On the 51st Anniversary of All My Children’s Premiere, a Tribute to Its Glorious Past… and Perhaps a Preview of Pine Valley’s Future
ABC/Courtesy of the Everett Collection (5)
More than five decades later, we’re still remembering Agnes Nixon’s “baby.”
When All My Children debuted on January 5, 1970, the world was a very different place. Protesters were taking to the streets, the nation was divided in ways from which we thought it might never recover, racial tensions were high, and…
Actually, never mind. Things weren’t that different after all.
Either way, it was unto this world that legendary soap creator Agnes Nixon delivered her beloved show. Nixon had written the All My Children bible back in the ‘60s, believing that a good soap should “Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry, make ‘em wait.” She wanted humor, she wanted love, she wanted youth, vitality and a way to tackle social issues while always staying topical and relevant.
The networks didn’t want any of that jazz. Soaps were safe, serious and focused on mature characters. But then ABC let Nixon try out some of those ideas with One Life to Live. Viewers didn’t run screaming into the streets seeing characters contend with race and class, so, pleased with her work done in Llanview, ABC finally gave Nixon the go-ahead to bring Pine Valley to life.
Setting Down Its Roots
Admittedly, the show got off to a bit of a rocky start. Nixon kicked it off by snagging Rosemary Prinz for a six month stint as political activist Amy Tyler. Prinz had just left the No. 1 soap at the time, As The World Turns, after 12 years, so the big-name draw seemed like a sure bet. It didn’t exactly translate into viewers, though, with the show languishing at the bottom of the ratings heap. Still, Nixon was certain that her storytelling would win folks over, so she plowed ahead with her plans — even if they were unheard of in the soap world at the time!
Up until then, the Vietnam War had barely even been mentioned on daytime. Then suddenly viewers were introduced to a show with its big star’s character not just mentioning it but protesting it! When Prinz left, All My Children was in second to last place, and no one would have blamed Nixon for switching direction. But instead, she doubled down and had Mary Fickett’s Ruth Martin pick up the torch of protest when her adopted son Phil Brent (Richard Hatch) was drafted against his will.
That’s when critics took notice, along with the rest of the public. In 1973, Ruth’s Vietnam protest speech even propelled Fickett to become the first performer ever to win an Emmy for a daytime soap — a year before the Daytime Emmys were even created. And Fickett did all of this while building the show’s most enduring couple with Joe Martin (Ray MacDonnell), as the two began a love story that would survive for the entirety of the show’s (two) runs.
As for the much-lauded first legal abortion on daytime, that happened just two years into the show’s run. A teenage Erica Kane (Susan Lucci) beat Roe v. Wade to the punch by a year, in a story Nixon knew would shock viewers. After all, Erica had the abortion simply because she didn’t want anything coming between her and a modeling career.
It turned out, cultural relevancy and tackling difficult topics weren’t the taboos that soaps had long treated them as. Viewers started realizing that, too, and once the show caught on, All My Children began its climb from the bottom of the ratings to the top, finally reaching the coveted No. 1 spot in 1979.
This early decade gave us characters like the manipulative Palmer Cortlandt (James Mitchell), the villainous Billy Clyde Tuggle (Matthew Cowles) and the start of supercouple Nina (Taylor Miller) and Cliff (The Young and The Restless’ Jack, Peter Bergman). In fact, when those two lovers were introduced in 1979, it was just a hint of things to come.
The Golden Age of Love
All My Children was on fire throughout the ‘80s, especially early in the decade. This was the era of ABC’s Love In The Afternoon, and All My Children delivered in spades. As Nina and Cliff struggled against her overbearing father to be together, the show leaned in to one Nixon’s stocks in trade: young love. This era gave us Greg (Laurence Lau) and Jenny (Kim Delaney), Angie (Debbi Morgan) and Jesse (Darnell Williams), and Tad the Cad (Michael E. Knight) sleeping with Liza (Marcy Walker) and her mother, Marian (Jennifer Bassey)!
Mainstays like the Chandlers first came to town when the late David Canary brought twins Adam and Stuart to Pine Valley in 1983. That same year, All My Children pushed forward with another formerly taboo subject when it became the first soap to touch on homosexuality, with short-lived psychiatrist Lynn Carson (Donna Pescow) admitting that she was a lesbian. And as the decade wore on, the show brought the reality of the AIDS crisis home with Cindy Parker (Ellen Wheeler), who’d contracted the disease sharing drug needles with her husband.
