Writer Reflects on Three Decades Since Ultimate Cliffhanger 'Who Shot J.R.?'When a writer crafts a cliffhanger he or she either puts a character in jeopardy -- if a gun is fired on a TV show, you can bet that's where they'll cut to commercial -- or creates a provocative mystery. All serial dramas use these techniques, but none has ever captured the imagination of the nation as did the 'Who Shot J.R.?' episode of 'Dallas,' 30 years ago this week.

In 1979, 'Dallas' had become a phenomenon. People actually stayed home on Friday nights to watch it. The show had become so successful that near the end of the writing cycle, CBS ordered two more episodes. The season was supposed to end with Sue Ellen crashing her car. Now the staff of three -- two producers and a story editor -- met to figure out what to do, when one of them suggested, "Let's shoot the bastard."

The bastard, of course, being J.R. Ewing, the man all of America loved to hate. The show-runners called in a freelance writer -- I believe it was Rena Down -- and told her to shoot J.R. but leave the killer up in the air. Implicate everyone. The staff would figure out who did it later, when they worked out the "bible," or plot lines for the next season.

On Friday, March 21, 1980, J.R. was shot on national TV. When I walked into the production office at 10AM the following Monday, the phones were ringing off the hook. Newspapers and magazines across the country were calling. The staff was euphoric. They were pros and knew this media frenzy was a once in a lifetime experience. They'd given the audience a triple whammy of a cliffhanger -- physical jeopardy, mystery, and they'd shot a national icon.

I was given the prize assignment of the decade, maybe any decade: I was to write the 'Who Done It' episode, the one where the world finally found out who shot J.R.