The season finale of Dallas Season 3 was called “A House Divided” which aired on March 21, 1980. At the end of the episode, Larry Hagman’s character, J.R. Ewing heard a noise outside of his office and went to investigate. He was subsequently shot by an unknown assailant. Viewers would have to wait the entire Summer of 1980 before the new season of Dallas would begin and it wasn’t actually until the fourth episode of Season 4 on November 21, 1980, that we learned the identity of the shooter.
The CBS network used the slogan “Who Shot J.R.” as an advertising campaign over the summer of 1980 to build anticipation for the new season. Originally, Larry Hagman’s character was supposed to be a minor part of the show but quickly grew to be a major villainous figure. Hagman demanded a raise and the show was preparing to part ways with him, but finally reached a deal with him that brought him a new contract that paid him $100,000 per episode and royalties from J.R. Ewing merchandise.
The suspense built around viewers waiting to solve the mystery lead to T-Shirts with the slogan “Who Shot J.R.?” and “I Shot J.R.” were commonplace and it created a media sensation, including people trying to guess the odds on who would ultimately be found out as the shooter. It tuned out to be one of the most-watched moments in television.
We ultimately learned that the identity of the shooter was the character of Kristin Shepard who was played by Mary Crosby. She was J.R.’s scheming sister-in-law and mistress, who shot him in a fit of anger. J.R. Ewing didn’t press charges, because Kristin claimed she was pregnant with his child as a result of their affair.
Dallas continued to be a successful show and continued to air on TV for 14 Seasons.