Agnes Eckhardt Nixon Rod Townley - Essay

Rod Townley

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Partly because of her concern for three-dimensional characters, Agnes Nixon's shows are among the most popular on daytime TV. (p. 13)

More than anyone else, Agnes Nixon has let reality into the claustrophobic sound studios of soap operas. Not too much reality, of course. Certain subjects, such as homosexuality, never come up in soap-opera conversation. Family anguish and romantic misalliances still dominate the plots. Yet, over the past couple of years, viewers have been exposed to information on VD, drug-rehabilitation centers, child abuse, Pap tests and racial discrimination. These subjects had all been treated on television before they surfaced on Mrs. Nixon's soaps, but in most cases she was the first to bring them to daytime drama.

Other soap writers have begun to realize, through Mrs. Nixon's example, that social issues can have a leavening effect on ratings…. There are the makings of a trend here.

Mrs. Nixon has also tried to dress up her shows, incorporating sequences of impressionistic recall, subliminal flashes, fantasies and dreams…. (pp. 13-14)

Agnes Nixon was recently very much concerned with the highly sensitive subject of child abuse. After consultations with experts, she began introducing the subject on All My Children. "It's always done in an affirmative way, not a punitive way," says Mrs. Nixon. "If you're punitive, the people you're trying to reach will just turn off the set."

All this makes Agnes Nixon sound like an evangelist for social change. She isn't, and doesn't pretend to be. "Our primary mandate is to entertain," she says, adding, "but I do think people are entertained by being made to think." For television, many would consider this an original, almost radical thought….

Perhaps appropriately, All My Children is currently a rage on campuses, where students find a temporary escape from their education in the "educational" soap operas of Agnes Nixon….

In a mobile society, where children split off early from parents and grandparents, the soap opera can be a little like an extended family….

Agnes Nixon succeeds because she has something for everyone: romantic escape for housewives, a home for the homeless, even an occasional bracing dose of reality for those who find thinking a form of entertainment in itself. (p. 16)

Rod Townley, "She Introduced a Stranger to the World of Soaps," in TV Guide® Magazine (copyright © 1975 by Tringle Publications, Inc., Radnor, Pennsylvania; reprinted by permission), Vol. 23, No. 3, May 3, 1975, pp. 13-14, 16.