When I saw the tweet that Agnes Nixon had passed, it hit me HARD.
You must understand… Once upon a time….
For A couple of decades, I was a soap opera fanatic.
And, ABC was what got me hooked. I came home to The Edge of Night. ABC began with Ryan’s Hope, and ended with Edge. All My Children and One Life to Live WERE MY SHOWS.
Thank you, Ms. Nixon, for endless hours of dramas.
Agnes Nixon, Who Injected Social Ills Into Soap Operas, Dies at 93
By ROBERT D. McFADDEN
SEPT. 28, 2016
Agnes Nixon, a celebrated creator and writer of television soap operas, who introduced uterine cancer, venereal diseases, child abuse, AIDS and other societal terrors into the weekday fantasy worlds of millions of daytime viewers, died on Wednesday in Rosemont, Pa. She was 93.
The cause was pneumonia resulting from Parkinson’s disease, her family said.
In a career that paralleled the rise, enormous popularity and gradual decline of soap operas in the last half of the 20th century, Ms. Nixon fashioned many of television’s most popular daytime shows, drawing on a rich imagination to find the great and small human dramas lurking just below the surface of American life.
To a 1950s audience mostly composed of women who were at home doing housework and raising children, Ms. Nixon’s early scripts for “The Guiding Light” and “Search for Tomorrow” provided an escape: a glimpse of dashing lives, handsome cads, passions run amok, dark secrets and terrible betrayals.
But in the 1960s and ’70s she virtually reinvented soaps, creating for the ABC network “One Life to Live,” “All My Children” and other shows infused with social relevance and politically charged topics like racism, abortion, obscenity, narcotics, the generation gap and protests against the Vietnam War.
Like their predecessors, the new Nixon soaps were disturbing, fascinating and addictive. Because she presented various sides of a controversy, they were more complex. But she tried to avoid preachy dialogue, letting action and plot speak for themselves. The conundrum was no longer simply whether Tara was pregnant, but whether Phil, home from Vietnam and scarred by the horrors of war, could still love her.
Many Nixon stories were based on reality. In 1964, after a friend died of cancer, she created a “Guiding Light” character who was found, after a Pap smear, to have cervical cancer. Despite misgivings by the sponsor, Procter & Gamble, the character appeared onscreen, though the words “cancer,” “uterus” and “hysterectomy” were never uttered. Even so, thousands of women wrote in to express gratitude for the information that a simple test might save their lives.
On “One Life to Live,” which began in 1968 and ran for 43 years, Ms. Nixon created a tale that reflected the nation’s changing social structures and attitudes. It had many ethnic characters, including Jews, Polish-Americans and African-Americans. A woman assumed to be white was revealed after months to be a light-skinned black, turning the story, and the audience, sharply to questions of racial prejudice.
Ms. Nixon’s revolutionary changes were widely copied by other soaps and other networks, and helped capture new audiences at a time when the traditional base of daytime viewers — 20 million to 30 million daily, the vast majority of them homemakers — was being eroded by women entering the work force. Increasingly, men and college students drawn by their topicality were tuning in.
“It was a kind of first,” Lewis Antine, a graduate student at the City University of New York, told The New York Times after watching a 1974 episode of “All My Children” featuring a Vietnam War veteran. “It was a sense of your stuff being on TV for the first time, like, ‘Hey, they’re talking about us on Mom’s show.’”
Ms. Nixon was an unlikely source of tales of infidelity and divorce, let alone racial and antiwar conflicts. The mother of four children, she was married to the same man for 45 years. And she wrote not in the caldron of New York or glitzy Hollywood, but in her suburban home in Rosemont, on the Philadelphia Main Line. (She died in a nursing facility in Rosemont.)
Rosemont and adjoining Bryn Mawr, Pa., were the prototype for Pine Valley, the setting for “All My Children,” which had its premiere in 1970 and ran for 41 years. (For that entire time, its best-known cast member was Susan Lucci, one of daytime TV’s best-known and highest-paid stars, as Erica Kane.) In 1973, a character on the show was the first on television to have a legal abortion after the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. The show also tackled drug addiction, depression, child abuse and AIDS. In 2000, it introduced a lesbian character, who shared the first lesbian kiss on a soap opera. In 2007, a transgender character appeared.
“Life is fascinating,” Ms. Nixon told The Milwaukee Sentinel in 1983, “and if you look at your family and your friends and you have a writer’s viewpoint, you can see each person’s life as a soap opera in itself. The really amazing thing is they are basically similar.”
Because of both her success and her longevity, Ms. Nixon was often called the queen of the modern soap opera. From the premiere of “One Life to Live” in 1968 to the finale of “All My Children” in January 2012, shows she had created or had a hand in writing, producing or shaping as a consultant were on the air every weekday for 43 years — more than 11,000 days.
The recipient of many awards, including a Daytime Emmy for lifetime achievement in 2010, Ms. Nixon often spoke of soap operas as ensembles and would share credit with actors, directors, producers, camera crews and other writers. Her own contributions, she said, had no unrealistic objectives.
“On the social issues, whether the Vietnam War or abortion or racism, I never thought I could change the way most people felt,” she told the Catholic magazine America in 2002. “I just wanted to show the unfairness of it, the inequality, the injustice.”