Houghton was an original castmember of the CBS daytime soap opera The Young and the Restless, in which he played Greg Foster. His most prominent role is that of Kenny Ward on the long-running prime time soap operaKnots Landing, which he played from 1979-83. In more recent years, Houghton has become a soap opera scriptwriter, working on The Young and the Restless and also The Bold and The Beautiful.
Houghton is the son of Twilight Zone producer Buck Houghton, and his sister, Mona Houghton, is also a television writer. James and Mona collaborated on three of the scripts for Knots Landing in 1982.
Houghton is seen on the cover of the Warren Zevon album, "The Envoy".