Agnes Nixon

Agnes Nixon Biography

Agnes Nixon (ne Eckhardt; December 10, 1922 - September 28, 2016) was 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 1968-73, All My Children from 1970-81 and Loving from 1993-95.

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. From 1970 until 1989, every episode of All My Children was written by either Nixon or her protgs 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.

Writing legacy

Early career

Born on December 10, 1922 in Chicago to Harry Joseph Dalton and Agnes Patricia (ne Dalton) Eckhardt, Agnes Eckhardt 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 protg 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. The initial conception and execution of Rachel served as 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 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 use 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

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."

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."

On July 21-22, 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.

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".

All My Children

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 (Amy Tyler). 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 shape 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). (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 protg, 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. This storyline led to All My Children's winning a casting Artios award, a GLAAD Media Award, 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). The episode was also significant in that 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. On November 12, 2008, she appeared on the 10,000th episode of the show 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 the tribute by All My Children 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, Nixon entered and blew a kiss toward Myrtle's portrait.

Loving/The City

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.

Personal life and death

She was married to Robert Henry Adolphus Nixon from April 6, 1951 until his death in 1996 and had four children. Nixon died in Haverford, Pennsylvania on September 28, 2016 at the age of 93.

Awards and recognition

  • 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. She won five Writers Guild of America Awards for Best Written Daytime Serial.
  • Primetime Emmy nominee: Outstanding Program Achievement in Daytime Drama - One Life to Live
  • Nixon received 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.

Head writer tenures

Executive producer tenures

All My Children, story guidance

In addition to her head writing terms, Nixon 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:

  • with Wisner Washam from 1983 to 1987
  • with Lorraine Broderick from 1987 to 1989
  • with Margaret DePriest from March to December 1989
  • with Megan McTavish from 1992 to 1995
  • with Lorraine Broderick from June 1995 to December 1997
  • with Lorraine Broderick from June to September 2011
  • with Marlene McPherson and Elizabeth Snyder from April 2013 to September 2013

One Life to Live, story guidance

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

This webpage uses material from the Wikipedia article "Agnes_Nixon" and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Reality TV World is not responsible for any errors or omissions the Wikipedia article may contain.



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