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Dallas: Who Shot J.R. Ewing?

It was the question that held the summer of 1980 captive in breathless anticipation — who the heck shot JR Ewing (Larry Hagman) during the Season 3 finale of "Dallas"? Viewers had plenty of questions for the show as the summertime sped into fall. First of all, would JR even survive his big brush with death? And second of all — who plugged the dastardly oil baron? As May moved into June, fans of the soap — without the internet to turn to and dependent on gossip and magazines for information — started to speculate. The storyline launched a thousand tee-shirt sales and it kept Las Vegas oddsmakers betting down to the wire as the Season 4 premiere date loomed.

The suspects were myriad. Might it be Sue Ellen Ewing (Linda Gray), JR's long-suffering wife, whom JR spent the majority of Season 3 torturing in the hope of attaining full custody of their son John Ross? Could it be his saintly younger brother Bobby (Patrick Duffy), finally cracking under the pressure of coping with his brother's wolfish ways? Or was it Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval), JR's permanent archrival in all business matters? 

When the show reconvened on November 7, 1980, the answer was not immediately forthcoming. JR survives, of course, but it takes the show three more episodes to reveal the actual culprit: Kristin Shepard (Mary Crosby), JR's mistress and sister-in-law. Episode 4 of Season 4, "Who Done It?," did blockbuster ratings for CBS, and held an all-time viewership record until "M*A*S*H" superseded it with its series finale in 1983.

A cottage industry sprung up around JR's shooting

It's Sue Ellen who pieces together enough facts to figure out that errant blackmailer Kristen has framed her for JR's shooting. Sue Ellen goes to Southfork to confront JR with the truth, and when Kristen shows up as well, the two women get into a fight. Sue Ellen reveals that Kristen intercepted her on the way to JR's office, intentionally offering her another drink when she was already tipsy so she would put her gun down. Kristen pilfered the gun and headed to JR's office, where she shot him. Then she removed the gun from her own handbag and placed it among Sue Ellen's things. JR tries to call the police, only for Kristen to reveal she's pregnant. 

JR tries to solve the problem by sending Kristen out of town, but by the end of Season 4 — having delivered a child she claims to be JR's son, Christopher — Kristen returns to Dallas demanding money. She's later found drowned in the swimming pool at Southfork during the Season 4 finale. Who killed her? Fans wouldn't find out until Season 5. 

The "Who Shot JR?" storyline turned into a real cultural phenomenon, and it definitely helped change the way television programs are presented. It popularized seasonal usage of cliffhangers in general and set a gold standard for audience anticipation.

JR Ewing, of course, would go on to live a long and storied life in spite of his roguish ways. The character passed away during the second season of TNT's "Dallas" reboot series — an event which came about due to the real-life passing of Larry Hagman on November 23, 2012, at the age of 81.