Nixon, Agnes

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Agnes Nixon

BORN: December 10, 1927 • Chicago, Illinois

American television producer, television writer

Agnes Nixon is frequently called the queen of the contemporary soap opera. During a career that has spanned over fifty years, she wrote for and created some of television's best-loved daytime dramas, such as All My Children and One Life to Live. She also received praise from television critics and viewers alike for addressing current events and controversial issues in her work.

"I am a storyteller and I like the dramatic form. To me it's just the thing I love to do. Seeing it come to life on the air by actors is just a great thrill for me."

Becoming a soap opera writer

Agnes Eckhardt Nixon was born on December 10, 1927, in Chicago, Illinois. Her father, Harry Eckhardt, manufactured burial garments (clothing for the dead). Her mother, Agnes Eckhardt, was a treasurer for an insurance company. They divorced when Agnes was young. An only child, Agnes was raised mostly in Nashville, Tennessee. She turned to writing at an early age as a means to escape the controlling ways of her grandmother.

Nixon attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where she studied drama. Her classmates included actors Charlton Heston (1924–), Patricia Neal (1926–), and Cloris Leachman (1926–). Nixon received her bachelor's degree in 1948. Since she was determined to become a writer, her father set up a meeting with Irna Philips, one of the leading writers of serial dramas at that time.

Serial dramas were a popular form of entertainment on the radio beginning in the 1920s. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, sponsors adapted these programs to the new medium of TV. The early television serials were aimed at women, who were expected to be home during the day taking care of the house and children. Most of the shows were sponsored by the makers of household cleaning products, packaged foods, and cosmetic items, so they became known as soap operas.

Soap operas tell complicated, ongoing stories that continue over weeks, months, or even years. Instead of reaching a conclusion, each episode is open-ended, with some unresolved issue or problem remaining to be handled in future episodes. Soap operas feature large casts of characters who change over time, get older, and sometimes die. The characters also face many problems and crises as the show's writers try to advance the story and keep it interesting. Since the stories are so complex, viewers must watch regularly in order to keep up with new developments. As a result, serial dramas develop the most loyal audience of any type of television program, and many fans form deep emotional connections with their favorite shows.

Nixon impressed Irna Philips with her talent, and the veteran soap opera writer hired the young college graduate to work on her radio serials, The Woman in White and Guiding Light. The two women worked together to develop Guiding Light into a relevant, entertaining program.

During the first few years of her career, Nixon also worked as a self-employed, independent writer for various early television programs, including Philco Playhouse, Hallmark Hall of Fame, Studio One, and Somerset Maugham Theatre. She moved to New York City at the age of twenty-four, determined to further her writing career.

Emerging as the queen of modern soap operas

In 1951, Nixon created her first serial drama for television, Search for Tomorrow, and she worked as a writer on that show until 1957. In 1953, she became co-creator and head writer of another soap opera, As the World Turns, which continued to run on television into the 2000s. In 1959, Nixon was hired to be the head writer of the TV version of Guiding Light, a position she held for six years.

During the early years of her television career, Nixon married Bob Nixon, an executive with Chrysler Corporation. The marriage lasted until his death in 1997, and the couple had four children together. Nixon was determined to spend time at home raising her children as well as continuing to write for soaps such as Search for Tomorrow, As the World Turns, Another World, and Guiding Light. She arranged to work from her Philadelphia home, writing scripts for the shows while also raising her kids.

For several years, Nixon wrote for both Guiding Light and Another World. Trying to keep up with two complicated story lines led to a few minor script problems. For example, Nixon once set a scene for Another World in a coffee house that really belonged in Guiding Light.

Nixon realized early on that the continuing story lines of soap operas provided her with a unique opportunity to explore important, yet much-debated, social issues. She felt that her job gave her a responsibility to educate and inform as well as entertain her viewers. Although it was a hectic time in her career, Nixon began to introduce a variety of new issues to daytime drama, such as racism, women's health, child abuse, and teenage pregnancy.

When one of her friends died from cancer, for instance, Nixon incorporated a story line in Guiding Light in which a key character, Bert Bauer, is diagnosed with cancer. The story emphasizes the importance of women getting an annual Pap smear (a test for cervical cancer). Studies showed that after the story line aired, the number of Pap smears performed in the United States that year rose significantly. In 2002, Nixon was awarded a special Sentinel for Health award for her pioneering work in exploring women's health issues on Guiding Light.

