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In a messy behind-the-scenes fight over Yellowstone’s season five, there may be only one thing that’s certain: Neither side looks particularly great right now.
Star Kevin Costner has been painted by anonymous sources in reports as refusing to work more than a single week on the second half of the season set to debut this summer, presumably because of his commitment to his Western passion project, Horizon, which is now shooting. Paramount+ comes across as if it doesn’t have its talent and scheduling acts together and that — unlike Dutton Ranch hands wrangling cattle — it cannot keep its production herd on the trail. The timing of the uncertainty — as Paramount Global seeks to overhaul its TV division, fold Showtime in with Paramount+ and focus more on franchises and spinoffs of hit shows à la Taylor Sheridan’s hit Western universe — isn’t ideal either.
Yellowstone’s second half of the season is supposed to begin filming in March, but sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that hitting that mark is looking increasingly doubtful. The dispute raises the startling possibility that the most watched drama on TV could end prematurely. (Sources say the show would not end immediately over a Costner exit.)
Waiting in the wings for the Yellowstone factory is Matthew McConaughey, who is in talks to either take over as the lead of the flagship show or topline a spinoff. The Oscar winner seems like an ideal fit for the franchise, and securing him would be considered a major win. (Yellowstone even features a Texas ranch, which is the basis for the 6666 spinoff, now set for Paramount Network, and would seem like a fitting post for the Texas native — should his character not end up as part of the flagship’s Montana location.)
One advantage to a hard reset of Yellowstone — where most of the cast, story and setting are folded into a new show — is that Paramount would then have the streaming rights to the series going forward, as it would technically be a new entity (the franchise includes prequels 1883 and the recently renewed 1923, which are already on Paramount+).
In 2020, ViacomCBS sold off the streaming rights of its hit drama to Peacock — arguably one of the worst streaming business decisions since Blockbuster declined to buy Netflix (even Paramount Global president and CEO Bob Bakish dubbed the deal “unfortunate”). Being able to corral Yellowstone into the Paramount+ stable would be a clear plus for the business side as it looks to grow the streamer from 46 million subscribers — assuming Yellowstone continues to have the same level of draw after undergoing an emergency star transplant. It’s a bit like how AMC concluded The Walking Dead (whose international rights were locked up in a decade-old deal with Fox International) and spun off two of the drama’s most popular characters into a new show where the talent and licensing dealmaking can begin anew.
Yet this all comes amid Yellowstone finally beginning to receive awards recognition — led by Costner himself with his recent 2023 Golden Globe win, following the hit franchise’s high-profile 2022 Emmys snubs that sparked debate around whether the neo-Western series is a “red state show” that doesn’t appeal to Hollywood awards voting bodies (Sheridan vehemently disagrees with the assertion).
Costner was absent at the Globes due to flooding in his Santa Barbara home. But after he received the statue on Feb. 13 — and notably after reports had circulated about his shaky future with the series — he offered a humble acceptance speech from his bed. “I’m so glad I have this. I wish I again could have been there,” he said, yet made no mention of Yellowstone, or his Paramount+ family, including co-creator Sheridan.
Creatively speaking, Costner abruptly exiting would be a genuine loss. Yellowstone fans are deeply invested in the existing Dutton dynasty and its patriarch. If Sheridan has to hastily write out the series star, it would deny fans a satisfying, well-planned final arc befitting a prestige show and instead seem more like something from the world of a chaotic broadcast series where suddenly Two and a Half Men’s Charlie Sheen gets swapped out for Ashton Kutcher (as happened in 2011). No amount of reassurance could ever paint over the fact that the storyline was not what the Dutton story was supposed to be — or ideally could have been.
Jackie Strause contributed to this story.
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