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Why Anne Sweeney Owes a Debt to Soap Opera's Agnes Nixon and Others


As ABC soap fans reel from all the rumors surrounding the future of the genre, I couldn't help but be hit with the notion, without female broadcasting pioneers like Irna Phillips, Anne Hummert (who along with her husband Frank created such radio sudsers as Ma Perkins, Backstage Wife and Stella Dallas) and the Mother of the Modern Soap Agnes Nixon, would there even be an Anne Sweeney?

Long before female entertainment industry executives were the norm, it was women like Phillips and Hummert who managed to build unprecedented media empires back in the 1930's and 1940's. While soap operas, with their business model focused on moving household goods to women, were viewed as "domestic dramas", the fact is the soap opera as a genre, has proven one of the most financially successful, far-reaching mediums in entertainment history, all because women like Phillips and later Phillips' protege Agnes Nixon, realized that telling stories—for women, by women—could prove not only rewarding, but profitable.  Okay, so a few guys did pretty good too. Shout out to the late Bill Bell (another Phillips student and creator of The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful) and Ted Corday (who worked as a director for Phillips before creating Days of Our Lives, with her help).

I can't imagine what the suits at Procter and Gamble, and later CBS and NBC, must have thought of the headstrong Phillips. This was during a time when a woman's role was still pretty much to be seen and not heard. They had no choice but to contend with Phillips, however, because it was her soap operas like The Guiding Light, As The World Turns and Another World, which dominated the Nielsens for decades, allowing P&G to successfully target and sell to the housewives who made the majority of purchasing decisions for the home.

Not to be left out, talk show queen Lee Phillip Bell, the late Betty Corday and Doris Hursley (co-creator of General Hospital, along with husband Frank) were right alongside their guys in creating series that allowed women to run a production company with numerous shows on the air, back when Shonda Rhimes was just a twinkle in her parents' or grandparents' eyes.

Today, the housewife or her modern variation, the stay-at-home mom, is admittedly in short supply, but is it really that impossible for a woman like Sweeney, with successes at such networks as FX and Nickelodeon before coming to Disney, to figure out how to reinvent the wheel, or at least hire someone (Okay, I'm going here)—preferrably a woman—to do so? We soap lovers can't be the only ones who realize allowing a hypermasculine, youth-obsessed micromanager like Brian Frons to run the ABC Daytime lineup—not to mention SOAPnet— into the ground was a bad idea. Unless, that was the intent all along? Okay, so that's another post. Back to my little feminist broadcast history lesson.

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Agnes Nixon, who steered her soaps One Life to Live and All My Children successfully through the turbulent Women's Liberation Movement of the 1970's, after cutting her broadcast teeth on Phillips' soaps, crashed through the glass ceiling by helping to revolutionize a genre that went on to finance most primetime television development during the medium's 1980's glory years. Speaking of those Gloria, er glory years, it was another woman who led the charge in seeing soaps reach never before imagined heights. That woman was Gloria Monty

A director for such sudsers as The Secret Storm and Bright Promise, Monty not only saved General Hospital from cancellation in 1978, but helmed the show's astronomical rise to the top of the Nielsens and the pop culture zeitgeist, all while managing to discover a new, untapped demographic—the coed. 

While Disney Media Networks Co-Chair and President of Disney-ABC Television Group Anne Sweeney doesn't boast any soap gigs on her very impressive resume, I can't help but wonder, would she ever have been named The Most Powerful Woman in Entertainment had it not been for the powerful women who came before her like Phillips, Hummert, Corday, Nixon, Bell and Monty?

Here's hoping the indeed very powerful Sweeney doesn't allow the genre that first proved women could thrive in the entertainment business—long before there was an Oprah, a  Devil who wore Prada or any Sex being had in the City— to die on her watch. 

Now for our part. To let Anne Sweeney know you don't want ABC to cancel any of their daytime soap operas, in order to replace them with a Brian Frons-sanctioned talk show or reality series, see contact information below:

Anne Sweeney

President, ABC Television

ABC Studios

500 South Buena Vista Street

Burbank CA 91521

Anne Sweeney direct office line: 818 460-7700


Photo of Anne Sweeney by PR Photos