Agnes Nixon

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Agnes Nixon
Agnes Nixon 2010 Daytime Emmy Awards 1.jpg
Born Agnes Eckhardt
(1927-12-10) December 10, 1927 (age 86)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Occupation Actress, writer, producer
Years active 1948–present
Spouse(s) Robert Nixon (1951–96)
Children Robert Nixon and 3 others

Agnes Nixon (born Agnes Eckhardt; December 10, 1927)[1] is an American writer and producer. She is best known as the creator of soap operas such as One Life to Live, All My Children, and Loving. Having a key role in the production of these programs, she was either executive producer or consulting producer for all three shows for many years: on One Life to Live from 1968 to 1973, All My Children from 1970 to 1981, and Loving from 1993 to 1995.

Nixon continued to write for All My Children with Wisner Washam until 1983, and again with him and Lorraine Broderick from 1988 to 1992, continuing on as a consultant in recurring capacities to date. From 1970 until 1989, every episode of All My Children was written by either Nixon or her protégés Washam and Broderick, although Nixon's role with One Life to Live was more limited once she surrendered the day-to-day aspects of the show in 1975. Because of her long career and the number of successful shows she created or was a part of, she is often referred to as the "Queen" of the modern soap opera.[2] Her creations and her writing have had the most effect on modern audiences, second only to her mentor Irna Phillips.[citation needed]

Writing legacy[edit]

Early career[edit]

Nixon attended Northwestern University, where she was a member of Alpha Chi Omega sorority. She began her career in soaps working for Irna Phillips. Phillips' other protégé around that time was William J. Bell, who went on to become a noted daytime writer in his own right, creating The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful.

Under Phillips' tutelage, Nixon was a writer on Woman in White and As the World Turns, and was head writer for Search for Tomorrow, Guiding Light, and, notably, Another World, where she created the character of Rachel Davis Cory, an early prototype of one of her more lasting creations, Erica Kane.

During her time on Guiding Light, Nixon is believed to have written the first medical-related storyline on a soap opera. A friend of Nixon's had died from cervical cancer, and Nixon wanted to do something to educate women about getting a pap smear. She wrote it into Guiding Light by having the lead character, Bert Bauer, experience a cancer scare. This storyline aired in 1962; Nixon had to work around some difficulties of getting this storyline to air, as she could not make use of the words "cancer," "uterus", or "pap test." However, after this storyline the number of women who took a pap smear surged dramatically. In 2002, she received a special Sentinel for Health "pioneer award" for her work on Guiding Light.

When she left Another World, she left the tutelage of Phillips (and the restrictions of sponsor Procter & Gamble) to create her own shows.

One Life to Live[edit]

By the mid-1960s, Nixon had created the bible for what would become All My Children. ABC executives passed on the program, due to contractual issues with sponsor Lever Brothers, who sponsored a program that All My Children would replace in its time slot. Consequently, they asked her to create a show that would reflect a more "contemporary" tone; that creation was One Life to Live. Nixon, "tired of the restraints imposed by the WASPy, non-controversial nature of daytime drama, presented the network with a startlingly original premise and cast of characters. Although the show was built along the classic soap formula of a rich family and a poor family, One Life to Live emphasized the ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of the people of Llanview, Pennsylvania, a fictional Main Line suburb of Philadelphia."[3]

Premiering in 1968, One Life to Live initially reflected changing social structures and attitudes. The first few years of the show were rich in issue stories and characters including Jewish characters, Polish-American families, and the first African-American leads, Carla Gray (Ellen Holly), and Ed Hall (Al Freeman, Jr.). Gray's story, for example, had her develop from a character who was passing as white to one who embodied black pride, with white and black lovers along the way, to antagonize racists. One Life to Live has been called "the most peculiarly American of soap operas: the first serial to present a vast array of ethnic types, broad comic situations, a constant emphasis on social issues, and strong male characters."[4]

On July 21 and 22, 2008, Nixon appeared on One Life to Live for its 40th anniversary, portraying observer "Agnes" in a storyline in which the show's central original character, Nixon's Victoria Lord (Erika Slezak), visits Heaven.[5][6][7][8]

On January 12, 2012, she appeared in the final episode in another art imitating life scene, as Agnes Dixon, the creator of axed soap within the soap "Fraternity Row".[9]

All My Children[edit]

With the success of One Life to Live, Nixon was given the greenlight for All My Children, which began as a half-hour soap opera in 1970. The show was successful from its beginning, combining its study of social clashes with acting talent including Ruth Warrick (Phoebe Tyler) and Rosemary Prinz (Penny Hughes). Nixon helmed the writing team for over a decade, until 1983.

Nixon had the most impact on All My Children; her long tenure as writer helped shaped the show and its characters. She again introduced many social issues into storylines, including the anti-war movement, homosexuality, the AIDS epidemic, and American television's first onscreen abortion (by character Erica Kane).[10][11][12] (The abortion storyline was effectively undone in 2006 by then-head writer Megan McTavish, with the revelation that Erica's unborn fetus was secretly transplanted into a surrogate and successfully delivered – a procedure that is medically impossible.)

