Thou shall not hate.
That was my grandmother’s usual response when one of us made the mistake of saying something we shouldn’t have been thinking. Then she would remind us that the Bible teaches us not to hate, especially if the ill feelings were directed at a person.
That was until she heard about the villainous J.R. Ewing. She made an exception when it came to hating the Texas oil tycoon played by Larry Hagman on the hit television show, “Dallas.” Because J.R. was a fictional character, she felt it was okay to hate the man even though she didn’t know him.
No one in our house watched the primetime soap opera, “Dallas,” but we had all heard about J.R.’s dastardly deeds. That all changed after the March 21, 1980 episode ended the show’s second season with what has become one of the most famous cliffhangers in TV history. We weren’t watching the show the night someone put a bullet in J.R, but we spent the following eight months captivated by the mystery of who shot him.
It’s hard to believe that thirty years have passed since the question, “Who shot J.R.?” became part of the national lexicon, adorned millions of T-shirts and caps, and made the third season’s premiere episode one of the highest viewed television shows of all time.
The hour-long drama, which premiered in 1978, revolved around two Texas oil families. The Ewings were a successful family of cut-throats, while the Barnes family was always down on their luck but remained close-knit. The show’s central character was J.R., the oldest son of the Ewing clan. He was greedy, conniving, and made more enemies than he did friends. The people who had a reason to kill J.R. far outnumbered the ones who didn’t, so audiences were hard-pressed to guess who shot him.
Thou shouldn’t wish anything bad for anyone.
That was my grandmother’s response when one of us made the mistake of saying J.R. got what he deserved. Even though she hated J.R., she didn’t wish anything bad for him. All we cared about was finding out who shot the man we loved to hate, but my grandmother’s primary concern was whether he lived or died. She hated him, but not enough to want him dead.
For eight months, the media fed our insatiable appetites for information and updates on the shooting. And then on November 21, 1980, 350 million people worldwide tuned in to the season premiere to learn the answer to the mystery. In the U.S. alone, 83 million people or 76 percent of all the televisions on that night were tuned in when it was revealed that Kristin Shepard, J.R. wife’s sister and his former mistress, had shot him.
I didn’t watch “Dallas” until the mystery of “Who shot J.R.?” made me a big fan. But it turned out that J.R.’s shooting wouldn’t be the show’s only famous cliffhanger. At the beginning of the 1985 season, J.R.’s younger brother, Bobby, died, but during the last five seconds of the season-ending cliffhanger, Bobby stepped out the shower and greeted his disbelieving wife. Viewers were left wondering, “How was Bobby resurrected?” The wait for an explanation didn’t match the anticipation of “Who shot J.R.?” and it wasn’t as satisfying. Bobby’s wife had dreamed his death and the entire previous season.
Because it was only a television show, which back then featured mostly fictional characters, it was okay for me to make an exception and declare publicly, I hated “Dallas” after that.