Who shot JFK? Geek TV’s Increasingly Crowded Grassy Knoll

From The X-Files to The Umbrella Academy, geek TV keeps returning to the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

Those of you who have been watching The Umbrella Academy know that a key scene takes place at the grassy knoll overlooking Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, November 22nd, 1963. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy was a watershed moment in American politics and a major news story around the world, so it’s perhaps no surprise that it’s even more irresistible to time travellers and conspiracy theorists than attempts to kill Hitler or aliens at Roswell.

We won’t spoil the events of The Umbrella Academy for those of you yet to watch it (though we urge you to do so – it’s quirkily brilliant). However, we do want to point out that, with all the secret second gunmen and time travellers running around, the grassy knoll is starting to get a little bit crowded…


Who shot JFK? Two different people from two different angles, presumably Oswald and a second shooter on the grassy knoll. Maybe. Or just one shooter. Or it wasn’t Kennedy’s body at all.

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Being non-SFF, Bones has to stick fairly closely to established facts, but that doesn’t stop the writers from playing around with them. In fifth season episode “The Proof in the Pudding,” the team examine the body of a gunshot victim who may or may not be JFK. By having one lead character who rejects the idea of a government cover-up (Booth) and others more open-minded, as well as apparently resolving the situation by revealing it wasn’t Kennedy’s body after all, then adding that wait, no, maybe it was, this show allows viewers to believe more or less whatever they want to believe about what happened that day, and leaves the story without committing to who a presumed second shooter might have been, other than someone involved with the government in some capacity.

Dark Skies

Who shot JFK? Jim Steele, an agent of top secret government organisation Majestic 12, who was infected by the mysterious alien Hive, from the grassy knoll. Or possibly JFK’s driver (another employee of Majestic 12), from the driving seat.

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Dark Skies was a short-lived 1990s X-Files rip-off best known for featuring Jeri Ryan pre-Star Trek: Voyager. Attempting to ape the success of The X-Files, the series focused on conspiracies (which was a bad idea, as the conspiracy episodes were not always the more compelling X-Files stories – it was the spooky paranormal standalone stories that made the show such a big hit). The assassination of JFK was central to the story from the beginning, as our heroes John Loengard and Kim Sayers try to prove it was the result of a government conspiracy and/or alien invasion force The Hive. It was in the episode “The Warren Omission,” in which Loengard testifies before the Warren Commission, that Loengard stated clearly his belief that Steele shot the President from the grassy knoll – though a video shown to Robert Kennedy suggested otherwise.

Doctor Who

Who shot JFK? Uncertain – though according to tie-in novel Who Killed Kennedy, it was a journalist called James Stephens. Whoever did it, it was rewritten in some way.

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The Tesselecta crew in New Doctor Who’s sixth series episode “Let’s Kill Hitler” make an offhand reference to the fact that time can be re-written – “Remember Kennedy?” (To be fair, this could be a reference to the Kennedy/Nixon election, the Cuban Missile Crisis, or to a different Kennedy all together, but let’s presume it’s the most obvious event that has been re-written, i.e. JFK’s assassination). Exactly how and why remains to be seen – although Who Killed Kennedy suggests the assassination was carried out by James Stephens in order to preserve the timeline from the Master’s meddling, the only other thing we know about it from the TV show is that the Ninth Doctor was present, watching from the side of the road – possibly just to see who he could spot opposite him on the grassy knoll.

Red Dwarf

Who shot JFK? A future version of himself. Yes, that should cause a time paradox just like the one that kick-started the episode in question (“Tikka To Ride”).

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Red Dwarf is not the only show to have Kennedy, having realised that the future will be Bad if he lives, complicit in his own assassination. In the 1980s The Twilight Zone revival episode “Profile In Silver,” Kennedy offers to allow (in this case lone shooter) Oswald to kill him in order to repair history, but is spared by the heroic sacrifice of his own time-travelling descendant. However, oddly enough it was the sitcom that went for a really dark solution to the problem – since none of the Red Dwarf crew are willing to murder the President, a future version of JFK actually shoots himself (while the boys take on the role of the three homeless men reportedly questioned afterwards by police) in order to restore the timeline and his own reputation.

Family Guy

Who shot JFK? Lee Harvey Oswald – by accident.

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According to a Family Guy cutaway, there was indeed a shooter on the grassy knoll. Just as this mysterious figure was about to shoot the President, cheering supporter Lee Harvey Oswald spotted him from the book depository and picked up a rifle to take out the bad guy, intending to become an American hero. But he was a rather poor shot. Although obviously an example of Family Guy’s trademark black humor, this plays on some real life conspiracy theories, which contend that Oswald wasn’t a very good marksman and that his rifle was inaccurate as well.

The X-Files

Who shot JFK? The Cigarette Smoking Man. Possibly.

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According to The X-Files’ most infamous mysterious nicotine addict, he shot JFK himself. Oswald, in this version, is a scapegoat who had nothing to do with the assassination at all. Appropriately for a show built on conspiracy theories, this version follows elements of popular real life conspiracy theories about the assassination pretty closely, with the unidentified witness “Umbrella Man” (who has an open umbrella even though it isn’t raining – possibly to shade himself from the sun while waiting for the motorcade, but that would spoil the theory) giving CSM the signal as the President’s motorcade approaches. Presumably in deference to all the time travellers and second shooters gathering on the grassy knoll, he did it from a storm drain instead. But can we believe anything he says?

Early Edition

Who shot JFK? Marley, aka John Dobbs – though he did it from the book depository, next to Oswald, not from the grassy knoll.

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Early Edition was one of those cute, cheesy 90s adventure series that feel like they were made in a simpler time. This one followed the adventures of stockbroker Gary Hobson, who starts receiving tomorrow’s paper today (specifically, the Chicago Sun-Times) after his marriage breaks down. This leads him to a Quantum Leap-style life of trying to prevent whatever terrible things he’s read about in the paper from happening. There’s also a magic cat. First season two-parter “The Wall” expanded the mythology by showing that Gary’s predecessor Lucius Snow had tried and failed to prevent Kennedy’s assassination more than thirty years earlier – Gary is more successful in preventing the same assassin from killing the (fictional) current President.

Quantum Leap

Who shot JFK? Lee Harvey Oswald. Alone. From the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository.

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It’s no surprise that Sam Beckett, on his ongoing mission to “set right what once went wrong”, should find himself embroiled in the JFK assassination. What is perhaps more surprising is that he finds himself leaping into Lee Harvey Oswald, and that there is no conspiracy to uncover – Oswald killed the President, acting alone. There is a reason for this – series creator Donald P. Bellisario briefly served with Oswald in the Marines and believed Oswald was fully capable (physically and mentally) of carrying out the assassination alone and unprompted. He wrote the two-part episode “Lee Harvey Oswald” to explain why, and has Oswald (played, amusingly, by Willie Garson, better known as Stanford in Sex And The City) and Sam’s thoughts and feelings start to blend into each other, so as to better explore Oswald’s psychology (and explain why setting this one right isn’t as simple as “don’t go to Dallas and shoot the President”). In the end, of course, a world where JFK wasn’t killed would be too different from our own for the show to sustain, and it turns out Sam’s mission is to save Jackie Kennedy from being shot alongside her husband, which he does by leaping out of Oswald at the last minute.