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Agnes Nixon (born Agnes Eckhardt; December 10, 1927) is an Americanmarker writer and producer.

She attended Northwestern Universitymarker where she was a member of Alpha Chi Omega sorority.

She is best known as the creator of soap operas such as One Life to Live and All My Children. Having a key role in the production of these programs, she was either executive producer or consulting producer for both shows for many years: on One Life to Live from 1968 to 1975, and All My Children from 1970 to 1981. She continued to write the program with Wisner Washam until 1983, and again with him from 1988 to 1992, continuing on as a consultant in recurring capacities until 2000. From 1970 until 1992, every episode of All My Children was written by either Agnes Nixon or her protégé Wisner Washam (her 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 has created or been a part of, she is often termed the "Queen" of the modern soap opera. Her creations and her writing have had the most effect on modern audiences, second only to her mentor Irna Phillips.

Writing legacy

Procter and Gamble

Nixon began her career in soaps working for Irna Phillips. Phillips' other protégé around that time was William J. Bell, who also went on to become a noted writer in his own right.

Under Phillips' tutelage, she was a writer on As the World Turns, and was head writer for Search for Tomorrow, Guiding Light and, notably, on Another World, where she created the character of Rachel, 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, encounter 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,” and “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, but 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 WASP, non-controversial nature of daytime drama, presented the network with a startingly 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 suburb of Philadelphiamarker."

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 loves 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, 2008, Nixon appeared on One Life to Live for its 40th anniversary.

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 and Rosemary Prinz. Nixon helmed the writing team for over a decade, until 1983.

It is on All My Children that Nixon had the most impact; 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 daytime's first abortion by a major character, in this case Erica Kane. (In a controversial move, the storyline was undone in 2006 and Erica's fetus was revealed to have lived and implanted into a surrogate, a procedure that is medically impossible.)

All My Children was a half-hour show for the first seven years of its run, and virtually none of those episodes exist. ABC erased the tapes of those early episodes so the tapes could be reused. When ABC went to Nixon and said that they wanted her to expand the show to an hour, one of her conditions was that the tapes of the show would be archived and preserved by the network. Episodes began to be saved in 1976, while All My Children expanded to an hour on April 25, 1977.

Loving/The City

The other program to her credit is Loving, which she co-created with Douglas Marland. The half-hour program ran from 1983 to 1995, but despite the involvement of Nixon and Marland, never really gained a solid footing. So in 1995 the show was retooled and became "The City". While Nixon herself did not create "The City" she remained a creative consultant for the show until it's cancellation in 1997.

Continuing story

In 1992, ABC executives decided that All My Children needed new blood, and promoted Nixon's 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, the father of Erica Kane (Susan Lucci) 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 and had a child, Kendall Hart (Sarah Michelle Gellar, now portrayed by Alicia Minshew). McTavish left and returned as writer several times.

In 1999, McTavish was dismissed and Nixon was again asked to take over the headwriting reins at All My Children. Nixon was well aware that this would probably be her last major stint as head writer in daytime television, and wanted to leave one final legacy. As it had always been Nixon's intention that her soaps would 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 trying to keep that secret (her sexuality) 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 winning a casting Arios award, a GLAAD Media Award and to being nominated for a Daytime Emmy for Best Drama Series.

In 2005, Nixon appeared onscreen to celebrate the 35th anniversary of All My Children on January 5th. 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 where 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, she appeared in an episode of A&E Biography about All My Children.

Nixon appeared on One Life to Live on July 21 and July 22, 2008 for the series' 40th anniversary, portraying observer "Agnes" in a storyline in which longrunning character Viki Davidson visits Heaven.

On November 12, 2008, Nixon appeared on All My Children's 10,000th episode as "Aggie", the ghost of the woman who started 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.

In August 2009 she launched an offical website and official blog at AgnesNixon.Com

Awards and recognition

  • 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 producers 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.


References

  1. Archive of American Television/ Official YouTube page - Agnes Nixon - Archive Interview Part 1 of 5
  2. Schemering, Christopher. The Soap Opera Encyclopedia, September 1985, pg. 158-159, ISBN 0-345-32459-5 (1st edition)
  3. The Soap Opera Encyclopedia, pg. 158.
  4. One Life to Live recap (7/21/08, 40th Anniversary) - Soaps.com
  5. One Life to Live recap (7/22/08, 40th Anniversary) - Soaps.com
  6. "One Life to Live: Big Returns and Plots For 40th Anniversary!" Soaps.com 10 June 2008.
  7. One Life to Live recap (7/21/08) - ABC.com
  8. One Life to Live recap (7/22/08) - ABC.com


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