Julie is a bright, capable young woman. I think she’s 24 or so. She has a big future in television production, but she doesn’t know who Larry Hagman is, she has never watched an episode of Dallas in her life, and when you mention the phrase “Who Shot JR?” to her, she tilts her head like a baffled golden retriever.
Thank God she met me, a grown man who longs for the day he meets Linda Gray, owns every season of the show up to and stopping with the dreaded “Dream Season,” and keeps Dallas trading cards in his top drawer at work.
This was the biggest event in television history, and the audience it drew will never be duplicated. Yes, more people watched the final episode of MASH, but that was two-and-a-half hours, an episode five times its normal size. “Who Shot JR” was its regular 44 minutes: four acts, no special guest stars, no weepy good-byes, no gallant speeches, no Korean babies parading around as chickens. The episode which aired on november 21, 1980 was just good, fun storytelling brought to a sleek well-honed climax. There was no intention to capture the fascination of the entire world. No calculation ahead of time. The producers, writers and actors simply knew what they were doing, and did it.
Somewhow, Julie being completely oblivous to the insane amount of global press that surrounded this event has brought back in full force all the memories of how much fun it was to be a part of. My entire family watched, everyone in my fifth grade class watched. I even remember having a tooth filled by Dr. Croal and him stopping mid-way through the procedure to ask “So Gary, who do you think did it?” knowing he didn’t need to be more specific for me to understand what he was asking.
TV addiction will never be so much fun again. Now, we can each watch pretty much anything we want anytime we want. But I can still feel the labors of getting through the week leading up to that epsiode, hearing about it everywhere I went, the fun of getting a call from my sister-in-law’s family in Ohio, who got the show two hours earlier and refused to give up the identity of the culprit, and then… finally having my curiosity sated.
Watching the episode now, it comes off rather tame when compared to what television producers can get away with these days. The people who worked on Dallas had a much tighter box to work within, and pulled off far more fun than anything on the air now.
Julie, like everyone her age and younger, just plain missed out.
“Who Shot JR” Re-lived on Ultimate Dallas
Listen to NPR Celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Episode
Coverage from BBC
And for those not in the know (there are more of you out there than I realize), here’s the guilty party…