1980: The Nation Discovers Who Shot J.R.
This day in 1980 marked the resolution of one of television’s most unforgettable cliffhangers: Who Shot J.R.?
The previous season of the soapy primetime drama, Dallas, ended with an unseen gunman shooting Larry Hagman’s J.R. Ewing — twice. Viewers were left wondering which of Ewing’s many advisaries had pulled the trigger (not to mention whether J.R. had survived the assault). Over the summer, “Who Shot J.R.?” became part of the pop-culture lexicon, with references popping up in other television shows and even the 1980 presidential campaign.
Ewing used the frenzy to negotiate a salary hike and a cut of the profits from the plentiful “Who Shot J.R.?” merchandise. A Screen Actors’ Guild strike delayed the resolution even more. When the season premiere finally aired, an estimated 83,000,000 viewers tuned in, making the episode the highest-rated TV episode in American television history (it was later eclipsed by the series finale of M*A*S*H). The show has also been credited with popularizing season-ending cliffhangers.
Spoiler alert: The shooter was J.R.’s sister-in-law (and mistress) Kristin Shepard, played by Mary Crosby.