TV Legends Revealed | Did No ‘Simpsons’ Fan Correctly Guess Who Shot Mr. Burns?

Who_Shot_Mr_Burns_promoTV URBAN LEGEND: In The Simpsons contest “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” no one guessed the correct answer.

Fan contests have a long history in film and television, with the prize frequently a “walk-on” role, such with the two teens who won DC Comics “The Great Superman Movie Contest” and appeared briefly in 1978′s Superman. Just in the past year, the new Star Wars film, the Dumb and Dumber sequel and the TV series Teen Wolf and The Exes have either held contests in which fans could win a walk-on role or auctions in which people could bid on the coveted prize.

In 1995, The Simpsons held its own fan contest, offering a viewers a chance to be drawn with the characters. How would a fan win the chance? Simply correctly answer the question, “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” How many fans got it right? Read on to find out!

The finale of The Simpsons‘ sixth season and the premiere of its seventh, “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” is the only two-part episode in the history of the animated series. (It’s also one of only two season finales to end in a cliffhanger. The 22nd season finale, “The Ned-Liest Catch,” also ended with a contest, with viewers voting on whether Ned Flanders and Edna Krabappel would remain a couple; the premiere of the 23rd season revealed that fans wanted them to stay together). The story was a parody of the famous Season 3 finale Dallas, “A House Divided,” in which Larry Hagman’s J.R. Ewing is shot, setting up months of speculation about the identity of his killer, with the eventual reveal coming in a November episode — resulting in what was, at the time, the largest audience for a television show ever, more than 80 million viewers.

WhoShotMrBurnsclueJust as Dallas did, The Simpsons set up a number of characters with possible motives for shooting Mr. Burns (who in the episode had stolen the oil discovered beneath Springfield Elementary and blocked out the sun so the town would be totally reliant on his nuclear power plant). After his seeming total victory over the town, Burns walks out of sight and we hear him say, “Oh, it’s you. What are you so happy about? I see. I think you’d better drop it,” followed by sounds of a struggle and then a gunshot. Burns collapses on a large sundial (pointing to W and S as major clues to the identity of his assailant) and then, after all the town’s citizens mill around his body, Dr. Hibbert proclaims, “Well, I couldn’t possibly solve this mystery … Can you?” and points to the screen.

That was the beginning of the “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” summer-long contest. Fox launched a website to give fans clues (www.springfield.com), one of the first attempts by a television show to interact with viewers online (it received more than 500,000 hits). The contest, however, worked much differently than most fans would have thought. It was sponsored by 1-800-COLLECT, a business owned by MCI (it’s still around today, amazingly enough) that was a lot more popular in the days before cell phones. To be eligible for the contest, you had to have used 1-800-COLLECT during the summer, which already narrowed the pool of eligible contestants down dramatically. Former Simpsons producers Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein explained the rest in a chat with The Simpsons Sourcebook:

“You had to use 1-800-COLLECT and submit your name and the name of the person you were calling, then a pool of eligible people was selected, and it was about 200 people and they were called by MCI — plus YOU had to be home during the broadcast and the person you had called during the summer also HAD to be home during the broadcast. And not one of the people who they called had the right answer! So somebody was picked randomly from among those eligible. And it was some lady in Washington, D.C., who didn’t watch the show. She opted for the cash prize instead of being animated. The end.

The randomly selected winner was Fayla Gibson.

mr burnsAmusingly enough, someone on The Simpsons newsgroup online guessed the identity of the shooter on the very night of the broadcast (it was Maggie Simpson; the W and the S were viewed as and M and an S from Mr. Burns’ perspective), but obviously that poster didn’t enter the contest. The show’s producers tried to track him down after the contest ended but were unable to find him (he was using a college email address that by that time was defunct).

There’s some debate over whether the winner of the contest was ever even guaranteed a walk-on role (and perhaps would only win a drawing of themselves with The Simpsons) but since it never came about, I can’t say for sure either way. Oakley and Weinstein said “instead of being animated,” so I tend to believe the winner would have had the chance to be animated.

The legend is …

STATUS: True

Thanks to Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein and the Simpsons Sourcebook for the information!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

Be sure to check out my Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the worlds of TV, Movies and Music!

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Comments

  • Duo de Brando “O Fabulosa!”

    thus even fox, and everyone on the simpsons cast agrees nowdays that Smitters Shooting Mr. Burns would be better, rather than Maggie

  • Lex

    Right before it came on, I guessed it would of been Maggie. Mainly because I thought they would choose the one cast member that they wouldn’t get rid of even if she had shot him. That’s the conclusion I came to.

  • bashbash99

    I used to hate all those “call 1-800 collect” commercials. back in the day they were relentless about pursuing people making collect calls

  • Michael Pullmann

    “after all the town’s citizens mill around his body, Dr. Hibbert proclaims, “Well, I couldn’t possibly solve this mystery … Can you?” and points to the screen.”
    .
    And then the camera pans backwards to reveal that he’s pointing at Chief Wiggum.

  • MrMGU

    “Well yeah, I’ll give it a shot. I mean, it’s my job, right?”

  • TheWolverine

    I remember watching the episode and figuring it out. Mainly because I kept thinking who would’ve been the least obvious and most outlandish to fit the humor of the show. Maggie was it. And 1-800-COLLECT is still around? Wow, I wonder if Mr. T still does any marketing for them?

  • Kaine Morrison

    I was 14 when the contest was happening. I remember calling in, using my cousin and guessing Maggie. I guess my age kept me from being eligible.

  • James

    how much was the cash prize?

  • James

    every commenter on here guessed Maggie? Yeah right..

  • V

    It wasn’t THAT hard. As TheWolverine said, you had to just think of the least obvious person who had done it and Maggie was be the character who’d come to mind.

  • RockyJohan

    Fayla Gibson – WHAT A BITCH!

  • RockyJohan

    Thank you captian Hindsight

  • RockyJohan

    yeah, i call bs on everyone

  • penguintruth

    *I* thought the shooter was none other than… Mr. Burns himself. Not used to seeing himself smiling, he catches the sight of himself in the reflection of something, an old mirror, a shiny trashcan, something, mistakes it as somebody else, and fires, taking a bullet in ricochet.