Still, it wasn’t all serious life-or-death issues. Let’s not forget the show’s unfailing ability to make us laugh. This golden era was also when we got one of the most important lines ever uttered in soap opera history: “I am Erica Kane, and you are a filthy beast!” (Watch it below.)
Of course, no golden era lasts forever, and like many soaps at the time, All My Children couldn’t help but catch the action/adventure bug in the late ‘80s. But really, you don’t stick around for over 40 years without a little reinvention and reinvigoration a few dozen times or so.
The Next Generations
The greatest thing about that reinvigoration was that over the years to follow, All My Children gave us new supercouples like Tad and Dixie (Cady McClain), Hayley (Kelly Ripa) and Matéo (Mark Consuelos), and Zach (Thorsten Kaye) and Kendall (Alicia Minshew). And speaking of Kendall, Erica finally got headache-inducing daughters of her own — first Bianca (Eden Riegel), whose coming out kept us in tears for days, then long-lost daughter Kendall (originally Sarah Michelle Gellar), who gave Mommie Dearest a taste of the grief she had given her own mother Mona (Frances Helfin) for decades.
And when it comes to reinvention, nothing helps start over like a good disaster. Poor Pine Valley’s been leveled not once but twice by tornadoes, a feat all the more amazing given the relative rarity of such things in the Philadelphia suburbs. Their wells are pretty dangerous, too. Sweet Natalie Marlowe (Kate Collins) spent weeks trapped in one as her crazy twin Janet “From Another Planet” Greene (also Collins) took over life. (Eat your heart out, Baby Jessica. Two days? That’s nothing.)
Oh yeah, and be careful at a Pine Valley party. You never know when someone might slip a sex drug into the punch and start a bash that would make the Greeks blush. Speaking of folks who dumped Libidizone into the punch, Dr. David Hayward (Vincent Irizarry) was singlehandedly responsible for the town’s undead outbreak when he brought five folks back to life. We have to wonder if, after all that experimentation with Project Orpheus, David might have used his life-giving skills on All My Children itself. After all, it looks like the show’s going to come back from the dead not once but twice!
Death, Rebirth and Re-Rebirth
On April 14, 2011, ABC dismayed fans by announcing that it was axing its two lowest-rated soaps, All My Children and One Life to Live. Once they were gone, only General Hospital was left standing. We were devastated, but at least the news was somewhat tempered when we learned that ABC loaned the rights to its two recently-cancelled soap staples to online content creators Prospect Park.
It took a few years and a false start or two, but in 2013, All My Children finally came bursting back to life online. Fans were skeptical about the new bosses, but the return brought back plenty of fan favorites and jumped headfirst into the show’s topical, social-issues roots. If anything, the new format allowed the powers that be to push the boundaries even further, kicking off a human-trafficking story with Angie’s daughter, Cassandra, kidnapped and forced into a sex ring.
The Prospect Park revival, though, was short-lived. Fraught with production and financing problems, it only lasted a few months before shutting down. The show then spent several years in legal limbo before the rights finally returned home to ABC in 2016. What, if anything, the network would do with those rights, though, was anyone’s guess… until recently!
Since the show celebrated its 40th anniversary by having Kelly Ripa bring Hayley back to shoot a documentary, it seems fitting that we’re celebrating its 51st with the news that Ripa is working to revive the show as a primetime drama called Pine Valley. Of course, Hayley put that documentary together because Pine Valley had been named Best Town in America, while the new revival looks to be about the town’s curiously murder-happy history.
We guess in the past 10 years, folks finally started to realize just how dangerous Pine Valley really is!
Into the Great Unknown
Now we have no idea what the future will bring, but if the new Pine Valley wants to honor its roots, it won’t flinch from social issues and tough topics. We already have high hopes since, right off the bat, in making the Santos family one of the key clans on the show, it’s acknowledging the diversity of the world we live in.
And let’s face it, the country these days is more divided than it has been since the Vietnam war. That means there’s plenty of dramatic material to mine with a (thoughtful) return to politics. And as for characters, how about someone like Zoe (Jeffrey Carlson)? Not only was she good friends with Bianca, a member of the new show’s other key family, the Kanes, she has her own connection to Pine Valley’s murderous history. Remember the Satin Slayer? Zoe is one of the few to have survived an attack by the serial killer!
Plus, it would be an amazing opportunity to cast a transgender performer.
Whatever comes, we couldn’t be more excited to see where Agnes Nixon’s baby will go next. Here’s hoping All My Children’s 51st anniversary is just the start of many more years to come in Pine Valley. While you’re here, why not check out a few of the other characters that we feel absolutely must make the jump to the new show?