Thursday, September 29, 2016
I Remember Agnes Nixon
Agnes Nixon, one of the most powerful women in American TV, has just died, aged 93.
There will bow be a moment for you to ask "Who was Agnes Nixon?"
She was so big it took me months to negotiate an exclusive interview with her when I was in Manhattan in 1974 for a week devoted to visiting the daily soaps.
Let's see I started on the set of the CBS soap Love Of Life which came on at 11:30 on CBS every morning.
I remember interviewing the Canadian actress Tudi Wiggins who had a big part and she introduced me to the unknown actor then making his TV debut --Christopher Reeve.
I visited the sets of Another World, The Guiding Light, Search For Tomorrow. 0n Another World they were testing a new actor --Julia Roberts' brother Eric.
And then came an afternoon tea with Mrs. Nixon in her fancy all white suite at the Carlyle hotel.
Nixon had written As The World Turns for years and she honed all the skills and then helped restructure Another World for NBC.
"My father got me an interview with Irna Phillips in 1951 --Irna created the first soap operas in Chicago for radio --The Brighter Day and The Guiding Light. I had sent her some samples and she simply looked up and said 'Why not come and work with me?' And a few weeks later I was the key writer on Search For Tomorrow."
Nixon told me the world of radio soaps was vastly different from the TV offspring.
"Oh, there was a huge dosage of morality back then. The star of The Brighter Day was a Protestant pastor. We wrote in broad strokes. There were bad girls and good girls. The women heroines stayed at home."
Once she moved to her own soaps --One Life To Live and All My Children--Nixon injected huge doses of reality. I introduced black characters over the objection of the network. I dramatized AIDS at a time when it wasn't even talked about on the newscasts. I dramatized teen prostitution and the dilemma of a wife who discovered she was a lesbian."
Nixon helped Phillips launch As The World Turns on CBS in 1956,
"It was the first half hour show and later the first to go to tape. The Guiding Light was still 15 minutes and live. I'll tell you Another World's heroine one day was supposed to be taking a cake out of the oven and the buzzer wouldn't stop and she had never actually used the oven and started sobbing on camera."
On another Another World episode in 1063 while still a live show --CBS interrupted with Walter Crpkite telling audiences President Kennedy had been assassinated. The actors kept on for several more scenes unaware the show was no longer running."
In 1968 Nixon was asked by ABC to create One Life To Live and she asked her husband Robert to form a production company and syndicate it to other countries.
"Canadian networks get into a bidding war to get our shows I'm proud to report."
When her husband died in 1996 Nixon took over the writing of All My Children which she said was her therapy. In her den she showed me she had the story line she had blocked out for the next year.
"Now all I have to do is write it!"she laughed.
In 1970 Nixon created All My Children "and I hired Susan Lucci as the vixen" --the daily soap ran until 2011.
I last talked to her about 10 years ago and she was saddened by the decline of the popularity of soaps and predicted a swift decline for most of them.
"I guess women these days are too busy to suffer every afternoon," she joked.
"There are so many networks out there these days that the huge audiences of the past have simply disappeared."