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."
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By the way, Gina Misiroglu of Red Room put me in touch with the AOL people, which is one of the great ways she's bringing traffic to Red Room and getting attention for Red Room's authors.