RIP Agnes Nixon TV Soap Opera Writer, Creator, Legend
September 28, 2016 4:00 PM   Subscribe

Agnes Nixon creator of 'All My Children,' 'One Life to Live,' dies at 93 Ms. Nixon was a dominant force in daytime TV. The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences called her "the grand dame of daytime serial drama" when she won lifetime achievement award at the Daytime Emmy Awards in 2010 for her serials.

Hollywood Reporter: Disney CEO Bob Iger, paid tribute to Nixon in a statement Wednesday: "It is with a heavy heart I mourn the passing of television pioneer Agnes Nixon, someone I was proud to call a friend. Agnes’ impact on daytime television and pop culture is undeniable. She was the first to champion socially relevant topics, and the towns and characters Agnes brought to life leave an indelible imprint on television that will be remembered forever. On behalf of Walt Disney and ABC, I want to extend our deepest condolences to her family."

Emmy TV Legends Interview In her two-and-a-half-hour Archive interview, Agnes Nixon discusses her love of reading and writing. She recalls attending Northwestern University and changing her focus from acting to writing. She talks of getting hired by legendary Irna Phillips to write for the soap opera Woman in White shortly after graduating college.

Film Reference Biography of Agnes Nixon Born December 10, 1927, in Chicago, IL.... Agnes Eckhardt Nixon, creator of the soap operas Search for Tomorrow, One Life to Live, All My Children, and Loving, and contributor to several other serials, is recognized as a pioneer in introducing social relevance to daytime television. Topics such as the Vietnam war, abortion, drug addiction, child abuse, racism, and AIDS have been confronted in Nixon's story lines since the early 1960s, transforming the traditionally conservative and escapist nature ofdaytime serials into a forum for relaying socially pertinent messages. But Nixon stresses that the messages are conveyed "in an affirmative way, not a punitive way," as Rod Townley quoted her in TV Guide. "If you're punitive, the people you're trying to reach will just turn off the set.... Our primary mandate is to entertain, but I do think people are entertained by being made to think."

NEWSWEEK "All My Children" Finale Interviews 9/11/2011 There’s a reason All My Children actor David Canary calls the soap’s 83-year-old creator, Agnes Nixon, “a wonderful person packed with the devil.” The petite Nixon may be all smiles, but in her imagination lives a long cast of characters responsible for some of the steamiest relationships and deranged scheming in the history of daytime television.
posted by pjsky (22 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
. Grew up with my Mom watching these shows, and I watched them myself, when I was at home with my son. RIP Ms. Nixon.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:18 PM on September 28, 2016

It's okay...she'll be back in six months as her "evil twin".

(RIP to a television legend)
posted by briank at 4:21 PM on September 28, 2016 [10 favorites]


*organ music*
posted by jonmc at 4:30 PM on September 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

posted by aerotive at 4:30 PM on September 28, 2016

The Nixon it was OK to like.

posted by oneswellfoop at 4:50 PM on September 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

If all she had done was create the character of Erica Kane, that would've been legendary enough...

posted by droplet at 4:53 PM on September 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

Oh, goodness. All My Children occupied so much of my time as a kid. Our lunches were scheduled around it. If there was shopping to be done, it was done either before or after. I loved it so much. All summer, rushing in to watch. Sick days and holidays during school, sitting on the couch with my tomato soup and grilled cheese, watching Erica and Phoebe and Tad...and always wondering why Brooke took her big earring off before answering the phone, and how everyone managed to keep the sheets up over their chests in bed.
posted by mittens at 4:53 PM on September 28, 2016 [8 favorites]

In third grade, my BFF and I tried to write out Erica's full name, with all her marriages, inside the cover of one of my Sweet Valley High books. If that's not a perfectly 80s moment, I don't know what is.

Also, I recently learned that the late David Canary is a descendent of Calamity Jane. This sent me on a wild Wikipedia goose hunt split between Deadwood and All My Children.

Rest well, Ms. Nixon. You were a huge part of my childhood. Staying home sick from elementary school meant eating ramen noodles while watching Scrabble and AMC.
posted by Ruki at 4:53 PM on September 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

I really don't think it's possible to overstate how important, influential and consequential her contributions to American society were. She was a trailblazer!

