It’s Classic Clip Friday: Dallas – Who Shot J.R.?


Many apologies for the late appearance of this week’s classic clip – internet connection problems prevented me getting online yesterday.

Anyway, better late than never, this week we remember what remains one of the most watched – and without a doubt the most-hyped – episodes in TV history.

Yes, it’s the Who Shot J.R.? cliffhanger from Dallas. It’s easy to forget, almost 30 years after the fact, quite how big a deal this was back in 1980.

By the end of the show’s third season (if you count the original five-episode mini-series as its first season), it was already well established in the US TV top 10, with an average audience of 19million viewers, and incredibly popular in the UK and many other countries.

Continuing a tradition that started in season two – and which would endure for the rest of the show’s entire 14-season (357 episodes) run – the season three finale ended with a cliffhanger as central character, the nasty, scheming J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) was gunned down by an unseen shooter while working late alone in his Ewing Oil office.

The episode aired in March 1980 and during the show’s summer break, speculation about who shot J.R. reached fever pitch around the world (given that he had spent the entire second season cheating, insulting and double-crossing just about every other character in the show, there was no shortage of suspects).

People were wearing “Who Shot J.R.?” (or even better “I Shot J.R.!”) T-shirts and badges, bookies were taking a huge number of bets and TV news reports were even dedicated to the phenomenon. Adding to the excitement, anticipation and hype, a Hollywood actor’s strike meant that the start of season four was delayed by several months.

It finally began on November 7, 1980, when viewers found out that J.R. had survived the shooting – but not whodunit. For the big revelation, they had to wait until the fourth episode. I can still remember the hoopla and hype surrounding the broadcast of that episode on BBC1 – the BBC news even reported on how the tapes of the episode were flown in to Britain under armed guard!

In the US, an estimated 83million people watched on November 21 as the person who had pulled the trigger was revealed, making it the most-watched TV episode in American history at that time (it was overtaken in 1983 by the last-ever episode of M*A*S*H, which attracted nearly 106million viewers, a record that stands to ths day). It helped boost Dallas to an average audience of more than 30million that season, placing it at number one in the top 10.

In the UK (where at the time there were only three TV channels), the episode attracted around 28million viewers – around half the population!

Here, then, is that season three cliffhanger:

And here is the big revelation of whodunit:

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