The Roy clan’s last season got a lot of praise from critics, but millions of fans may soon miss Yellowstone more. So why might it be ending?
An old father is angry about the light going out. His fighting family was fiercely driven to protect their name, even if it meant stabbing each other in the back. In the distance, you can hear the sound of times changing.
Here are the building blocks for one of the most popular shows on TV in recent years. A show that has captured the attention of people worldwide and is seen as reimagining what the medium can do. And it looks like it’s coming to an end now.
No, this has nothing to do with Succession. Even though the story of the fighting Roys has gotten a lot of attention from the chattering class, Jesse Armstrong’s black comedy is still a very small area. Only 2.5 million people in the US watched the allegedly historic Death of Logan episode. Those numbers could be more impressive when compared to the 12 million people who watched Yellowstone when it came back for its fifth season in November.
Yellowstone changed the face of TV
Yellowstone has changed TV in the 21st century without anyone noticing. Now, it might be coming to an end, just like Succession, which reviewers praised. The difference is that Succession’s ending was a creative choice made by the show’s mild-mannered creator, Jesse Armstrong. On the other hand, Yellowstone’s ending has been filled with enough drama for a daily soap. It has conflicting egos, an old Hollywood star, and a workaholic dreamer who doesn’t like the word “compromise.”
The warhorse is Kevin Costner, whose career has taken off since he was cast as John Dutton III, the tough-as-rawhide head of the Dutton clan and owner of the biggest ranch in Montana. He is supposedly paid $1.2 million per episode, three times the salary of Succession star Brian Cox. Both Dutton and Costner are driven and cruel, and they don’t seem to get along with other people. But while that makes for exciting TV, it has put the star in danger of running into Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan, who used to be an actress but started writing and directing in his 40s.
The fifth season’s “break” happened on January 1, when Dutton was installed as Governor of Montana, and his grown-up children Jamie (Wes Bentley) and Beth (Kelly Reilly) were planning to take over as head of the family. No one knows what will happen next, and Costner the least of all.
He is said to have gotten into a fight with Sheridan, which is said to have made the production a mess. One version of what happened says that he left Yellowstone in a huff to focus on his new Western franchise, Horizon, which he will direct and star in with Sienna Miller and Sam Worthington. It also says that he refused to spend more than a week on the set with Sheridan because of his other commitments. Another story says that Sheridan, who writes all of Yellowstone and a number of spin-offs (see below), needs to take longer to write the second part of the season and that Costner is tired of waiting.
Whether or not Costner and Sheridan (figuratively) bury the hatchet, the producer and his “Sheridan-verse” are still going strong. With Yellowstone, he gave Paramount an old-fashioned word-of-mouth hit at a time when TV seems to get farther away from its fans’ lives.
There have already been several spin-offs from the golden goose. There’s a book called 1883 that tells the story of how the Dutton family moved to the Old West after the Civil War. And 1923, in which Helen Mirren plays the family mother during the Great Depression. There are plans for three more shows. Two of them will take place in the present day, and one will take place right after World War II.
What’s even more amazing is that Sheridan has done all of this without the approval of those in the know. Yellowstone has been passed over for awards many times, and the New York Times called it a “conservative fantasy.”
But it has done well away from the bright lights. Its biggest audiences in the US are in “flyover” markets like Denver and Sun Belt cities like Phoenix, which are about as far away as you can get from the “elite” culture hotspots of New York and Los Angeles. In the UK, which is shown on Paramount +, it has a smaller but no less loyal following. Its mix of soap operas and prestige drama draws people in.
Even if you don’t know what a stetson is or what a pretzel is, it’s easy to see why this series is popular. First, think of a show that was a mix of Dynasty and The Sopranos and was made in the style of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, a remake of a Western. And then think that the writer-director behind it is a mix of The Marlboro Man, Roy Keane, and Francis Ford Coppola making Apocalypse Now and pushing himself to the limit.
No one knows when or if Costner and Sheridan will talk things out or if series five will start up again. No matter what happens in the future, all those spin-offs without Kevin Costner will keep going. They will do this in a TV world that Yellowstone and its unpredictable director have changed.