30 years since “Who Shot J.R.?” solved

It was 30 years ago that America finally discovered the answer to TV’s greatest soapie riddle: “Who Shot J.R.”

On November 21st 1980 the mystery to the March cliffhanger was solved.

The new season of Dallas, delayed by a Writers Guild strike, opened with a staggering 76 percent share of the viewing audience tuning in to learn that Texas oilman J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman).

Even today, that 1980-81 opener is the third most-watched show of all time after last February’s Super Bowl and, at No. 2, the 1983 series finale of MASH.

The cliffhanger had kept audiences dangling about which Dallas character had shot J.R., with several having been invested with every good reason to take him out. With the show’s popularity, many fake endings for episodes were filmed, just to keep actors and crew in the dark, in the hope of avoiding media leaks.

The correct one wasn’t tacked on the finished episode until 2 a.m. the Wednesday before the Friday airing, just before it was sent by courier to New York, where it was placed in a vault. Commercials weren’t inserted until a few hours before airtime.

The cliffhanger episode was parodied famously by “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” on The Simpsons as well as “Who’s Cartman’s Mom?” on South Park.

For the record, J.R. had been shot by Kristin Shepard (Mary Crosby), his sister-in-law and former mistress.


Source: Chicago Tribune


  1. Here’s some Dallas trivia: My estimate is that the episode titled “Who Done It?” went to air in Melbourne on Tuesday 10 March 1981 on Channel 10, Melbourne. (I only found that out because I have the TV listing for the following week which has the next episode, “Taste Of Success”, listed)

    Imagine these days having a season-end cliffhanger go for four months from its US screening and it still being largely a mystery to viewers here?? Unheard of nowadays.

  2. There was a report on who shot JR in CBS News (aired on Sky News in australia yesterday)

    They were talking about it when the guy they had was about to say who did it Sky News went to a Breaking News piece on the Miners in NZ. ..I wish i had’ve recorded it for you guys 🙁

  3. Who Shot JR was a great cliffhanger, as was their latter one with Bobby emerging from the shower.

    I think those 2, plus the earthquake Clliffhanger in Falcon Crest plus the Moldavian Massacre cliffhanger in Dynasty were the best American soap cliffhangers.

    Sons and Daughters used to make great end of year cliffhangers as well, their best being the ones from 1983 and 85.

    Yes I’d also like to congratulate Dr Who on 47 years. I love Dr Who and think its the best sci fi show ever made – long may his adventures continue!

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