How many of you love a good mystery?
I know I do. Some of my favourite forms of entertainment involve trying to piece together a mystery of some sort. Picking out all the clues, examining evidence, trying to point a finger at a suspect. I love stuff like that. It's a wonder that I didn't pursue a career in detective work or forensics.
No, actually, there's a couple of reasons. My suspicions are usually wrong, and I hate the sight of blood that is not my own. That's why I didn't go down that career path.
But I can't remember one instance in which I wasn't absolutely fascinated by the idea of mystery. Even as early as my formative years, I used to read mystery books. I was quite into the Hardy Boys Mystery books, as well as a special set of books called the Clue Mystery novel series that would have a bunch of mini-mysteries in each book. It was fun to read through the book and attempt to have the mystery solved before I got to the end of the story, seeing if I was on the right track or way off course.
It wasn't just books that got me hooked. I play a lot of video games on my Nintendo DS that have to do with mystery themes. Phoenix Wright and Hotel Dusk are a couple of my favourites, as well as the various games that require you to locate Carmen Sandiego.
In television, I'm also drawn to mystery related shows and storylines. I admit to actually getting hooked on a soap opera because they had a really big murder mystery going on in one of its plots (and admittedly kept watching said soap opera until it was cancelled). That's how much I love the genre known as mystery.
Today's blog topic has to do with one of the biggest mysteries in the history of prime time television. And, unfortunately for me, it aired the year before I was born, so I missed it when it originally aired. But, those of you who were lucky enough to have lived through the year 1980 might remember this 'who done it' mystery quite well. It was widely reported in newspapers and magazines for a six month period, and reportedly the Queen tried to get one of the stars of the program to spill the secret. Of course, he never told.
The mystery? Who shot J.R. Ewing on Dallas?
The mystery began on March 21, 1980. That was the day that the Dallas episode “A House Divided” aired. It was the final episode of the show's second season. And, J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) had been a very, very naughty man.
In the course of the season, J.R. Ewing had alienated almost everyone in his life. His younger brother Bobby was tired of J.R.'s ruthless scheming. His wife, Sue Ellen was an alcoholic who wanted to see her husband in a casket. Sue Ellen's scheming sister, Kristin was also angry at him for backing out on a promise he made her during an affair they had. There was Cliff Barnes, who had been J.R. Ewing's nemesis for years. Oh heck, why don't we just add Ellie, Jock, Pam, Lucy, Ray, and pretty much anyone else who had set foot in Southfork Ranch during late 1979 and early 1980? J.R. Ewing was that hated.
On March 21, 1980, someone took their revenge out on J.R. Ewing. And they did it with a bang.
That was quite typical of Dallas cliffhanger episodes. Some event would happen that would get people talking around office water coolers for weeks after the fact. Whether it was getting blown up in a car accident, or falling off of a building, or waking up and realizing that a whole season was just a bad dream, Dallas certainly didn't skimp on the dramatics and shock value with their end of season episode cliffhangers. In fact, it was the 1980 cliffhanger that could be considered the granddaddy of all Dallas cliffhangers that have ever aired.
Who shot J.R.?
The cliffhanger episode was elaborately done. Throughout the whole episode, almost everyone in J.R. Ewing's inner circle was rightfully annoyed at him for whatever reason, and throughout the whole episode, we saw everyone utter at least one threat against him. The list of suspects kept growing and growing. When the moment came, and the shot rang out, viewers were left wondering which person pulled the trigger.
And, unfortunately for viewers, the answer to that question wouldn't be revealed for quite some time.
Shortly after “A House Divided” screened on CBS, there was an actors strike that postponed filming of almost every prime time show for three months. Soon after that, in July 1980, another strike had taken place, this one being orchestrated by the Screen Actors' Guild. That strike delayed production by another eight weeks. Viewers had to wait until at least November 1980 before they learned whether J.R. Ewing would even survive being shot, and who the perpetrator was.
That must have been absolutely agonizing for viewers having to wait eight whole months for a conclusion to be brought forth. I know that had I been old enough to watch that storyline as it originally aired, I would have been on pins and needles waiting for the answers.
But with the longer than normal wait came lucrative advertising opportunities for retail outlets to cash in on the 'Who Shot J.R.” pandemonium.
