News from the Archive


February 20th, 2018
Larry Hagman

John Dalton continues with his picks for the most influential television episodes by decade. Today we focus on his selection from the 1980s.

Dallas - “Who Done It?” Airdate November 21, 1980

It’s impossible to convey the ubiquity of the “Who Shot J.R.?” phenomenon of 1980. It began in March when J.R. Ewing was unceremoniously gunned down in the 3rd season finale of Dallas. When they filmed the episode, up to the evening it aired, the producers, network, and actors had no idea how big it would become. In the spring and summer of 1980 it was a top discussion in popular culture. Magazines dedicated issues to it, people wore “Who Shot J.R.?” T-shirts, and it was spoofed on Saturday Night Live. Theories as to who did the deed were everywhere, and summer rerun ratings for Dallas climbed week-by-week. Thus, the season-ending cliffhanger was born.

As it turned out, viewers were left to hang on that cliff much longer than anyone had expected. In July of 1980, there was a long Screen Actors Guild strike that delayed the new fall television season. Instead of people losing interest, the long delay only served to amp up J.R. fever. Then, as Carroll O’Connor and Suzanne Somers had done before him, Larry Hagman decided that it was an opportune time to hold out for more money. Dallas started filming season four with no J.R. Ewing. Because the producers were still holding out hopes to have Hagman back in time for the big reveal, no answer to the burning question was offered in the first two episodes. Hagman returned briefly for episode three, and then finally, four episodes into the season, the answer was revealed nearly nine months after the question had first been posed.

An astounding 83 million people tuned in. I remember my father being profoundly annoyed as my parents’ bridge club guests that evening insisted on bringing a small black and white TV so they could watch the episode. It ushered in a decade of ratings-grabbing cliffhangers, culminating in Dynasty’s Moldavian Massacre, and later Dallas’ own “Bobby Ewing in the shower” ending to season seven.

For years after, the season-ending cliffhanger was an industry standard. Even sitcoms like Cheers employed the device to ensure viewers would come back in the fall. In 1990, Twin Peaks came along and deconstructed the cliffhanger formula, with “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” David Lynch and Mark Frost’s original idea was to never answer that central question in the series, but ABC forced their hand in the wake of declining ratings. I believe The Simpsons' “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” parody signaled the end of the major television season-ending cliffhanger. Starting in the mid ‘90s, shows tended to resolve storylines in the final two or so episodes of the season.

To this day, I believe most people know the phrase “Who Shot J.R,?” but few remember the answer to that question. For the record, it was J.R,’s mistress Kristin Shepard, played by Mary Crosby (Bing’s Crosby's daughter.) She confessed, and then wisely told J.R. she was carrying his child.

Because no kid of J.R. Ewing’s was going to suffer the indignity of being born behind bars, no one was ever prosecuted for the most famous crime in television history.

- John Dalton

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Presidents' Day!

February 15th, 2018

Celebrate Presidents' Day with our Google Cultural Institute exhibit: American Presidential Inaugurations. Hear stories from the people who reported on inaugurations and inaugural balls, and those who worked on them behind the scenes. This exhibit is part of Google's American Democracy Project

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Your Favorite TV Couples!

February 14th, 2018

Sometimes a couple just has chemistry. You can't always define exactly why two people fit together so perfectly, but you can almost see the sparks fly when halves so seamlessly make a whole. Luckily for all of us, television has provided many of these terrific twosomes over the years -- couples that we can't wait to see argue and make up, scheme and fall flat, or visit with nosy neighbors. TV's power couples make us want to tune in week after week, or daily, if applicable, to watch magic happen over and over again.

Throughout the years we've been privileged to interview some of television's favorite couples. And although their on-screen romances didn't carry over into real life, these couples still displayed an awful lot of love and respect for each other when out of character. Have a look for yourself:

Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford, The Jeffersons' George and Weezy:

Anthony Geary and Genie Francis, soap opera super-couple Luke and Laura of General Hospital:

Tom Bosley and Marion Ross, Mr. and Mrs. C (Cunningham) on Happy Days:

And last but not least, Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore, Rob and Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show:

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! May you all find the George to your Weezy!

- by Adrienne Faillace

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February 1st, 2018

John Dalton continues with his picks for the most influential television episodes of each decade. Today we focus on his selection from the 1970s.

All in the Family - “Judging Books by Covers” Airdate February 9, 1971 (Rerun May 11, 1971)



As Norman Lear told us in his interview, All in the Family didn’t make much of an impact when it first appeared as a mid-season replacement in the dead of winter, 1971. I believe this slow start worked to the show’s advantage. It was able to cover controversial topics and use language never before heard on television while there were so few watching that there weren’t many complaints. By the time large numbers of people were tuning in, the show had garnered sufficient critical praise and Emmy nominations that it could better weather content concerns.

In its initial 13 episodes, All in the Family covered several controversial topics, but really only one that was taboo on television. There hadn’t been an openly homosexual character on any American television show, ever. Outside of news broadcasts, the topic wasn’t discussed. Gay people were invisible. That changed on February 9, 1971 with the episode “Judging Books by Covers.”

Archie suspects that Mike and Gloria’s friend Roger (played by Anthony Geary, who later played Luke on General Hospital) is gay, and makes his discomfort at having him in the house known. Archie escapes to the neighborhood bar, where he watches the fights with the guys, including his vital, strapping blue-collar buddy Steve. In the heat of an argument over Roger, Mike later lets it be known to Archie that, while Roger may or may not be gay, his buddy Steve most definitely is. Archie returns to Kelsey’s Bar, and during an arm wrestling match, Steve confirms his sexuality, much to Archie’s shock and confusion. It is a perfect, half-hour episode of television that pulls no punches. Archie talks about gay men the way a blue-collar man in 1971 would. I doubt the episode could air as is on CBS today.

I mentioned the rerun date in the first sentence above because that was the evening that a very important person tuned in, and felt compelled to chat about it with his closest advisors. The Watergate tapes of May 13, 1971 (two days after the episode aired for the second time) have Richard M. Nixon claiming to have stumbled upon a “movie” on CBS. According to the then-President, this “movie” featured a “magnificent, handsome guy”, and a “stupid old fellow” who “looks like Jackie Gleason” and has a “hippie son-in-law” married to a “screwball daughter.”

Nixon’s account of the episode is detailed, until finally he says, “I turned the goddamned thing off. I couldn’t listen anymore!” The implication that he’d shut it off in disgust is strange because he seems to know what happened right up until minute 29. He opines that watching this “movie” could damage children, and that they’d “cleverly” cast a “magnificent, virile guy” to play a homosexual to make it seem acceptable. President Nixon’s comments, and the kind of language he used to express them, could easily have come from Archie Bunker himself.

Norman Lear wouldn’t be privy to Nixon’s musings until 31 years after the episode first aired. Upon hearing the tape, Lear had what I consider to be a pretty astute take on it. Because the May 1971 rerun of “Judging Books by Covers” aired at time when All in the Family was on its way to being the number one show in America, because it finally opened the door for gay characters on television, and because it caught the attention of President Nixon and prompted a ten-minute lecture from him, I chose it as the most influential television episode of the 1970s. About a year later, the made-for-television movie That Certain Summer, about a man coming out to this family, aired on ABC to critical acclaim and good ratings. In 1974, Richard M. Nixon would leave office in disgrace. Archie Bunker remained on the air until the fall of 1983. Point: Norman Lear.

- John Dalton

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Black History Month!

February 1st, 2018

We're celebrating Black History Month with our latest Google Cultural Institute exhibit!

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