The Only Question that Mattered in 1980: Who Shot J.R.?
In November 1980, the country had just elected a new president, the Iran-Iraq War continued and millions of people around the world were anxiously waiting for the answer to one question: "Who Shot J.R.?"
For thirteen years television sets were tuned to the saga of the Ewing family and Southfork Ranch. Millions of viewers, in the United States and 95 foreign countries were engrossed in tales of greed, power and sex. The series "Dallas" invented the season ending "cliffhanger" concept, now so familiar to viewers. It was this idea that helped bring the series its' world wide appeal. No "cliffhanger" is more famous than the one ending the March 1980 season. The clip of the "shooting" of J.R. Ewing was even shown on the News segment on the BBC. In Las Vegas bets were placed on the identity of the shooter.
When aired on November 21, 1980, according to Nielsen Media Research, nearly 41.5 million households were watching, to learn “Who Shot J.R?” This is a record that stood until the "M.A.S.H" finale in 1983 drew a still-standing record of more than 50 million households, Nielsen reports.
Located in Parker, Texas, Southfork, the Ewing Ranch, is now a resort drawing 400,000 American and foreign visitors a year. A $500,000 renovation created the theme rooms familiar to viewers although the interior shots of the show were filmed in California.
"We can't change the fact that J.R. never lived here. We want guests to leave saying he would have liked to," said Sally Peavey, guide and resident historian.
The Ranch, which is located 40 minutes north of Dallas, has a rodeo arena and the Visitor's Center, which conducts guided tours. Trams carry guests on tours or to attend a chuck-wagon dinner, complete with singing cowboys, poetry and tales of the West. The onsite museum holds the actual gun used in the "shooting" along with other pieces of Dallas' lore. Larger pieces of memorabilia, like Jock Ewing's 1978 Lincoln Continental, can be seen as guests stroll the 340-acre grounds, eat in the deli or buy clothes and other items representing the Ewing mystique.
Numerous websites provide information on the show, the Ewing Mansion, Southfork Ranch and links to chat rooms where fans can still discuss the long running saga.
For those of too young to remember or have forgotten "whodunit", the culprit was, J.R.'s spurned sister-in-law, Kristen.