During the summer of 1980, it wasn't an uncommon sight to see people wearing T-shirts and other articles of clothing asking the question 'Who Shot J.R.?”. Some even took it one step further, and wore clothing items reading “I Shot J.R.!”
Many betting places in the United Kingdom and the United States actually took bets from people who tried to predict who the shooter was. During the 1980 American presidential campaign, people from the Republican party passed out campaign buttons, insisting that a Democrat shot J.R.! Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter fired back by stating that he'd have no problem financing his campaign had he known who had pulled the trigger.
(Assuming that there was a reward for finding the shooter, that is.)
Did I mention that the general public were getting so antsy about who had shot J.R. Ewing that the cast members were often asked ad nauseum who had done it? Radio stations offered up speculation. Television interviews with actors were conducted, in which every single one kept quiet. As mentioned before, one cast member was vacationing in the United Kingdom while Dallas was on hiatus, and he happened to meet with the Queen Mother, who promptly asked him who the perpetrator was.
Alas, not even being the ruler of a nation was enough to get Larry Hagman to spill the secret. Larry Hagman was even offered a nice chunk of change in exchange for the name of the shooter. But, Larry later explained that anyone who did attempt to bribe them for information was simply wasting their time and money. At the time of the hiatus, Hagman claimed that nobody in the cast knew anything about the identity of the shooter. Whether or not there was any truth to that statement, it's hard to say. For the sake of this entry, let's just go ahead and believe it.
Viewers had to wait until November 21, 1980 until the answer revealed itself. A full eight months since J.R. Ewing was shot. Miraculously (despite the fact that in the real world, a person who was shot eight months ago would have likely died of blood loss if not by anything else), J.R. Ewing survived his shooting, but he was unable to identify his shooter, on account that the crime took place in darkness. It wasn't until Sue Ellen started to do a little bit of digging, and realized that there was only one person who could have done the dastardly deed.
Would you like to know who it is? Scroll down.
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That's right. The shooter was none other than Kristin Shepard, revealed in the episode 'Who Done It?'
Sue Ellen explained that she stopped by Kristin's apartment holding the gun (at first, it was widely believed that Sue Ellen was the main suspect). Kristin had offered Sue Ellen a drink, knowing full well that Sue Ellen had been drinking quite a bit before arriving at her place, and knowing that Sue Ellen would more than likely pass out if she drank any more alcohol on top of the amount that she had already drank. Sure enough, that's exactly what happened.
Kristin picked up an unconscious Sue Ellen and helped her back into her car, but Kristin pocketed Sue Ellen's gun and kept it on her person. With Sue Ellen unable to do anything about it, Kristin snuck into J.R. Ewing's office and shot him. A few hours later, Kristin found a way into Sue Ellen's place, and stuffed the gun inside Sue Ellen's closet, in an attempt to frame her for the crime.
But, Sue Ellen discovered the nasty plan, and spilled every little detail to J.R., all in front of Kristin, effectively throwing her under the bus (and rightfully so). And, J.R. Is naturally furious about the whole thing, and is ready to call the police to have Kristin arrested. But then Kristin reveals that she has gotten pregnant, and well, you guessed it. J.R. Ewing just happened to be the father.
And since Maury Povich didn't have a talk show back in 1980, J.R. Ewing just had to take her word for it. After all, the scandal that would take place if Kristin gave birth to an Ewing heir in prison would spell financial disaster for Ewing Oil.
Oh, but don't worry. Karma has a way of working itself out. And, when the third season came to its conclusion in May 1981, Kristin received the ultimate comeuppance. And, in this case, J.R. Ewing had nothing to do with it.
At least, physically.
Since the 'Who Shot J.R.' storyline wrapped up, there have been many, many carbon copies and parodies released. In 1990, everyone was asking the question 'Who Killed Laura Palmer?' on the television series 'Twin Peaks' (it was Leland Palmer). Five years later, people wondered who shot Mr. Burns on the long-running animated series 'The Simpsons'. (It was Maggie Simpson)
Even soap operas had their own version of 'who done it' storylines, and on the British soap EastEnders, a storyline ran during early 2001 which posed the question 'Who Shot Phil Mitchell?' (It was Lisa.)
But, I think that it's a safe bet to say that the most memorable one was 'Who Shot J.R.?' Considering that at one time it was the most watched television program ever (until it was dethroned by the M*A*S*H series finale in 1983), I think it speaks for itself just how big it got.