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Who shot J.R.? is an advertising catchphrase that American network CBS created in 1980 to promote the television series Dallas. It referred to the mystery surrounding the season ending murder attempt in the March 21, 1980 "A House Divided" episode that was not resolved until the November 21, 1980 "Who Done It?" episode.
In the final scene of the 1979-80 season, the character J.R. Ewing, played by Larry Hagman, was shot twice by an unseen assailant. The episode, titled "A House Divided," was broadcast on March 21, 1980.
T-shirts printed with such references as "Who Shot J.R.?" and "I Shot J.R." became common over the summer, the latter eventually being seen in the first episode of British/Irish sitcom Father Ted. Several media outlets held "Who shot J.R.?" contests.
During the 1980 United States presidential election, the Republicans distributed campaign buttons that claimed "A Democrat shot J.R.", while Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter joked that he would have no problem financing his campaign if he knew who shot J.R. When Hagman was offered £100,000 during a British vacation for the identity of the shooter, he admitted that neither he nor anyone in the cast knew the answer. Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother was among the millions worldwide intrigued by the mystery, and the crowd at the Royal Ascot yelled "J.R.! J.R.!" when Hagman arrived. Betting parlors worldwide took bets as to which one of the 10 or so principal characters had actually pulled the trigger. International oddsmakers created a set of odds for the possible culprits: "Dusty Farlow (J.R.'s wife Sue Ellen's lover, who disappeared after a plane crash) is the 6 to 4 favorite, followed by Vaughn Leland (a banker J.R. swindled) and Kristin Shepard (J.R.'s mistress) at 4 to 1. Sue Ellen herself is a long shot at 25 to 1, as is J.R.'s long- suffering mother, Miss Ellie."
Comedy pop group The Barron Knights recorded We know who done it. Using the tune of Gary Numan's Cars, the song ended with a repetition of "It was-" as if, frustratingly, the record's needle stuck just before the culprit was named.
Production for the 1980-81 season began in June 1980, but Hagman—who had begun the show in a secondary role but now was the star—refused to film the show without a raise. He returned to work ten days later with a new contract that paid him $100,000 per episode and royalties from J.R. Ewing merchandise. Viewers had to wait an additional two months to find out the answer to the famous question, however, as a strike by the Screen Actors' Guild began in July that delayed the production of most new network shows by eight weeks. During the delay, CBS showed early Dallas episodes with Ewing, helping the show's many new fans better understand his character.
Ultimately, the person who pulled the trigger was revealed to be Kristin Shepard (played by Mary Crosby) in the "Who Done It?" episode which aired on November 21, 1980. Kristin was J.R.'s scheming sister-in-law and mistress, who shot him in a fit of anger. J.R. did not press charges, as Kristin claimed she was pregnant with his child as a result of their affair.
Weeks after the reveal, Victoria Principal appeared on a TV Guide-sponsored special saluting 1980, introducing ultimately unused footage of the alternate shooters (Jock, Miss Ellie, Cliff and Sue Ellen), and of Alan Beam and Sue Ellen separately being carried off by police.
"Who Done It?" was, at the time, the highest-rated television episode in U.S. history. It had a Nielsen rating of 53.3 and a 76% share, and it was estimated that 83 million people watched the episode, more than the number of voters in that year's presidential election. The previous record for a TV episode, had been the 1967 finale for The Fugitive. "Who Done It?" now sits second on the list, beaten in 1983 by the final episode of M*A*S*H. In 2011, Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly named "A House Divided" number one of the seven most "Unforgettable Cliff-Hangers" of prime time dramatic television. The episode was also very popular outside the United States; a session of the Turkish parliament was suspended to allow legislators a chance to get home in time to view the Dallas episode with the answer.
The great success of this 1980 stunt helped popularize in the United States the practice of ending a television season with a cliffhanger. The episode also inspired a novelty record by radio personality Gary Burbank which hit the Billboard Top 100 in 1980. In addition, the episode is credited with helping CNN, which began airing in June 1980, to get off the ground.
The "Who shot J.R.?" storyline was spoofed in the final episode of the 1980/1981 season of Saturday Night Live, which was guest-hosted by Dallas star Charlene Tilton. The episode, sometimes referred to as "Who Shot C.R.?", provided several cast members with various motivations to hate co-star Charles Rocket, who is shot in the episode.
"Who shot J.R.?" was later spoofed in a 1995 The Simpsons episode entitled "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" which similarly provided many characters with motivation to kill Mr. Burns, and similarly ended on a cliffhanger.
In Larry Hagman's final episode of the 2012 sequel, Dallas, which aired on March 4, 2013, J.R. was shot again, this time fatally. In the 2013 Season 2 finale it was revealed that JR asked Steve "Bum" Jones to shoot him so his 'masterpiece' could play out, framing Cliff Barnes for his murder. The main reason he had himself killed was because doctors told JR that he had only days to live, he was dying from cancer. In his letter to Bobby he reveals all of this and that he wanted to die helping his family end the Ewing/Barnes feud once and for all.