Daytime Storyteller & Showrunner Agnes Nixon
TV Herstorians, today we pay homage to Daytime Drama Icon Agnes Nixon. I’m in the mood to call them Daytime Dramas, because that’s what they are. It shouldn’t matter who financed them. We don’t call football Erectile Dysfunction Medicine Sport, do we? Should we?
Agnes Nixon, creator and overseer of all things One Life to Live and All My Children passed away earlier this year. She lived a long life, so this segment of Advanced TV Herstory takes a look into her thinking and her style of storytelling. If you’re looking for pure biography, there’s plenty to find online.
We’ll start off with a 2 minute obituary from Hoda and Kathy Lee the day after Nixon’s death was announced. Then we’ll revisit highlights from an interview Dick Cavett conducted with Agnes Nixon that aired in November 1978 that help us understand Nixon’s professionalism and her craft. The late 70s were the heyday of daytime dramas and her talents and place in herstory was finally being understood. Then, finally, you’ll hear an interview with Advanced TV Herstory loyal listener and respected author, Dr. Elana Levine, who is deep in her manuscript about daytime drama and the role the genre played in the evolution of TV.
For the record, I need to add that the actress who appears in the Loving clip used in this tribute also contains Patricia Kalember – who went on to a recurring role in Thirtysomething, was Georgie on the 90s series Sisters and is a recurring judge on SVU.
Broadcast TV and the rise of the living room television was an event of the early 50s. It didn’t happen at once. Television slowly but surely assumed some of the key roles that radio had played in the lives of Americans – all Americans. Radio news advanced to television news. But it didn’t happen overnight.
Radio serials enjoyed great audiences, as did the serials that ran before full length features at the movies. We love our stories and even Dick Cavett, in this 1978 interview with Agnes, credits her with not only maintaining the art of storytelling that had been handed to her by the likes of Charles Dickens and the great radio talents, but in advancing it.
Cavett maybe thought he was coming off as supportive when he asked her what she says to people who say “I think I could come up with a soap opera.”
Even after this thoughtful, serious answer, Cavett then projects his 5-minutes’ worth of thought into why his idea for an entire show would be good. She handled him and his smarmy-ness graciously by getting into the detail and craft that she honed to perfection.
Dr. Elana Levine tells more in our interview about how Nixon used her craft and her experience as an educated American woman to change the game and the expectations of daytime drama. Nixon’s entry into TV had come from Irna Phillips, who was also an accomplished writer, showrunner and actress. Considered The Mother of Daytime Drama for both radio and TV, Irna Phillips was born, educated and died in the Midwest.
Dr. Levine is currently immersed in research and chapter building in anticipation of her next book, Her Stories: Daytime Soap Operas and US Television History. I’m thrilled to share this excerpt from a longer conversation we had.
In 2016, we’ve lost some big names in entertainment and powerful women of and in TV. Dr. Levine and I didn’t have the chance to connect in this way about Claire Labine, who wrote and created Ryan’s Hope and contributed to countless other daytime dramas. These two women shaped an entire generation. Agnes Nixon’s memoir is due out in March 2017 – as was mentioned by Hoda and Kathy Lee, it’s called My Life to Live: How I Became the Queen of Soaps When Men Ruled the Airwaves.
Big thank you to Dr. Elana Levine for the chance to visit about Agnes Nixon. Other clips in this installment - Dick Cavett’s 1978 interview can be found on YouTube and The Today Show’s website houses the Kathy Lee and Hoda heartfelt tribute.
Advanced TV Herstory knows that daytime dramas have played a huge role in the evolution of women in media and was the proving ground for many who have gone on to careers in front of and behind the camera. Stay tuned for more installments and certainly, if you have a favorite storyline, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll see how we can share it with the world.
Speaking of the world, follow us on Twitter at TVHerstory. Subscribe and leave a review on our hosting site, Libsyn or on iTunes or Google Play. For this script and those from past installments, go to cynthiabemisabrams.com. Sound quality continues to improve due to the ear hand coordination of one David Brown, who can stand alongside Agnes Nixon as a Northwestern alum.
Thanks to YOU for listening, I’m your host, Cynthia Bemis Abrams.