TV has definitely been full of memorable moments over the years with shows full of plot twists, cliff hanger endings, unexpected conclusions, and beloved characters leaving their series. But for whatever reason, Dallas made history in 1980 because, at the end of the third season on March 21, all anyone could talk about was "Who shot J.R?" In fact, the ending of the episode "A House Divided" turned into a pop culture phenomenon with people all over the world anxiously waiting for the big reveal which CBS didn't release for eight months.
Oil baron J.R. Ewing was played to perfection by Larry Hagman, a native Texan himself who masterfully brought the character everyone loved to hate to life. Following the major cliff hanger at the end of the soap opera's season, the question of "Who shot J.R" got major media coverage. T-shirts were made with the catchphrase, songs were written about the storyline, apparently, even the Queen Mother in England was captivated by the third-season finale. The identity of the real culprit was so shrouded in mystery that the network actually filmed every character at Southfork Ranch shooting J.R. in order to keep it a secret.
The concept of who shot J.R. even made it into the 1980 election. Republicans made campaign pins that said, "A Democrat Shot J.R." Even the Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter admitted he wanted to know the identity of J.R.'s shooter. In the episode, the only clue we hear is J.R. hearing a noise from his office and when he goes outside to investigate, he's greeted by two bullets. That's it. It was such an abrupt ending no wonder everyone was talking about it.
The world wouldn't get any answers until the fourth episode of season four, "Who Done It?" which aired on November 21. Initially, J.R.'s wife Sue Ellen was blamed and jailed for the crime, with father-in-law Jock immediately turning his back on her. But in the big reveal, it was actually J.R.'s sister-in-law, Kristin Shepard (Mary Crosby), J.R.'s former mistress who pulled the trigger on the Texas oil baron. Millions of viewers tuned into the TV episode to see the primetime soap's big reveal that had been hyped up for so many months. 83 million people in the United States alone not only helped turn the show into one of the most popular TV series in the country but gave it worldwide recognition.
The dramatic cliffhanger also popularized the technique for writers on other TV shows. Dallas even shocked the world again when they brought back Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy) from the grave in a later season, explaining that the entire previous season had been Pam's dream. To this day, Dallas and its spinoff series Knot's Landing, which both ended in the early 90s, are in syndication around the world, still popular with longtime fans.
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