Who Loved J.R.?

The new "Who Killed J.R.?" mystery is a fitting tribute to the late Larry Hagman, an actor who embraced the bad-guy role that shot him into TV history.

By Jere Hester
|  Sunday, Mar 10, 2013  |  Updated 6:54 PM PDT
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Larry Hagman – and J.R. Ewing – are getting a "Dallas"-sized sendoff.

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Larry Hagman's absence from the "in memoriam" segment of the Oscars last month rankled fans who loved him even more than they hated his J.R. Ewing character.

But the actor, who died in November at age 81, is getting a more suitable television sendoff Monday on the latest incarnation of "Dallas," which features a new mystery with a old twist – going from "Who Shot J.R.?" to "Who Killed J.R.?"
 
It took J.R. 35 years from when he first started scheming on TV to finally get what was coming to him, in the form of fatal gunshots heard at the end of last week's episode of the TNT reboot. Hagman, meanwhile, finally gets his due Monday night in a form he no doubt would have relished.
 
Monday’s episode – which reportedly features a somber version of the "Dallas" theme song and J.R.'s funeral – offers a fitting goodbye to an iconic TV character and to a likeable actor who embraced the bad-guy role in two versions of the nighttime soap opera forever associated with his grinning sneer.
 
Hagman, as we've noted, imbued J.R. with a deliciously ambiguous evil as slippery as the crude that made him filthy rich. Viewers who took “Dallas” dead seriously and those who dug the show’s camp value equally appreciated Hagman’s portrayal during the show’s original 14-season run. He got to return last year to strut a victory lap around oil-soaked Southfork Ranch, an outsized product of Hollywood imagination, a long way from Tinseltown-style glamour.
 
We suspect Hagman would have laughed off the Academy Awards snub, which came on a night dominated by "Argo," a fine film about the Iran hostage crisis. The 1980 "Who Shot J.R.?" craze overlapped with the real-life international drama, offering a diversion for a bad news-weary public.
 
For all the hoopla surrounding the "Who Shot J.R.?" nuttiness, the resolution (his sister-in-law/mistress Kristin plugged him) wasn't all that memorable, even if the revelation episode drew 83 million U.S. viewers, about twice the audience as the latest Oscars broadcast. There undoubtedly will be less interest in the answer to "Who Killed J.R.?" (who knows – it looks like the "Dallas" folks are going to milk the gimmick as long as they can).
 
But there’s no mystery as to why Hagman will be missed: In his TV glory days and in his final days, he delighted fans by playing an award-worthy villain, no matter what the Oscars say.
 
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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