All My Children was a half-hour show for the first seven years of its run, and virtually no recordings of those episodes survive; ABC erased the tapes of those early episodes so the reels could be reused. When ABC went to Nixon and said that they wanted her to expand the show to an hour in 1975, she resisted due to her own creative/quality concerns but later agreed under the condition that the tapes of the show would be archived and preserved by the network. Episodes began to be saved in 1976, and All My Children expanded to an hour on April 25, 1977.

In 1992, ABC executives decided that All My Children needed new blood and promoted another Nixon protégé, Megan McTavish, to the position of head writer. (Nixon continued to be involved with the show, but wanted to take a step back from the grueling day-to-day task of being a head writer.) McTavish made some important changes by re-writing major storylines. Most notably, when the show debuted in 1970, Erica Kane (Susan Lucci)'s father had simply abandoned his wife, Mona (Frances Heflin), to be with another woman. McTavish changed history so that Erica had been raped by a friend of her father's and had a child, Kendall Hart (Sarah Michelle Gellar, later portrayed by Alicia Minshew). McTavish was dismissed in early-1995 and Lorraine Broderick returned as head writer, working alongside Nixon, in an attempt to return the show to its socially relevant, character-driven roots. Broderick, with Nixon at her side, went on to accept three consecutive Daytime Emmy awards for Outstanding Writing Team. Still, in late-1997, ABC abruptly decided to bring back McTavish. This move led to Nixon's electing to step back from her story consulting role.

In early-1999, McTavish was dismissed for the second time and Nixon was again asked to take over the headwriting reins at All My Children. Nixon was aware that this would probably be her last major stint as head writer in daytime television and wanted to leave a final legacy. As it had always been Nixon's intention for her soaps to deal with important social issues, Nixon decided to forever change the landscape of the show by having a major character "come out". (Although the show had gay characters in the past, they had always been supporting players.) In 2000, Erica's daughter, Bianca Montgomery (Eden Riegel), returned to Pine Valley with a secret, and for months the audience witnessed the character's trying to keep her sexuality a secret from everyone around her. The character was eventually revealed to be a lesbian. Although this was at first met with criticism, it renewed interest in the show and Eden Riegel gained a large fanbase.[13] This storyline led to All My Children's winning a casting Artios award, a GLAAD Media Award,[14] and a nomination for a Daytime Emmy for Best Drama Series.

On January 5, 2005, Nixon appeared onscreen to celebrate the 35th anniversary of All My Children. She played "Agnes Eckhardt" (Nixon's maiden name). The character was introduced as a longstanding board member of Pine Valley Hospital. The episode included several in-jokes about the behind the scenes running of the show. For example, while Agnes was speaking, Opal Cortlandt (Jill Larson) said, "The way she's talking you would think she built the town with her own bare hands." Verla Grubbs (Carol Burnett) spoke a line of dialogue to Bianca Montgomery wherein she confirmed, "I've been following your story since the beginning!" (Carol Burnett admits to having been a fan of the show since it debuted in 1970). This episode was also very significant as it was the last screen appearance of original cast member Ruth Warrick before her death ten days later; Nixon appeared at an onscreen memorial service for Warrick's character Phoebe in May 2005.

In 2003, Nixon appeared in an episode of A&E Biography about All My Children.[citation needed] On November 12, 2008, she appeared on All My Children's 10,000th episode as "Aggie", the ghost of the woman who founded Pine Valley in 1870. She was carrying a large book entitled "All My Children" and knew everyone's history, mentioning her dear friends Myrtle Fargate and Palmer Cortlandt. The purpose of her visit was to assure the traumatized town residents that Pine Valley could rise up out of the ashes after a series of tornadoes brought death and devastation. At the end of the episode, Erica said, "We'll rise from this even stronger, the great and the least," followed by, "The rich and the poor," from Adam; "The weak and the strong," from Jesse; "In joy and in sorrow," from Tad; and, "In tragedy and triumph," from Joe. At the end of the speech, Aggie told the characters, "You are all my children," and blew a kiss to the viewers.

On December 19, 2008, Nixon appeared on All My Children's tribute to long-time resident Myrtle Fargate, portrayed by Eileen Herlie, who died on October 8, 2008. As the characters closest to Myrtle celebrated her life in a room decorated as a carnival, Agnes Nixon entered and blew a kiss toward Myrtle's portrait.[5][6][7][8]

Nixon is set to reprise the "Agnes Eckhardt" character some time in the final weeks of the series, before the show moves online.[15]

Loving / The City[edit]

In 1983, Nixon began another series called Loving, which she co-created with Douglas Marland. The half-hour program debuted on ABC in June of that year and was set in the fictional town of Corinth, Pennsylvania. Described as a "classic soap opera for the 1980s", Loving never was able to gain a foothold in a crowded daytime schedule and ended its run in 1995. Nixon was given co-creator credit for Loving's continuation series, The City, and remained its creative consultant until its cancellation in 1997 due to low ratings. The City tied with Loving for last place in the ratings its first year and finished second-to-last its second, finishing slightly ahead of the debuting Sunset Beach.

