‘Dallas’: Here’s Why Larry Hagman’s J.R. Was Never Meant to Be Main Character

by Joe Rutland

J.R. Ewing was a big presence on CBS’s family drama “Dallas.” Did you know, though, that he wasn’t supposed to be the top star?

It’s true. Ewing, played by Larry Hagman, was originally lined up by producers to be just another cast member. Their original idea was to make Pam Ewing, played by Victoria Principal, as the main character.

Sometimes, the best-laid plans don’t work out. They definitely didn’t in the original scheme for “Dallas.” Fans loved watching J.R. scheme and plot his way in and out of trouble all the time. Pretty soon, their clamoring for more of Hagman was too much to ignore.

Victoria Principal’s Pam Bumped Back On ‘Dallas’ By J.R.

A switch in focus took place where J.R. became center stage and Pam was relegated behind him. Now Principal’s character still had a significant place on “Dallas.” It was not the main focus anymore.

If any “Dallas” fan needed proof about the popularity of J.R. Ewing, then recall the “Who shot J.R.?” phenomenon. There were people in high places and celebrities left and right asking, even begging, Hagman to let them know what happened.

For his part, Hagman, who garnered earlier TV fame through “I Dream Of Jeannie,” kept his mouth shut. The big reveal, in which Kristin Shepard, played by Mary Crosby, is shown as the one who shot J.R., drew massive numbers to “Dallas.” Shepard was J.R.’s sister-in-law and mistress at the same time. The “Who Done It?” episode ran on CBS on Nov. 21, 1980.

Hagman died on Nov. 23, 2012.

‘Who Shot J.R.?’ Secret Kept From President, Queen, Others

As mentioned earlier, “Dallas” stars were not able to reveal who shot J.R. Ewing in the summer of 1980. That was the time between Kristin Shepard putting a slug into him and letting the world know she did it.

But the amount of attention this entire scene got was amazing. “People” magazine had a whole cover devoted to the topic.

During the summer hiatus, “Dallas” stars met with some very interesting people. Some reportedly met with then-President Jimmy Carter; others met Queen Elizabeth. They even asked who did it. The stars, though, refused to budge on revealing the guilty party’s name.

It was that big of a deal. It also proved to be a great way for “Dallas” to achieve more attention and eyeballs on its episodes.