Millions Watch To Find Out Who Shot J.R. – 11/21/1980

US History |

Amazingly, 350 million people worldwide were glued to their television sets on November 21st, 1980 so that they could finally discover who shot the T.V. character J.R. Ewing. The primetime show “Dallas” contained a character that everyone loved to hate and has been recorded to present one of most famous cliffhangers in television history when the character was shot at the end of the show’s season on March 21st. 

The next eight months was focused in the media on the plot twist that had America pondering “Who had shot J.R.?” Ultimately, the shooter was revealed to the world on November 21st as Kristin Shepard, J.R.’s former mistress and wife’s sister, finally ending the mystery by identifying the culprit.

The first five-episode “Dallas” pilot season debuted on the CBS television network in 1978 and lasted for another twelve-full length seasons. “Dallas” was an original type of show as it was labeled as a “primetime soap opera” for its tales of drama about moral excess and having serial plots. The focus of the show was on two oil families in Texas: The Barnes family that seemed down on their luck and the successful as well as wealthy Ewing family. The patriarchs of the families were Digger Barnes and Jock Ewing who once were partners but ended up locked in a long fight over oil fields that supposedly were owned by Barnes and were taken by Ewing. The fighting clans were linked closer than before due to the marriage of Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy) and Pam Barnes (Victoria Principal). Bobby’s older brother is J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) who is a womanizing scoundrel, greedy and conniving.

Audiences had difficulty trying to figure out who shot J.R. because of all the enemies he had. The summer was filled with intrigue and the question of “Who shot J.R.?” became the national lexicon as this phrase would be seen on t-shirts as well as peeking the anticipation for the fall season to answer the question. Adding to the hype was the well-known dispute over Hagman’s contract that was finally agreed on plus the Screen Actors Guild strike prolonged the wait for the show’s fans. The final answer revealed itself on an episode that went down as one of the most watched shows on television that had an audience in the U.S. alone of 83 million people! Also, United States televisions on that night which were tuned in were 76 percent and assisted in the show becoming more circulated worldwide. “Dallas” also convinced television writers in the future how important it is to use cliffhangers.

Besides J.R. being shot, “Dallas” had another notorious plot twist up their sleeve. Fans learned in September of 1986 that the previous season in which Bobby Ewing was dead was actually a dream of Pam’s. The character had been killed off because Duffy decided to no longer be in the show; however, when Duffy wanted back in, the season-ending cliffhanger showed Bobby stepping out of the shower! The next season started with explaining how Bobby had come back from the dead.

“Dallas” finally ended on May 3rd, 1991. “Knots Landing,” was a spin-off that started on December 27th, 1979 and ended on May 13th, 1993. Despite being over, “Dallas” can still be seen worldwide. 

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Chakara Rosa

Writer

Chakara can take on any story given and get it done within the day. She is a vital asset to her colleagues as she is always willing to assist in any way she can to help the team get deadlines in on time. She writes for our history department but has been known to take on other stories and write the heck out of them.