Awards and recognition[edit]

  • In 2012, Nixon was featured in the documentary Soap Life, to share her valued perspective on the sudden decline of daytime dramas.
  • In 1992, she was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.
  • She was inducted into the Soap Opera Hall of Fame at a Planet Hollywood restaurant in 1994.
  • She received the Trustees Award for Continued Excellence from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in 1981.
  • At one point, Nixon raised eyebrows and caused a great deal of upset in the writers' circle by her adamant refusal to join the Writers Guild of America. As the executive producer of her shows, she feared that a writers' strike would force her to stop her writing activities but still be required to produce the show. In spite of this, she has won five Writers Guild of America Awards for Best Written Daytime Serial.
  • Primetime Emmy: Outstanding Program Achievement in Daytime Drama – One Life to Live – shared with Doris Quinlan.
  • It was announced in May 2010 that Nixon would receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences during the ceremonies of the 37th annual Daytime Emmy Awards in June 2010.[16]

Head writer tenures[edit]

Preceded by
none
Head Writer of Search for Tomorrow
(with Irving Vendig)

September 1951 - 1956
Succeeded by
Charles Gussman
Preceded by
Irna Phillips
Head Writer of Guiding Light
1958–1966
Succeeded by
David Lesan
Julian Funt [1]
Preceded by
James Lipton
Head Writer of Another World
November 1965 – Fall 1968
Succeeded by
Robert Cenedella
Preceded by
none
Head Writer of One Life to Live
(with G. Russell 1971–1973)

1968–1973
Succeeded by
Gordon Russell
Preceded by
none
Head Writer of All My Children
1970–1983
Succeeded by
Wisner Washam
Preceded by
Douglas Marland
Head Writer of Loving
1985–1987,1993-1994
Succeeded by
Millee Taggart
Preceded by
Margaret DePriest
Head Writer of All My Children
1989–1992
Succeeded by
Megan McTavish
Preceded by
Megan McTavish
Interim Head Writer of All My Children
April–June 1995
Succeeded by
Lorraine Broderick
Preceded by
Megan McTavish
Head Writer of All My Children
1999–2001
Succeeded by
Jean Passanante

All My Children, story guidance[edit]

In addition to her head writing terms, Nixon has also served as the Executive Story Consultant with other Head Writers from All My Children at various times throughout its run and again with its revival:

One Life to Live, story guidance[edit]

With the revival of One Life to Live, Nixon served as the Executive Story Consultant with other Head Writers.

  • with Thom Racina and Susan Bedsow Horgan from April 2013 to July 2013
  • with Thom Racina, Susan Bedsow Horgan and Jessica Klein in July 2013
  • with Thom Racina and Jessica Klein from July to August 2013

References[edit]

  1. ^ Archive of American Television/Official page – Agnes Nixon – Archive Interview Part 1 of 5 on YouTube
  2. ^ "NIXON, AGNES: U.S. Writer-Producer". museum.tv. Archived from the original on July 13, 2007. Retrieved August 16, 2007. 
  3. ^ Schemering, Christopher. The Soap Opera Encyclopedia, September 1985, pg. 158–159, ISBN 0-345-32459-5 (1st edition)
  4. ^ The Soap Opera Encyclopedia, pg. 158.
  5. ^ a b "One Life to Live: Big Returns and Plots For 40th Anniversary!". Soaps.com. June 10, 2008. Archived from the original on August 5, 2008. Retrieved August 5, 2008. 
  6. ^ a b Logan, Michael (June 11, 2008). "Soaps News: One Life Celebrates No. 40 with Blasts from the Past". TVGuide.com. Archived from the original on August 1, 2008. Retrieved August 5, 2008. 
  7. ^ a b One Life to Live recap (7/21/08, 40th Anniversary) – Soaps.com
  8. ^ a b One Life to Live recap (7/22/08, 40th Anniversary) – Soaps.com
  9. ^ Video on YouTube
  10. ^ Lenhart, Jennifer. "The Last Taboo". Soap Opera Digest. Archived from the original on December 26, 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-04. 
  11. ^ Gary Warner, All My Children: The Complete Family Scrapbook, p. 15-119, ISBN 1-881649-45-8.
  12. ^ Simon, p. 148.
  13. ^ Kregloe, Karman (March 23, 2006). "Soaps Come Clean About Gay Teens (page 3)". AfterElton.com. Retrieved August 9, 2007. 
  14. ^ "AMC's Bianca Storyline Applauded". soapcentral.com. Archived from the original on November 5, 2007. Retrieved October 4, 2007. 
  15. ^ All My Children: Creator Agnes Nixon to Appear Before ABC Finale. TVseriesfinale.com. Retrieved August 8, 2011.
  16. ^ NOMINATIONS: 37th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards, welovesoaps.net, Roger Newcomb—writer, May 12, 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-12.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Regis Philbin
Recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmy Awards
2010
Succeeded by
Alex Trebek
Pat Sajak