THERE were bigger stories on the front page of the Evening Echo on Saturday 22 November 1980, but the most eye-catching headline read “Dallas: The Answer At Last”.
The Garda Representative Association was considering “militant action” over pay, and a fire at the Las Vegas MGM Grand Hotel had killed 85 people, but a below-the-fold report featured a photo of actors Larry Hagman and Linda Gray as JR and Sue Ellen Ewing, stars of the TV sensation Dallas.
The headline might have promised “The Answer At Last”, but so big was Dallas at the time that the report didn’t get around to mentioning the question, and even then only obliquely, until the final paragraph.
The third-season finale of the American oil opera had featured a cliff-hanger murder attempt against Hagman’s villain, and the phrase “Who shot JR?” soon became a global phenomenon, and Irish viewers were as obsessed as their counterparts in the US.
In Hollywood the night before, our correspondent reported, Larry Hagman, resplendent in his cowboy hat, had joined the cast and CBS executives at Chasens Restaurant, wearily telling reporters: “I’m sure as hell glad this thing is over and I hope it’s a long time before somebody takes a shot at old JR” In Dallas — “the real city”, The Echo helpfully clarified — interest in the TV show had reached fever pitch, with Dallas County Sheriff Carl Thomas’s office “inundated” with telephone calls from across the country urging him to solve the alleged crime.
“A cowboy disco called Belle Star ran a JR lookalike contest with a re-enactment of the shooting, with employees as actors,” we reported.
“Joe Duncan, who owns and lives on the actual Southfork spread ruled in the series by the Ewing clan, has been selling foot-square lots with genuine legal deeds, for 25 dollars each.” In anticipation of what it estimated would be 70 million viewers, CBS charged advertisers $500,000 for every 60 seconds of advertising during the Dallas season four opening episode.
The episode, aptly entitled Who Done It?, would be seen by an estimated 83 million people, becoming, for a time, America’s most-watched TV episode of all time, beating the previous record-holder, the 1967 series finale of The Fugitive, which had recorded a viewership of 78 million.
Three years after the episode first aired, Who Done It? would be knocked off its perch by Goodbye, Farewell and Amen, the 1983 series finale of M*A*S*H, which scored a whopping 106 million viewers.
“We know who shot JR, maybe you do too, but we are not saying,” the Evening Echo’s report concluded, urging readers to tune in to RTÉ 1 that evening to find out.
For the record, the person who shot JR — 42-year-old spoiler alert — was Kristen Shepard, JR’s sister-in-law and mistress, but of course for viewers of Father Ted, the confession on Pat Shortt’s tee-shirt will always hold the true answer.