It was the question everyone was asking
March 21, 2017
It was on March 21, 1980 when the whole world was left asking the question “Who shot J.R.?”
Need I explain further? I doubt it because – unless one was living beneath a rock – the buzz around the water cooler for the next 8 months centered on this popular cultural phenomenon.
They took bets in Vegas, speculated on radio and TV programs, sold “Who Shot J.R.?” T-shirts, sponsored guessing contests and created a publicity hype never before seen. Some 83 million people viewed the follow up episode in November that year, more people than voted in the 1980 presidential election! At the time ‘Who done it’ (the reveal) was the most watched TV program in history, only being topped in 1983 by the final episode of MASH.
“In the final scene of the 1979–80 season, J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) hears a noise outside his office, walks out to the corridor to look, and is shot twice by an unseen assailant. The episode, titled “A House Divided”, was broadcast on March 20, 1980. Viewers had to wait all summer to learn whether J.R. would survive, and which of his many enemies was responsible.
Ultimately, the person who pulled the trigger was revealed to be Kristin Shepard (Mary Crosby) in the “Who Done It?” episode which aired on November 21, 1980. Kristin was J.R.’s scheming sister-in-law and mistress, who shot him in a fit of anger. J.R. did not press charges, as Kristin claimed she was pregnant with his child as a result of their affair.”
The Infallible Wikipedia – as it is wont to do – has an exhaustive account of the series:
“With its 357 episodes, Dallas remains one of the longest lasting full-hour prime time dramas in American TV history, behind Gunsmoke (635 episodes), Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (525 episodes as of December 2022), Law & Order (475 episodes as of December 2022), Bonanza (430 episodes), and Grey’s Anatomy (406 episodes as of November 2022). Dallas also spawned spin-off series Knots Landing in 1979, which also lasted 14 seasons and a total of 344 episodes.
In 2007, Dallas was included in Time magazine’s list of ‘100 Best TV Shows of All-Time.”
Dallas was ‘must see’ TV in my family’s household and my mother rarely missed an episode. I’d call it a guilty pleasure. When the show premiered in April 1978 I was at the University of Puget Sound. It’s likely that my first exposure was the next month when I returned home for the summer.
It was discussed around the dinner table and my dad liked the idea of being Yakima’s “J.R. Ewing,” managing land holdings and running an oil business. This idea was not without a hint of reality. Property which my grandfather owned and had been gifted to my parents a few years earlier had been of interest to a Canadian Oil company. My dad was already managing the family fruit orchards; when the oil company arrived on the scene, my parents entered into negotiations to give the company drilling rights and a contract was signed. Ultimately their explorations determined that any oil which was there as being too difficult and expensive to extract; our family’s vision of being the next Ewing family evaporated faster than a summer rain squall in Texas. Personally I had a hard time imagining living on a piece of sagebrush covered, rattlesnake inhabited land. But I imagine it would have made for compelling story lines.
As always, you can read more about J.R., Dallas and the reverberations from this seismic TV event on the Infallible Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Who_shot_J.R.%3F