she hopes, her viewers. "I'm someone who loves romance ... most people who grew up as nerds love romance," she goes on. "As a comedy writer on The Office, so much of the show was disguising your true feelings and your romantic feelings because it was a mock-documentary. I think a lot of this is a reaction to that."

Doing it All

Kaling admits she’s not sure how she’s going to handle wearing all of these hats – star, writer and producer. And while she won’t be in every scene – the reason she says she has hired such a big cast -- she will be in most. Warbuton jokes that he’s “downloaded her brain,” and her co-star Ike Barinholtz adds: “We can also hologram her Tupac-style.” All that is clear is that Kaling is thrilled to be where she is: “Every day I wake up, and I’m like, ‘I’m the star of my own show and it had my name on it. I’m going to turn into a monster, I can’t handle it.”

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An Office Reunion

Kaling confirms that she will be heading back to The Office this fall. She’ll be in the comedy’s premiere and potentially another episode. “I got so attached to that character,” she says, adding: “It’s going to be fun to see what’s going to happen to Kelly.” What’s more, Office honcho Greg Daniels is heading to her set to direct an episode of The Mindy Project. Though she and showrunner Matt Warbuton are tight-lipped on names, they did say that some of the folks in her pilot could be coming back, leaving those in the audience to guess -- and hope -- they were referring to Office's Ed Helms.

Homage to Nora Ephron

While the writers are devastated by the loss of Ephron, who gets name-checked in the Mindy Project pilot, don’t expect the show or its actors to acknowledge her passing. Kaling and her showrunner says that Mindy Project will play more as an homage to Ephron's work.