Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A Stunt for the Ages

“This Day in TV History,” a regular feature of David Bianculli’s fine TV Worth Watching blog, notes that it was on this date, November 21, back in 1980 that boob-tube addicts finally learned “the resolution of one of television’s most unforgettable cliffhangers”: who shot J.R. Ewing, the patriarch on CBS-TV’s enduring series, Dallas.

“The previous season of the soapy primetime drama … ended with an unseen gunman shooting Larry Hagman’s J.R. Ewing—twice,” recalls TVWW. “Viewers were left wondering which of Ewing’s many adversaries had pulled the trigger (not to mention whether J.R. had survived the assault). Over the summer, ‘Who Shot J.R.?’ became part of the pop-culture lexicon, with references popping up in other television shows and even the 1980 presidential campaign.”

The Rap Sheet got in on the act, too—though not until 2013. That’s when I dug from my numerous file boxes a copy of the September 1980 edition of Panorama, a short-lived monthly magazine that promised to address “quality television” and was produced by TV Guide’s parent company, Triangle Publications. As I explained back then,
What interested me most about that edition of Panorama was a piece, tucked into the middle of its 112 pages, in which several prominent crime-fictionists of the time speculated on who had shot J.R. Ewing, Hagman’s manipulative oil baron character on the popular CBS-TV nighttime soaper, Dallas. That shooting took place at the conclusion of the March 21, 1980, season finale episode of the series, and a resolution to the crime would not be delivered until the November 21, 1980, episode. In the meantime, Panorama editors enlisted an all-star panel of “experts” to figure out whodunit: P.D. James, Nan and Ivan Lyons (Someone Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe), John D. MacDonald, Emma Lathen, and Collin Wilcox. ...

I can tell you right now that none of the authors who contributed their speculations to
Panorama got the answer right. Yet there’s fun to be had in seeing what reasons they came up with for getting the murderer’s identity wrong.
Of course, I scanned all of the relevant Panorama pages and posted them here for posterity. By the way, if you don’t know or don’t recall who drew that gun on the despicable J.R., click here to find out.

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