Agnes Nixon a Legend to Herself

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Agnes Nixon, famously known as the “Queen of Modern Soap Opera," was born on December 10, 1927, in Chicago. Her parents separated when she was a young child, leaving her mother and grandmother to raise her. She spent most of her childhood living in Tennessee where she often played alone but found comfort in her dolls. With her wild imagination, she directed them through various complex scenes and stories she created.

In late 1940, she graduated from St. Cecilia High School in Nashville. Afterward, she attended St. Mary’s College in Indiana for two years before transferring to Northwestern University. During her time in the university, she wrote radio plays including a story about her aviator fiancé who was tragically killed during the Second World War.

Agnes Nixon began her career in soap operas, however, after graduating from Northwestern University’s School of Speech she discovered her love of writing. Her father didn’t approve of her writing career and spent much time criticizing and belittling her writings. He introduced her to Irna Phillips, who was the genre’s creator, in an attempt to extinguish her writing dreams. However, after reading her work, Phillips offered her a job writing dialogue for a radio series, Women in White, for a hundred dollars a week. Nixon’s job with Phillips launched the start of her scriptwriting career in 1948. She moved to New York hoping to make a break in scriptwriting for television shows. In 1951, she created her own television drama, Search for Tomorrow.

Agnes Nixon

Why she is the best in the business

Agnes Nixon was known for being an innovator because she introduced social topics into daytime television. Some of her more controversial subject matter was the Vietnam war, abortion, drug addiction, child abuse, racism, and AIDS. She transformed the traditionally mainstream and escapable reality daytime television offered into common and relevant messages. She became the head writer for the Guiding Light, which was television’s longest running daytime drama. She created a storyline concerning a female who developed uterine cancer. This plot encouraged women to regularly undergo a Pap smear. Afterward, women across the world thanked her for educating them on getting an examination that could save their lives. Alongside Phillips, Nixon co-created the first half hour daytime drama, As the World Turns in 1956. In the 60s, Nixon was the head writer for Another World, which was originally created by her mentor Phillips but was losing viewers at an alarming rate. In a desperate attempt to save the program, NBC permitted Nixon to mix comedy into the show, which was extremely uncommon for soap operas at the time. However, her quick thinking and creativity saved the show from being canceled.

Following her success with Another World, ABC composed a proposition to Nixon regarding creating a soap opera for their network. One Life to Live, which debuted in 1968, was the first series to display a variety of ethnic and religious problems, comedic situations, social topics, and strong male characters. In 1970, Nixon’s other wildly popular daytime drama, All My Children aired. This show addressed a broad scope of public issues such as anti-Vietnam War sentiment, drug addiction, AIDS, depression, and child abuse. Both shows were so successful that they enhanced Nixon’s already thriving reputation and granted ABC permanent foundation within the flourishing daytime category. All My Children aired until only a few years ago in 2011 and One Life to Live completed its series in 2012.

Agnes Nixon wondered “if we deserved that attitude, and if there was something we might do that no one else could do, given the forum we had.” This urged her to write more inventive storylines and characters. On an episode of One Life to Live, young women assumed to be white was revealed to be a light-skinned African American. This unlocked a unique narrative regarding racial prejudice. For another episode of One Life to Live, Nixon filmed a scene with actual recovering addicts at Odyssey House, a drug treatment facility in New York. Nixon was one of the first to use a videotape, which granted her access to record over several hours at the establishment and edit it into a workable scene. Barely a few years prior, daytime dramas were still being telecasted live from the studio, which meant that only a few were recorded and saved. In the early 1970s, Nixon wrote a controversial storyline where one of All My Children’s main characters Erica Kane underwent a legal abortion. This was the initial moment when any television character underwent this procedure. In 2000, Nixon created another unspoken narrative when Erica's daughter Bianca came out as a lesbian. Later, the main character shared the first on-screen lesbian kiss on daytime television. She created or co-created numerous other shows such as Guiding Light (1952-2009), As the World Turns (1956-2010), Loving (1983-1995), and Another World (1964-1999).

Agnes Nixon created, wrote, and produced some of the most popular and remembered pieces of daytime television. In 1981, she was the first women and writer to win the Trustee’s Award at the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. In 1994, she was initiated into the Soap Opera Hall of Fame at the Planet Hollywood restaurant. Nixon was appointed as a story consultant for ABC Daytime dramas in 2000. Throughout her monumental career, she received five Writers Guild Awards, five Daytime Emmys, and a Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award.