In the annals of daytime dramatic programming, perhaps no single person is more well known and representative of the genre than the woman with whom we had the greatest pleasure in interviewing last week: none other than Agnes Nixon.
Although she is recognized as the creator of two-thirds of ABC's current soap opera lineup, having originated both One Life to Live in 1968 and All My Children in 1970, her career as a writer of provocative dramatic serials extends much further back – all the way to the late 1940s – where she was mentored by none other than the creator of the soap opera herself, Irna Phillips.
When Ms. Phillips left as head writer of Guiding Light in 1958 to focus more on her new hit, As the World Turns, she left the show in the capable hands of Agnes Nixon, who began to incorporate what would become one of the hallmarks of her writing style: crafting stories that were both entertaining and educational.
In 1962, Agnes wrote the famed uterine cancer story for Guiding Light's leading lady, Bertha "Bert" Bauer, which opened up a whole new avenue of ideas for the genre that had previously focused predominately on domestic and romantic crises. Although reluctant at first, once this storyline proved to be a success, TV executives showed much less resistance to future stories of this type and allowed the daytime drama to "grow up" and move beyond the restrictive confines of the narrow range of storytelling devices it had previously employed.
Agnes eventually became head writer of Guiding Light's sister soap, Another World, and it was there that she became noticed as a force in daytime because, during her brief tenure as writer, she helped raise the ratings on this struggling new show with the introduction of such memorable characters as Ada Davis and her daughter, Rachel (played originally by Robin Strasser and then by Victoria Wyndham). Ms. Nixon had created All My Children in the early-to-mid 1960s before she took over the writing reins of Another World, and therefore based the Rachel-Ada relationship on the Erica-Mona dynamic from her, as yet unproduced, All My Children bible. As Ms. Nixon herself told us, Erica Kane and Rachel Davis are "sisters under the skin."
With her success on Another World, she was eventually contacted by ABC to create a soap for them. The result was One Life to Live. A year or so later, ABC contacted her once again for a second series. With the prompting of her husband, Robert, she dusted off her All My Children proposal and the rest is daytime television history.
Our conversation with the still-radiant and beautiful Ms. Nixon was quite lengthy and filled with great stories that were fun, funny, and at times, touching. We spent about three full hours with this living legend and filmed for about an hour and a half. Ms. Nixon felt that her mentor, Irna Phillips, was not properly remembered by today's television audience and wanted to correct that matter by talking about the woman who was both her teacher and her great friend. As part of our Guiding Light series of interviews, we were most pleased to help her do just that. Of course, we also wanted to discuss Ms. Nixon's own long and influential career, and she was kind enough to share her many memories with us.
Whether or not you are a soap opera fan, this interview series is critical viewing for any lover of the television medium in general. It is always a special occasion to hear stories from these television pioneers in their own words. It is truly an opportunity to be treasured. We have enough material to split this interview into three parts as noted below each video.
Enjoy, and please feel free to post in the comments section. Our utmost sincere thanks to Agnes Nixon, who was gracious enough to invite us to her New York apartment in order to conduct this interview. Special thanks to her son, Robert, for helping us to set everything up. We hope you are both pleased with the results. Thanks also to William J. Reynolds.
Part 1: As part of our series of Guiding Light exit interviews, Ms. Nixon talks about her start in radio and television and being mentored by the creator of the soap opera format, Irna Phillips. She also talks about the creation of her own soaps, One Life to Live and All My Children.
Part 2: As our chat continues, Ms. Nixon goes into more depth on writing her own soaps – One Life to Live and All My Children – and the issue-oriented storylines, such as interracial romance and abortion, that she was famous for pioneering in daytime. She also shares her insights as to why Erica Kane, the lead character on All My Children holds such appeal to both women and men. Finally, Ms. Nixon discusses some interesting fan encounters she's had over the years.
Part 3: At last, the final part of our conversation with Ms. Nixon as she reveals her all-time favorite storyline that she wrote for a soap. Can you guess what it is? Also, Agnes talks more about her mentor Irna Phillips and shares her thoughts and concerns over the recent relocation of her signature show, All My Children, to Los Angeles. This is an extra-long installment, so brew a cup of coffee and settle in for Agnes Nixon at her most candid. Although we filmed this in October 2009, we held back on posting this until February 2010 due to the sensitive nature of some of Ms. Nixon's statements. We promise it was worth the wait.