Simpsons Headed This Way

By Melanie Lee Johnston

© Honolulu Advetiser, January 6, 2000.

Bart and Homer Simpson are coming to Hawaii. And the writer whose script is bringing them here, Carolyn Omine, is the only Islander ever to write for The Simpsons, one of the most popular sitcoms on television.

Growing up on Oahu, Omine originally dreamed of becoming a rock singer. Strictly by chance, she discovered her true talent was making people laugh.

After graduating from Aiea High School, Omine sang in the band The Movies, playing popular 80s haunts like The Wave, while studying art at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. After two years, she transferred to the University of California at Los Angeles because the campus was off Sunset Boulevard. "I thought it would be a good place for my rock stardom to begin," she recalled.

When she arrived in Los Angeles 17 years ago, Omine saw an ad in the school newspaper inviting students to join a new improv group.

Responding to that ad changed her life. The group wrote and performed sketches for a show they called Midnight Madness. "I never wanted to write before I wrote," Omine said. "I never aspired to it. But doing improv, I could tell that I could write comedy."

Next came a place in The Groundlings, L.A.'s legendary improvisation group whose ranks included Lisa Kudrow of Friends fame.

But it was a connection she made during Midnight Madness that would lead to her big break. The sister of a fellow performer was a television producer.

Omine's day job was as assistant to literary agent Robb Rothman, who represents high-profile TV writers.

"This producer, Nancy Stein, called my boss checking on the availability of a writer for a new show," Omine said. Stein told Omine's boss she'd be willing to read a spec script if Omine wrote one.

A spec script is an original episode of an established television series, written on "speculation"--the calling card for hopeful TV writers.

After a short bout with writer's block, Omine produced a script that landed her a job on Stand By Your Man, featuring Rosie O'Donnell and Melissa Gilbert and she's worked every season since, though never for a blockbuster hit.

Facing network executives meddling in story lines, actors paying little attention to scripts and a growing disenchantment with the people she worked for, Omine was considering giving up.

During this time, she was flying to Oahu on many weekends to be with her ailing mother, Yaeko, who was hospitalized, and with her father, Art, who owns an auto shop in Kalihi. In 1997, her mother died.

It was, she said, a bad year. I said, "I just can't do this."

She vowed that unless she was offered a job on a good show during the spring 1998 staffing season, she would leave TV writing behind. "I was really tired of writing things that I didn't believe in," she said.

Omine met with several show producers, but no job offers followed.

Then a writer she knew at The Simpsons encouraged executive producer Mike Scully to read one of her scripts. "It was a long shot," she said. "I had every friend I knew chanting and praying for me."

A month later, in the summer of 1998 — an eternity in the TV staffing season — Scully invited her to join his writing staff. "This is the first time I've felt like a writer, even though I've been writing on staffs for almost seven years," she said.

With alumni such as Conan O'Brien, The Simpsons staff is legendary for being highly educated and highly discriminating.

"At first I was intimidated beyond belief because I'm the only woman in the writers' room, I didn't go to an Ivy League school -- and some of these guys didn't just go to Harvard, they went to Harvard at 16 and graduated at 20 -- and my resume was exclusively schlocky sitcoms."

But she has quickly adapted to the rapid-fire pace of 15 bright minds huddled together each day from 10 a.m. to nightfall, competing to conjure up the funniest stories and jokes. The entire group fleshes out episode ideas, then a writer is sent off to create a first draft.

That script is brought into the room, where everyone contributes ideas, jokes and dialogue until the script is transformed from the comedy equivalent of turning a Timex into a finely tuned Rolex.

Though she's been contributing to scripts since she came on staff, Omine got her first assignment eight months ago -- the script that became "Little Big Mom," airing Sunday.

"I'm having the time of my life," she said. "It's a show written and completely controlled by writers."

"At the same time," she said, "It's not the most relaxing place to work. That's what's kept the quality so high. People who've been on the show for nine years still hustle as hard as newbies. I'm getting used to the pressure."

Omine's script deals an incident in which Bart and Homer come to believe they have Hansen's Disease and end up visiting the peninsula on Molokai where people with what was once called leprosy used to be interned for life.

She says she dealt with the karmic debt of taking The Simpsons' trademark light-hearted approach to a serious subject by making a donation to the Leprosy Foundation. "I think people understand that The Simpsons has always played fast and hard with reality."

Melanie Lee Johnston is the Arizona-based author of the upcoming book, Getting in the Hollywood Writing Game: How Television's Leading Writers Wrote Their Way to the Top. See excerpts at

Transcribed by Laniakea

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Last updated on January 10, 2000 by Jouni Paakkinen (