Monday, March 21, 2011

This week in Television History: March 2011 Part IV

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As always, the further we go back in Hollywood history, the more that fact and legend become intertwined. It's hard to say where the truth really lies.

March 21, 1980

J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman), the character millions loved to hate on TV’s popular nighttime drama Dallas, was shot. The shooting made the season finale, titled A House Divided, one of television’s most famous cliffhangers and left America wondering “Who shot J.R.?” Dallas fans waited for the next eight months to have that question answered because the season premiere of Dallas was delayed due to a Screen Actors Guild strike. That summer, the question “Who Shot J.R.?” entered the national lexicon. Fan’s wore T-shirts printed with "Who Shot J.R.?" and "I Shot J.R.". A session of the Turkish parliament was suspended to allow legislators a chance to get home in time to view the Dallas episode. Betting parlors worldwide took bets as to which one of the 10 or so principal characters had actually pulled the trigger. J.R. had many enemies and audiences were hard-pressed to guess who was responsible for the shooting.

The person who pulled the trigger was revealed to be J.R.’s sister in law/mistress Kristin Shepard (Mary Crosby) in the "Who Done It?" episode which aired on November 21, 1980. It was, at the time, the highest rated television episode in US history. It had a Nielsen rating of 53.3 and a 76% share, and it was estimated that 83,000,000 people watched the episode. The previous record for a TV episode, not counting the final installment of the miniseries Roots, had been the 1967 finale for The Fugitive. "Who Shot J.R.?" now sits second on the list, being beaten in 1983 by the final episode of M*A*S*H but still remains the highest rated non-finale episode of a TV series.

March 21, 1983

The last episode of the long-running TV series Little House on the Prairie aired. The series, based on the children's book by Laura Ingalls Wilder, premiered in 1974.

The show was one of television's 25 most highly rated shows for seven of its nine seasons. When series star and executive producer
Michael Landon decided to leave the show in 1982, the show's title changed to Little House: A New Beginning and focused on character Laura Ingalls Wilder (Melissa Gilbert) and her family. The show lasted only one more season. Three made-for-television movie sequels followed: Little House: Look Back to Yesterday (1983), Little House: Bless All the Dear Children (1983), and Little House: The Last Farewell (1984).

To quote the Bicentennial Minute, "And that's the way it was".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

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