I was just trying to write what was interesting to me,” she explained in a 2010 NPR interview. For instance, in 1962, after a friend died from uterine cancer and Nixon learned that early detection could save lives, she wanted to work that into a storyline on Guiding Light. She pitched it to CBS and show sponsors Procter & Gamble, who hesitated, then said yes, “but don’t say ‘uterus,’ don’t say ‘cancer,’ and don’t say ‘hysterectomy.’”
posted by pjsky at 5:01 PM on September 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Erica. Fucking. Kane.
My hero!
posted by pjsky at 5:02 PM on September 28, 2016

Oh man, All My Children was my childhood.

I was probably ten years old before I learned the name; it had always just been Mommy's Show. That was probably around the time she picked up One Life to Live and there couldn't be two Mommy's Shows. I remember coming home from school and waiting for the updates from Llanview and Pine Valley.

OLTL was pretty cool. I was particularly obsessed with the feud between Vicky and Dorian and was disappointed that so much of their backstory occurred before my mom started watching and she couldn't provide all the details I craved. Neither of course was Erica Kane.
posted by chaoticgood at 5:33 PM on September 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

When I was in college (1975 or so) I got hooked on All My Children. (Partly because a girl I liked watched it every day, so it was an excuse to hang out with her in the dorm TV room, but anyway...)

It has always amazed me that they were able to turn out that much material that rapidly, irrespective of the quality. Susan Lucci was in 1002 episodes of the series. I defy you to name an actor for a night-time TV series who has done that many episodes of everything combined in their career. (James Arness comes close, with 635 episodes of "Gunsmoke"...)

There's a story about Lucci that I really like. Her character (Erica Kane) was a heel. One time she was out in a shopping mall, and an old lady walked up to her, looking fierce, and slapped her. In a kind of strange way, it was actually a testimonial to how effective her acting had been, I suppose.

It took far, far too long for Lucci to get her Emmy.

It's kind of sad that soap operas are going the way of the dinosaur. Their audience is mainly old women, who are dying off. So ratings are dropping, slowly but continuously.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:11 PM on September 28, 2016

Valentini directed Ms. Nixon once in an episode of One Life to Live. She played God.

Getting the person who created your universe to play God is as good as casting gets.

posted by dr_dank at 6:51 PM on September 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

It really ticks me off that All My Children and One Life To Live got canceled...and then brought back online and then weirdly passively-aggressively-sorta-canceled. I grew up with those shows and still miss them.

It's kind of ridiculous how this day and age has killed most soap operas, especially since I think a lot of people, even young people, still love soap opera-type plots, as per some of the crazy shit on nighttime TV and reality shows. I'm not really sure why (there are some folks who are still home in the daytime, there's TiVo's and whatever), other than maybe the time commitment to keep up? Then again, I could usually figure out what had gone on even if I hadn't seen things in awhile.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:00 PM on September 28, 2016

All My Children was a big part of my life, from Alex Hunter's fox hunt in '85 (?), all the way through to the end. There were some great stories, and thanks to Agnes Nixon, some very socially-progressive ones, even well after her departure.

It is easy to dismiss soaps as lowbrow, cliche-filled television, but for AMC, that was definitely not the case. Sure, there was goofball plots and characters, but on the whole, the writing was THERE, day in, day out. The acting was THERE, day in, day out. I can't imagine a more pressured creative environment, and they met those challenges every goddamn day in a way that probably hadn't been seen since the days of vaudeville -- the audience wouldn't stand for anything less. If Adam was too much like Stuart, say, the makers would be sure to hear about it. Donna escaping the streets, Cindy dying of AIDS, Mark's mental illness -- so many tough subjects presented to an audience perhaps not ready to confront these issues -- which was entirely the point.

This was Agnes' creation, and she set those progressive and artistic standards. We welcomed her children into our homes, and, in some instances, felt a stronger connection to them and knew them more intimately than some of our own family members.

Agnes, I cannot thank you enough. Godspeed, and God bless.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:39 PM on September 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was just thinking* the other day about the desert of daytime TV without the soap culture that existed in the past. Sure there are more celebrity chat and cooking shows, but they don't really offer anything to sink your teeth into. Yes, the soaps could be hammy or cheesy or over-wrought but there was also some substance to them--a momentum and a narrative--not to mention some light-hearted fun.

