Betting on the Shooter – TV Cliffhangers

Betting on Who Shot Who TV CliffhangersAlthough Paddy Power are best known for novelty bet markets, it was actually William Hill that kicked the whole thing off. A man called Graham Sharpe worked for the company in the pre-internet days, and it was his idea to offer markets on non-sporting events.

Betting on the results of TV shows is nothing new these days, but back when the bets I will cover on this page were offered by bookies, it really was a bizarre thing to do, and gained plenty of publicity for the bookmakers behind them.

They key thing about these markets, is that they attracted a totally different kind of punter to the ones frequenting betting shops and, in more recent years, online sportsbooks.

Instead of sports fans and hardened punters who would scrutinise form guides and stats, it was regular people, housewives, and men who didn’t follow sport at all that were laying down their cash on who did what in their favourite TV show.

Only the biggest storylines would merit a betting line though, and some of the most dramatic moments in TV history have been when key characters have been killed off in some way. Shooting is a favourite method of TV writers, and the culprit is often kept secret in order to prolong the drama.

These sorts of storylines have led to several “Who Shot Such and Such” stories, and these are what I am going to be looking at.

Who Shot J.R? – Dallas

Who Shot JR William Hill Betting

slgckgc, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This was the one that started everything.

Remember, back in 1980 when this storyline broke, there was no internet, no video games, and no mobile phones. There were far fewer TV shows for people to watch too, so when a big storyline came along, it captured the imagination of the entire country.

Millions upom In fact, the episode that revealed the murderer was the most watched episode in TV history. In America, 83 million people tuned in, representing 76% of the entire country, while in the UK, a record 21.5 million people watched. Everybody knew about it though, and with 8 months to wait before finding out the answer, people had plenty of time to come up with theories.

Graham Sharpe, Media Relations Manager at William Hill, would often deal with people calling up or writing in requesting odds on the slightly strange to the outright bizarre. When he heard his wife pondering which character was behind the big Dallas storyline, he decided to open a proper market on it.

It was a risk, because the outcome was pre-ordained and totally out of their hands, but after doing some research Graham realised that everyone seemed to have a different suspect in mind, which would be great news if they were all willing to bet on it.

The William Hill board agreed to the market, and the next day, it was all over the news, on TV and in print. People rushed to William Hill shops to make their bets, and hundreds of thousands of pounds was staked on Who Shot J.R.

By the time people found out it was the 2nd favourite, Krisitn at 4/1, who shot J.R, William Hill had taken over £200,000 – that’s more than £1.1 million adjusted for inflation, and it’s only the money taken by Hills, not by all the other bookmakers.

Who Shot Mr. Burns? – The Simpsons

Who Shot Mr Burns Betting

Credit: Trev Grant Flickr

In 1995, The Simpsons, well known for referencing other well known shows and pop culture, had a storyline of their own.

Who Shot Mr. Burns wasn’t quite on the same level as the Who Shot J.R hysteria, but the homage certainly attracted a lot of attention, and thus, a betting market was created by Paddy Power, among others.

This is another one that occurred before the rise of internet bookmakers, so all bets taken were over the counter, but it is a well documented situation.

Homer was the favourite at 2/1, while the real culprit, Maggie Simpson, was at a lofty 500/1. For anyone who has never watched The Simpsons, Maggie is a dummy sucking baby, which explains the odds to a point, but The Simpsons is also pretty far from realistic, so perhaps the bookies should have had more sense.

One bookie who was really caught with their nappy round their ankles, was Paddy Power.

The storyline was told over two parts, with Part 1 airing in May and showing the shooting (off screen), while Part 2 aired in September and explained what actually happened.

Back in 1995, the internet hadn’t yet become a staple in every home, and it wasn’t as easy for people to find out what was going on in other parts of the world.

One savvy group of students had realised that Part 2 was going to be shown in the US a whole week earlier than in the UK, and they were over there when it aired. So they watched it.

When they came home, they realised that Paddy Power were still offering odds on the event because Part 2 had not aired in the UK or Ireland yet. So what did they do? They put a cheeky bet on it of course.

Luckily for PaddyPower, they only stuck around £18 on – they were poor students after all – but it cost the bookie £9,000. It must have been one hell of a party at the halls of residence that weekend.

Who Shot Phil Mitchell? – Eastenders

Who Shot Phil Mitchell BettingA few years after The Simpsons’ Mr Burns shooting, but still before online betting was as widespread as it is today, British soap Eastenders ran the Who Shot Phil Mitchell storyline.

This was at the beginning of 2001, and by now, most bookies would run lines a big TV events like this, so William Hill and PaddyPower were not the only ones offering odds.

Using William Hill as an example though, they opened the market with the following prices:

  • Steve Owen – 11/4
  • Dan Sullivan – 9/2
  • Lisa Shaw – 11/2
  • Melanie Healey – 11/2
  • Yob Ashley – 13/2
  • Laura Beale – 10/1
  • Ian Beale – 16/1
  • Dirty Den – 100/1

That last one is a tongue in cheek joke, as Dirty Den was another character shot in Eastenders back in 1989, in one of the show’s other most famous storylines. He was presumed dead at the time of Phil Mitchell’s shooting.

The storyline was wrapped up within a month, but during that time the odds moved due to the continuing storyline, with a leaked BBC document that gave away the shooter throwing a spanner into the works 2 weeks into the storyline.

Obviously, the bookmakers had to close the market once the leak had been confirmed, but they had taken more than 50,000 bets before that happened.

The leak didn’t dampen the interest from the public, with almost 20 million people tuning in to watch the episode where Phil’s other half, Lisa Shaw (played by Lucy Benjamin) was shown to be the shooter. Ironically, Lucy Benjamin and Steve McFadden (who plays Phil), were a couple in real life, too.

I bet she enjoyed ‘shooting’ that scene!