Making daytime dramas explore controversial issues

During the 1960s and 1970s, American society experienced a number of important changes. For instance, African Americans began seeking equal rights and opportunities through the civil rights movement. Women began breaking out of the traditional roles of wife and mother and became more independent; they remained unmarried longer and established successful careers. In 1968, Nixon created the daytime drama One Life to Live for the ABC network (it continued to air on ABC into the 2000s). This Program emphasized the differences in ethnic background and social class among the residents of a fictional town. The show also reflected some of the changes taking place in American society at that time. It dealt with such issues as gender roles, sexuality, class conflict, and race relations, and it encouraged viewers to think about and discuss these topics.

In 1970, Nixon created another serial daytime drama for ABC, All My Children. As head writer and executive producer of the show, she once again explored social and cultural issues of interest to women. For example, the show addressed the much-debated subject of abortion (the termination of a pregnancy) in one story line. All My Children was also the first fictional TV series to deal with the effects of the Vietnam War (1954–75). Nixon wrote a story line in which the son of a major character is killed in the conflict. She showed the character's reaction to the news, then traced her development into a person who actively protested against the war. Nixon always made sure to provide viewers who found themselves affected by similar problems with information and resources for getting help. During a story line about child abuse, for instance, the show offered viewers the phone numbers of organizations that provide help for abused children.

Many viewers appreciated Nixon's willingness to address difficult issues, and All My Children became very successful as a result. In fact, it remained one of the top-rated daytime dramas on television into the 2000s. The most popular character on the show was the scheming model and businesswoman Erica Kane, played by Susan Lucci (1946–). Fans loved watching Erica grow and change over time, have exciting adventures, and become romantically attached to many interesting men.

Receiving honors for her work

In 1981, Nixon tried her hand at writing for a prime-time miniseries drama. Running almost five hours, The Manions of America followed the story of an Irish family as they immigrated to the United States and found success. In 1983, Nixon introduced a half-hour daytime drama, Loving, with co-creator Douglas Marland. The title of the show was later changed to The City, and it ran in this form until 1995.

In 1992, Nixon stepped back from day-to-day writing responsibilities on All My Children, though she continued to be involved with the show as a story consultant. In 1999, she was asked to return to the show as head writer. Shortly after resuming her former job, Nixon introduced a story line in which a main character, Bianca Montgomery, publicly reveals that she is a lesbian. This story line attracted new interest to the show, and it also earned praise from gay and lesbian groups. In fact, Nixon's sensitive and compelling treatment of the subject helped All My Children win a media award from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), an organization that promotes positive treatment of homosexuals in the media. In 2000, Nixon became ABC-TV's overall consultant for daytime programming.

Throughout her long career, Nixon and her shows received a number of prestigious awards, including four Daytime Emmy Awards for writing, five Writer's Guild of America Awards, and a Soap Opera Digest Award. Nixon also received numerous citations for public service and for outstanding contributions to daytime television. In 1993 she was admitted into the Television Hall of Fame, and a year later she became a member of the Soap Opera Hall of Fame.

In a 1999 interview with Broadcasting and Cable, Nixon shared some thoughts about her career. She noted that soaps hold a strong appeal for TV viewers because "it's the form of entertainment nearest to real life. Every day is a new episode, there's that appeal, as well as the fact that it's never repeated. I think there's something about a continued story." She claimed that the most difficult aspect of being a soap writer is "the discipline you have to have because of the time pressure. It takes five days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, and that's pretty grueling." Despite the challenges, Nixon explained that she enjoyed writing serials dramas because "I am a storyteller and I like the dramatic form. To me it's just the thing I love to do. You take something in life that generates an idea and then it grows and one embellishes it. Seeing it come to life on the air by actors is just a great thrill for me."

For More Information


Current Biography. New York: H. W. Wilson, 2001.


"The Scheherazade of Soaps." Broadcasting and Cable, May 31, 1999.

Stengel, Richard. "Doyenne of Daytime." Time, August 15, 1983.


"Agnes Nixon." Museum of Broadcast Communications. (accessed on May 22, 2006).

"All My Children: Agnes Nixon." ABC. (accessed on May 22, 2006).

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