Verne Gay Verne Gay

Gay is the television critic.

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. Mindy Kaling -- you know her as Kelly Kapoor from "The Office" -- is what Hollywood refers to as a "multihyphenate," or someone who can develop, write and star in her own show. Multihyphenates are rare but esteemed -- in part because they do the job of three -- and Kaling, 33, has suddenly found herself as one of TV's most esteemed.

She wrote a couple dozen episodes of "The Office," earned executive producer stripes there, and then signed on to develop a new comedy for Fox that may well be network TV's most anticipated of the fall season.

"The Mindy Project" is not only eponymous but to a certain degree autobiographical. As she explained to TV writers here Monday, the "project" refers to the lead character's efforts at self-improvement. Mindy of "The Mindy Project" is a doctor in a hospital who's trying to balance work and relationships and instead bobbles both -- often badly.

Kaling described the character as sort of a female "Michael Scott . . . she wants to just be a better person. . . . In some ways, she's, I think, a great doctor, kind of hypereducated, but wants to be a better catch, wants to be a better friend, wants to work out, wants to actually read books instead of magazines and things like that, which is something I also strive for a little bit."

The autobiographical part, though, ends abruptly there: "My parents would have loved for me to have been a doctor, but I was bad at science, and . . . I was silent until I was like about 15 or 16 years old. But I was always a comedy nerd, like a silent comedy nerd -- stay up late, sneak downstairs, watch 'Saturday Night Live' and 'Kids in the Hall' and things like that."

Kaling, meanwhile, said she'll return to "The Office" next season -- though most likely only for a brief cameo here and there: "I got so attached to that character even though I have like a line every episode."

Britney-Simon lovefest

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Britney Spears' so-far brief tenure on "The X Factor" has been hounded by a few reports of backstage -- or rather onstage -- tantrums, the occasional walk-off and friction with Simon Cowell.

But in her first extended meet-and-greet with TV writers at Monday's press tour session, she says she's happy with the show, and probably of greater importance, happy with Cowell.

"I was such a fan of the show, and actually my makeup artist was the makeup artist for Simon," Spears said. "And we talked about it a couple of times when I was on tour, but really never took it seriously until she went back and she started working for him, and then we just all met up, and it made sense. I adore Simon, and it was something I really wanted to do."

Spears also said this (via satellite with the rest of the judges from Miami): "His show has been really good for me to do because I've, you know, been able to help this talent come in and, you know, achieve their dream, and I can relate to them on such a level because I started out at such a young age. I know the foundation and the depth of what you go through to achieve your dream and doing this. So being able to do this has been, if anything, a great, great experience for me."

Cowell responded: "Britney, I'm not going to lie about this. I always said the No. 1 person I always wanted on one of these shows was Britney because I was fascinated with her as a person. You know that. As a pop star, and there's something intriguing about her. I didn't know her as a person, and I thought it would be interesting to have her on one of these shows so you see another side of her, and she's a really, really good judge."