Magoosh English Lesson: Dallas: Who shot J.R.

Welcome to the next lesson in this series of Magoosh’s free English classes


  • Learn terms related to the world of television
  • Take an in-depth look at the most famous advertising campaigns in TV history
  • Grammar review

Difficulty Level:  Advanced

Time: Approximately 15 minutes


Who Shot J.R.?

Who shot J.R.?” was arguably the most successful ad campaign for a TV show in the history of television. The catchphrase itself became a global phenomenon in 1980 and is now a part of American pop culture. 

The phrase is tied to the TV show Dallas that we learned about in the previous lesson. The show’s third season finale ended on a cliffhanger where one of the main characters, J.R. Ewing, is shot by someone offscreen. As J.R. was a villain in the show, he had a number of enemies which left viewers to speculate as to who the shooter was. They would have to wait 8 months to find out! 

Behind the scenes, a number of events took place that prolonged the revealing of the shooter. The actor who played J.R., Larry Hagman, took advantage of his new fame and negotiated a contract with CBS that paid him $100k per episode plus royalties from merchandise. 

These negotiations delayed his return to work the next season by two weeks. Plus, the Writers Guild of America went on strike that Summer and delayed the production of all major network tv shows by an additional 8 weeks. And during those 8 months, the question that was on every American’s mind was “Who shot J.R.?”

T-shirts displaying the phrase were printed and sold nationwide. In the 1980 presidential election campaign, Republicans handed out campaign buttons that said “A Democrat shot J.R.” When Larry Hagman went on vacation in the United Kingdom, he was offered £100,000 to identify the shooter, though he admitted that he nor anyone in the cast knew the identity. International betting companies took bets on which cast member was the shooter.

It was the most successful cliffhanger ending in television history and popularized the practice on American television. The episode that revealed the shooter, titled “Who Done It?” drew in more than 350 millions viewers internationally. It’s said that a session of the Turkish parliament ended early so that legislators could get home for the episode.

The concept of “Who shot J.R.?” lived on in television history through spoofs by popular shows like The Simpsons, The Jeffersons, and Saturday Night Live and is still remembered in pop culture by an entire generation. 

Word Focus

  • Season Finale – (noun) – The last episode of a TV season.

The season finale of a season typically airs in April or May.

  • Main Character – (noun) – The center figure of a story. Most decisions and plotlines follow the actions of the main character.

A main character is also known as a protagonist.

  • Offscreen – (noun) – Anything that happens outside of the view of the viewers.

Sometimes TV shows use sounds that occur offscreen to create a dramatic effect.

  • Villain – (noun) – A character whose actions are evil or bad and are a key point to the plot of a story.

A villain is also known as an antagonist.

  • Prolong – (verb) – To lengthen the duration of something. Lengthen time.

The company prolonged the announcement of his retirement until they could find a suitable replacement.

  • (Monetary amount) + k – (noun) – Any monetary amount followed by a k means a thousand. $100k = 100,000 dollars

Most TV writers only make around $40k per year.

  • Royalties – (noun) – Money paid to someone based on each use or sale of an item.

Actors are paid royalties every time they appear on TV.

  • Writers Guild of America – (noun) – The labor union in America representing TV and film writers.

The Writers Guild of America or WGA has gone on strike at times to negotiate for better salaries and working conditions for the writers who are members.

  • Spoof – (noun) – An imitation or exaggeration of something that is done for humor or comedic effect.

Mel Brooks made an entire film career off of spoofing famous films.


Grammar Center

Read the two excerpts from the passage above.

…one of the main characters, J.R. Ewing, is shot by someone offscreen.

The actor who played J.R., Larry Hagman, took advantage of his new fame…

In both sentences, the writer uses commas to point out (give emphasis to) the name of the person being described. It’s important to know how to punctuate names, titles, and phrases in writing, so we’re going to review the correct way to use commas with interrupters.

An interrupter is something like a thought, clarification or explanation that comes up in a sentence. Sometimes a writer (or you) will want to add some extra information. In this instance, we use commas, parentheses, or dashes to separate the interruption from the rest of the sentence. For this lesson, we’ll focus only on commas.

When using an interrupter, always set it off from the rest of the sentence with two commas. The sentence should always still be grammatically correct and make sense even without the interrupter. Take a look at the sentence from the passage without the interrupter:

The actor who played J.R. took advantage of his new fame and negotiated a contract with CBS that paid him $100k per episode plus royalties from merchandise.


Now look at these other sentences with interrupters for comparison:

  • Tom sadly was never able to see his son. Incorrect
  • Tom, sadly, was never able to see his son. Correct

  • The weather I was disappointed to see was getting stormy. Incorrect
  • The weather, I was disappointed to see, was getting stormy. Correct

  • Our neighbors the Johnsons were never home on Sunday evenings. Incorrect
  • Our neighbors, the Johnsons, were never home on Sunday evenings. Correct


The key thing to remember about using commas as an interrupter is that the information provided should be used for things like appositives or subtle clarifications. If you want to add a lot of extra information on a subject or add something that would divert attention from the sentence, put it in parentheses. 



1. Which word would best describe the writer’s opinion of the “Who shot J.R.” ad campaign?

A. Impressed
B. Indifferent
C. Uninvolved
D. Enlightening


2. What was the title of the episode that revealed J.R.’s shooter?

A. A Democrat Shot J.R.
B. I shot J.R.
C. Who Done It?
D. Someone Shot Him


3. Which word is the best example of a synonym for prolong?

A. Expedite
B. Drag out
C. Advance
D. Abbreviate


4. Generally, a royalty is paid to a TV actor every time an episode they acted in appears on TV.

A. True
B. False


5. Which of the following sentences correctly punctuates an interrupter phrase?

A. Joe happily was now aware that he would never have to work again.
B. The weather as she noted was getting hotter every year.
C. Simon, our neighbor, was never seen again.
D. Erica our daughter is a stewardess for a major airline.


6. Commas should be used when adding subtle information that doesn’t distract from the sentence as a whole.

A. True
B. False



  1. A
  2. C
  3. B
  4. A
  5. C
  6. A
Jake Pool

Jake Pool

Jake Pool worked in the restaurant industry for over a decade and left to pursue his career as a writer and ESL teacher. In his time at Magoosh, he's worked with hundreds of students and has created content that's informed—and hopefully inspired!—ESL students all across the globe. Jake records audio for his articles to help students with pronunciation and comprehension as he also works as a voice-over artist who has been featured in commercials and on audiobooks. You can read his posts on the Magoosh blog and see his other work on his portfolio page at You can follow him on LinkedIn!
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