On January 5, 1970, “All My Children” premiered on ABC. The brainchild of the “Queen of Modern Daytime Drama,” Agnes Nixon, it was the first network daytime drama to premiere in the 1970s. Set in the fictional upscale town of Pine Valley, PA, “All My Children” attracted a younger audience and often addressed taboo, yet socially relevant issues of that time. The soap opera also featured one of the most popular daytime TV characters in history, Erica Kane, played by Susan Lucci, while also launching the careers of young starlets including Sarah Michelle Gellar, Kelly Ripa and Mischa Barton. Although off the airwaves since 2011, at its peak, “All My Children” was the most recorded soap opera on TV and continues to have a lasting impact on TV show storytelling.
In the early 1960s, Nixon began creating the characters and storylines for “All My Children” while still working as the head writer for another daytime soap opera, “Guiding Light.” Her goal was to create a show about interconnected relationships and family secrets, while also addressing more topical issues that weren’t covered in other soaps.
Since first appearing on daytime television in 1970, “All My Children” was known for attracting younger viewers with its more daring storylines. In a 2010 interview with NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Nixon explained, “I wasn’t trying to change the genre. I was just trying to write what I thought, what was interesting to me.” Early on, the soap opera addressed the ongoing war in Vietnam, a topic that other soap operas had previously ignored. Actress Mary Fickett won a 1973 Daytime Emmy for playing a character that expresses doubts about American involvement in Vietnam.
“All My Children” made more waves in May of 1972 when Erica Kane became the first daytime TV character to undergo a legal abortion. Occurring one year before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized the medical procedure, Kane’s abortion unleashed a major frenzy among TV audiences.
But, viewers kept turning in to see what wild drama would happen next for the residents of Pine Valley. Whether it was Cliff and Nina’s wedding (1980) or Janet pushing Natalie down a well (1991) or Cindy losing her battle to AIDS (1989) or Bianca coming out to her mother, Erica (2000), “All My Children” entertained and shocked audiences for four decades.
During its 41-year run, “All My Children” won dozens of Daytime Emmy Awards, including three Outstanding Drama Daytime Emmys. Perhaps, the most infamous “All My Children” Daytime Emmy win was when Susan Lucci broke her 18-year long losing streak and won the Best Actress award in 1999. When she finally won, Lucci said, “There’s something to be said for anticipation. It’s not all bad.”
“All My Children” broke daytime TV boundaries and set a new standard for weaving in wickedly dramatic plots with a modern sensibility. By highlighting the challenging issues of the day, Nixon laid the groundwork for a new generation of socially conscious television shows today.