Broadcast legend Agnes Nixon--perhaps the ultimate daytime TV veteran, who worked on numerous soap operas and herself created two long-running shows, One Life to Live and All My Children--has died at 88.
That’s according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Born in 1927, Nixon got into the TV business in the very early days of the 1950s, writing for live primetime broadcasts before ultimately getting into writing for the soaps as they were just transitioning from radio to television--back when soap companies still practically controlled the shows. Variety wrote in 2010:
Harry Eckhardt, Nixon’s father, wanted his daughter to go into the family burial garment business. Hoping to distance Nixon from her interest in writing through intimidation, he set up a meeting between her and Irna Phillips, the Chicago-based creator/head writer of daytime serials, known for her high standards and commanding presence.
Phillips, who ushered radio soaps into the television age, read aloud Nixon’s writing sample, a play she’d written in college. “I wanted to climb down the dumbwaiter,” Nixon recalls. Instead of dissuading her, Phillips, impressed with Nixon’s talent, offered her a job.
Nixon would create One Life to Live in 1968 and All My Children in 1970. She was particularly well known for a willingness and determination to work social issues into her stories. “I wasn’t trying to change the genre; 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.’”
She explained in a 1992 oral history interview with the Archive of American Television that she was driven, in part, by a desire to get some goddamn respect: “I really chafed and resented the fact that ‘soap opera’--and we’re going back here to the late 50s, early 60s--that ‘soap opera’ was used as a term of denigration. ‘Well, it was a good novel and then it became a soap opera.’” Afterward, “I got letters from all over the country saying, ‘Thank you for saving my life,’” Nixon added.
She never felt the plot was risky; her bosses did, and she thought that was selling their female audience short. “I think this was the problem: The underestimation of the viewers, which were at that time mostly women.... Certainly I think that Guiding Light doing the pap smear test story and uterine cancer proved--and then we went on to prove it over and over again--that people, particularly women, are interested in learning as they’re entertained.”
A member of the Television Hall of Fame, Nixon was honored with a lifetime achievement award at the 2010 Daytime Emmys; she was introduced by Susan Lucci--also known as Erica Kane of All My Children--who lauded her as “the queen of modern daytime drama.”