As a young kid, I started with Another World (and then its Dallas-inspired spin-off, Texas, before it was quickly cancelled) just because that's what female relatives watched, but All My Children became the soap that I chose to follow, but for the life of me I can't remember why or how that came about. It was never the cool soap. In my day that was General Hospital (prime Luke and Laura wedding era). I was somewhat familiar with Days of our Lives too but it was never a draw for me. Eventually when they started crossing characters over to One Life to Live I began following that one as well.

So yes, Agnes Nixon earned my respect. RIP.

*Actually, that thought likely came about as I was talking about actors who now have non-soap careers but who are (at least to me) still most closely associated with their AMC soap roles. Then I realized that's a vanishing perspective, which drove yet another "darn, I'm old" realization straight into my forehead.
posted by sardonyx at 7:59 PM on September 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I grew up watching All My Children during the summer afternoons with my grandmother. She'd make sure I covered my eyes during the more adult bits, of course, but I became as much of a fan of the happenings in Pine Valley as she was. It was one of the ways in which we bonded. There was no one else in my life to whom I could exclaim "Erica got married to Adam and was wearing a black dress!!!". No one else would have understood it, but my grandmother laughed and wondered just how many times Erica Kane had been married.

Importantly, as others in this thread have mentioned, it was she who was driving the socially relevant storylines for which All My Children was known. They tackled abortion, AIDS, prostitution, drug abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, in addition to your regular blackmailing and cheating and other standard soapy fare. It was Agnes Nixon who decided that the daughter of Erica Kane, Bianca Montgomery, should be a lesbian, who then became one of the most adored characters on the show, which was completely unheard of for a gay character on daytime.

Agnes Nixon broke down barriers. She did it while writing stories that mattered to people. She told stories people could relate to and she did that in Pine Valley, Llanview and Corinth. She introduced viewers to people who were different from themselves and made them likable. She changed minds, she changed hearts and she did it all so very well. I feel so honoured to have watched some of these ground-breaking stories.

Having lost my grandmother just last year, I think about her often -- and many of my memories of her involve us turning on the TV and tuning in to whatever was happening on All My Children. If all Agnes Nixon had done was create this one show that my grandmother and I watched together, it would have been enough for me. But she taught me that stories could make a difference, that writing could make a difference, that one person with a vision could make a difference.

She will be missed.
posted by juliebug at 10:47 PM on September 28, 2016 [6 favorites]


(a moment of silence that is held for longer than usual on a close reaction shot as music swells)
posted by wabbittwax at 5:35 AM on September 29, 2016 [6 favorites]

It's kind of ridiculous how this day and age has killed most soap operas...

In the case of AMC, a big part of it was technical, having to switch over to HD. That meant new studios, new sets, new cameras, and much more labour-intensive makeup (and not to mention the costs and disruption of changing the shooting location from New York to Los Angeles). They couldn't just churn daily shows out anymore at the same pace, at the same low cost. The change to HD was essentially the same as starting a new show, only with way more sets and actors and writers, and at that point, it became way more profitable to just put out another cooking show with one set and only a couple of actors.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:23 AM on September 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's kind of sad that soap operas are going the way of the dinosaur. Their audience is mainly old women, who are dying off. So ratings are dropping, slowly but continuously.

And yet so much of series TV has adopted a serial format that the soap model has become the de facto standard.
posted by Flexagon at 7:10 AM on September 29, 2016

Then again, I could usually figure out what had gone on even if I hadn't seen things in awhile.

I check in with "The Young & the Restless" about twice a year, and never miss a thing.

posted by Melismata at 1:04 PM on September 29, 2016

"There was no one else in my life to whom I could exclaim "Erica got married to Adam and was wearing a black dress!!!""

I loved that wedding SO MUCH.

In the case of AMC, a big part of it was technical, having to switch over to HD.

Argh, another reason to hate HD besides the fact that it hugely mucked up my TV-watching experience.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:31 PM on September 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

« Older Mario cover art through the years   |   The Clean Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments