My Favorite Scene: 'The Mindy Project' Showrunner on the Biggest Moment in the Show's History
By Stacy Lambe
No one loves a great scene more than the person who first dreamed it up -- the writer. We're asking iconic shows' creators and writers to tell ET all about getting to see their most cherished moment on their series make it from script to screen.
As The Mindy Project reaches a TV milestone -- 100 episodes -- showrunner Matt Warburton looks back on the episode he wrote, "C Is for Coward" from season four, when Mindy (Mindy Kaling) has her baby, Leo. In the highly anticipated episode, Mindy is trapped on the subway with best friend Morgan (Ike Barinholtz) and her nemesis Brendan (Mark Duplass) as Danny (Chris Messina) comes "running down the railroad tracks like an action hero," Warburton tells ET. "It's really fun because it brought together so many elements the fans of the show love: the Mindy-Danny relationship, the Mindy-Morgan relationship, we got to have a great guest star in the scene and it was one of the biggest moments in the history of the show."
In a conversation about the episode, which he says was important to the series, Warburton explains the often overlooked connection to the pilot and how they avoided troupes of giving birth on TV:
When it came to having the birth story line, people told us we were nuts. They said, "This is a mistake a lot of shows make this point in their run." So, yeah, if we were going to go out, we wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. Luckily, we're still on.
In the pilot of the show, when Mindy and Danny are really at odds, the moment Mindy gives birth is something they talked about. They say, "You need to have a brave guy who will be there for you and tell you you're beautiful and so forth when you're pushing." I don't think we, when the pilot was made, knew quite how meaningful the Mindy-Danny relationship was going to be. And then, without copying the language exactly, we see Danny grow into that guy he was describing.
Introducing the baby was a big moment and we wanted to treat it carefully because our audience is kind of young and a lot of them don't think of themselves as "mom-ready" yet. And it came in two phases. First, we wanted to establish what it was like for this insane couple with two very different philosophies to raise a baby. We had to service that and we had a lot of fun with that. And once they were broken up, we realized now we have a single mom with a little baby back on the dating scene. And that's when Mindy herself was extremely excited, because not many people show that.
What was great was that we got to go back to the beginning of the show when Mindy was dating different guys and explore that -- but show how it's different now. She's not just picking a guy for her. She has to pick someone who is also compatible with Leo. We didn't know what was going to be fun right away, but we were confident that with these characters the baby was going to be additive to the show and not tie us down, especially now that they're broken up. When the kid isn't there, you're not really worried about him because there are two parents sharing custody. So you assume he is with Danny and then you can tell a story about dating or work or something like that, which basically just expanded what we could talk about. (Mindy has pointed out that it's a little bit of a double standard when it comes to Mindy and Leo. People ask "Where's the baby?" with a mom a lot more than they are with a dad. Mindy made the joke once, "Where's Leo? He's playing with all the kids of male-led shows.")
For our show, we want to -- whether it's a sad moment or a happy moment -- just deliver the most audience-pleasing version of it. I would say the counterexample to this episode is when Mindy and Danny break up later in the series. We made the episode where they break up a flashback to the day they first met. We wrote a really tough fight scene the previous episode that I think was really hard for the audience to watch; we knew people were going to be mad at us anyway. So we decided find a way to make the breakup episode fun and happy, so we see them before they've even gotten to know each other, and use the actual breakup as the bookend. I would say with the birth, it's such a happy moment, even though it's painful for Mindy physically. We felt like we wanted to get all the fun out of it and just basically cut the messy part. So when you finally see the baby, it's all cleaned up and nice and swaddled.
The thing about our show is that we always want to balance real emotional stuff that's going to be relatable to the audiences with pretty broad comedy. I was always proud of this episode because we needed to deliver big at the moment because it was such an important moment, and I think we did.
All 100 episodes of The Mindy Project are now streaming on Hulu.