Family & Companions
Arguably the single most influential force in the daytime soap opera medium, Agnes Nixon was a protégé of the genre's creator, the legendary Irna Phillips, and was herself a celebrated creator, writer, producer and packager of daytime dramas. Not only a pioneer of the genre, Nixon forever changed the face of daytime TV by infusing a mosaic of ethnic and religious faces, infusing humor and tackling potent social issues, such as abortion and AIDS. Among the more memorable characters she created over her decades-long career were two of the genre's best known and beloved female leads: Erica Kane (Susan Lucci) of "All My Children" (ABC, 1970-2011) and Victoria Lord Buchanan (Erika Slezak) of "One Life to Live" (ABC, 1968-2012). Among the other shows she created or co-created were "As the World Turns" (CBS, 1956-2010), "Search for Tomorrow" (CBS, 1951-1982; NBC, 1982-86), "Loving" (ABC, 1983-1995) and "The City" (ABC, 1995-97), as well as writing for "The Guiding Light" (CBS, 1952-2009) and "Another World" (NBC, 1964-1999). Among Nixon's countless honors were five Daytime Emmys, five Writers Guild Awards and a Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award. A gifted writer who revolutionized the genre in which she worked, Agnes Nixon was one of the most influential people in the history of television and without a doubt "The Queen of the Modern Soap Opera."
Born Dec. 10, 1927 in Chicago, IL, Agnes Eckhardt attended Northwestern University and decided she wanted to pursue a career as a writer. She would later take her husband's last name, Nixon, personally and professionally. Her father arranged an interview with Irna Phillips, the Chicago-based woman who had created the radio soap opera genre. Nixon's father had hoped Phillips would dissuade his daughter. Instead, Phillips hired the novice writer after reading one of her scripts. Nixon began by writing dialogue for the radio soap "Women in White." In 1951, Nixon and Phillips co-created "Search for Tomorrow" (CBS, 1951-1982; NBC, 1982-86), the story of the residents of Henderson, which went on to have a 36-year run. She joined with Phillips in 1957 to co-create "As the World Turns" (CBS, 1956-2010), the first half-hour daytime drama and the first to delve deeply into character. Outside of soaps, she wrote episodes for anthology series in the 1950s, including "The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse" (NBC, 1948-1955), "Somerset Maugham TV Theatre" (CBS, 1950-51), and "Robert Montgomery Presents" (NBC, 1950-57), among others.
Nixon remained with that show for two years, before Procter & Gamble and CBS moved her over to "The Guiding Light" (CBS, 1952-2009), another Phillips creation that had moved from television to radio. Nixon wrote about the Bauer clan on that show until 1965, when NBC and P&G begged her to save their floundering soap "Another World" (NBC, 1964-1999). She did, and in the process created its signature heroine, Rachel Davis Cory, a forerunner of arguably her greatest character, Erica Kane. Ironically, it was rival network ABC who offered Nixon the chance not only to create her own show, but to run it as well. With her husband Robert, Nixon packaged her creation, "One Life to Live" (ABC, 1968-2012), the story of the people in Llanview, a community in the shadows of Center City, Philadelphia.
Key to the show was the integration of characters other than the usual WASPs who inhabited virtually every other soap opera. Nixon introduced a Jewish family, a working-class Catholic family of Polish extraction, and for the first time, interwove African-American characters into the plot. One early, groundbreaking storyline featured Carla (Ellen Holly), a light-skinned mystery woman dealing with her identity as she was romanced by a dark-skinned doctor. Carla had been introduced with no racial tag and viewers thought her to be white. When she kissed a black man, it created ratings havoc and forced America to look long and hard at itself. The success of "One Life to Live" triggered ABC to beg Nixon for another soap opera. The result was a deeply personal pet project she had actually begun developing years earlier, but had put aside.
Drawing its name from a poem by Nixon that appeared in the opening scrapbook imagery of its credits, "All My Children" (ABC, 1970-2011) was set in Pine Valley, based on the very community in which Nixon and her family were living, a place with pre-Revolutionary War roots, but still connected to the modern world. The soap focused on the issue of the anti-Vietnam war fracas. It also broke ground when its linchpin character, the ultimate soap opera diva, Erica Kane (Susan Lucci), had the first legal abortion in TV history in 1971, two years before it was tackled in primetime. Throughout the run of the show, Nixon wove socially relevant storylines into her plot, as well as high degrees of humor emanating from the characters and situations. Nixon's careful, thoughtful touch was one of the reasons "All My Children" boasted such high numbers among college students and male viewers, crossing over into a truly mainstream phenomenon.
In 1981, she wrote the ABC miniseries "The Manions of America," a tale of Irish-American immigrants that was based, in part, on her own ancestors, and helped introduce Pierce Brosnan to U.S. viewers. Two years later, Nixon again created a new soap opera, "Loving" (ABC, 1983-1995), a half-hour entry originally set in and around a college campus that never truly clicked with the audience. In 1995, the show was revamped as "The City" (ABC, 1995-97), moving a few of the characters to a loft in downtown New York and restyling the show in a more rapid, MTV style, but it too failed to entice an audience and was canceled in late 1996. Renowned as an icon of television and one of the ultimate soap opera legends of all time, Nixon was the first soap opera maestro to be inducted in the TV Hall of Fame, and had a major hand in creating one of pop culture's most memorable daytime-in-primetime moments, when longtime Emmy loser Susan Lucci finally won her trophy in 1999, sparking headlines around the world and a greater appreciation of Nixon's beloved "Children." Honored with a Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award, Nixon's honors include five Daytime Emmys, five Writers Guild Awards, a Soap Opera Digest Award and a primetime Emmy nomination.
By Jonathan Riggs
Writer (TV Mini-Series)
Started career by writing for radio soap opera "Women in White"
With Irna Phillips, co-created and wrote "Search for Tomorrow" (CSB)
Created the ABC daytime drama "One Life to Live"
Created, wrote and has since consulted on "All My Children" (ABC)
Wrote the primetime miniseries "The Manions of America" (ABC)
Melded "Loving" into short-lived "The City" (canceled in 1996)
Appointed as overall story consultant for ABC Daytime