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Today in History: ‘Who Shot J.R.?’ Became America’s Obsession

It was March 21, 1980, long before the internet age. A time when TV shows only lived on the day they aired (unless you got lucky and they re-ran an episode you missed). But still, despite these limitations, an episode of the popular dramedy “Dallas” took America by storm.

“Dallas,” which had become known for its cliff-hanger endings, took it to the next level in Season 3 with “A House Divided,” the episode that gave us the phrase “Who shot J.R.?”

The season ended when one of its most popular characters, J.R., played by Larry Hagman (also of “I Dream of Jeannie” fame) got shot. But the person wielding the weapon was not revealed, and so ensued a summer of speculation.


When “Dallas” returned in the fall, the episode following up “A House Divided” set a then-record for most-watched television show in history. That record was later broken by “M.A.S.H.,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

The “Dallas” episode was so famous, 15 years later, “The Simpsons” parody of it was a huge success, too. That episode, “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” aired on May 21, 1995, and became a sort of cultural touchstone in its own right.

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