We're many years into the Cult of the Showrunner on TV and nobody would argue, I don't think, that in the vast majority of cases, TV is a writer-producer's medium.
And nobody would argue, I suspect, with the notion that on FOX's "The Mindy Project," the driving creative force is Mindy Kaling, who is the creator and star and leads an extraordinary strong writing stuff of comedy veterans.
With that focus, I've often felt that one of the industry's least understood figures is the directing-producer. Sometimes, like with a Pamela Fryman on "How I Met Your Mother," that person may end up directing ever episode of a series, so their name is easy to notice and retain. Other times, the directing producer may be a frequent director on a series, but they aren't behind the camera on every episode, which makes their involvement a bit nebulous in the mind of some viewers.
Michael Spiller is the producing director on FOX's "The Mindy Project." He didn't direct the original pilot and he's only the credited directed on maybe a third of the episodes, but he's been with the show since before it premiered and he's had day-to-day contributions ever since.
Spiller got his start as a cinematographer on Hal Hartley's '80s and '90s films and made the transition to directing on HBO's "Sex and the City." Since then, he has worked as a frequent director on some of the best single-cam comedies of recent years, including "Scrubs," "Better Off Ted" and "Modern Family," for which he won an Emmy.
"The Mindy Project" wraps its second season on Tuesday (May 6) night with a finale that continues the spring's on-and-off budding romance between Kaling's Mindy and Chris Messina's Danny. The finale even takes the show to a very unexpected place: New York City. Yes, "Mindy" has always been set in New York City, but it's a Hollywood Backlot version of New York City and it's almost shocking to see Kaling and Messina out in locations that couldn't have been faked in the Valley. It's a very satisfying conclusion to a season that has seen "Mindy" become an increasingly consistent pleasure within FOX's Tuesday lineup, if you've been able to keep track of when it's on.
Last week I got on the phone with Spiller to discuss the role of the director-producer, his part in the show's comedic evolution and the opportunity to shoot in New York City, if only for a single day.
It's a different look at the inner-workings of "The Mindy Project"...