Never underestimate the allure of Kevin Costner playing cowboys.
Three decades after Dances With Wolves, the 63-year-old actor’s onscreen work in the American West is now one of TV’s surest bets — having set records with the 2012 History miniseries Hatfields & McCoys and recently minting a rare cable breakout with Paramount Network’s Yellowstone.
After its Aug. 22 season one finale, Taylor Sheridan’s contemporary rancher drama averaged 5 million weekly viewers across platforms. That is the biggest audience for an ad-supported cable freshman since FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson in 2016 and makes Yellowstone the second-most-watched cable series of 2018. (It trails only AMC behemoth The Walking Dead.)
“Kevin has done so much different work over the years,” says Paramount Network president Kevin Kay, “but if you put him in a cowboy hat and on a horse, you know people are going to watch.”
Costner’s previous TV trip out West earned him his first Emmy, and it brought History a staggering audience that topped 14 million live viewers. Hatfields is credited with helping spark the miniseries revival still dominating the tube today.
Yellowstone‘s success has been nothing short of wild, making it the biggest cable hit of the summer and often showing rare week-to-week growth. In fact, the finale, which drew 4.8 million viewers (based on Nielsen live-plus-3 returns alone), ranks as the top ad-supported episode of scripted television since April.
For Paramount Network brass, the real excitement is in finding traction a mere seven months after the channel’s launch. The network, formerly Spike, is now focusing efforts on developing around its new flagship. “When we launched, we wanted to build two nights of scripted entertainment,” adds Kay. “Now we know Yellowstone can anchor one of them.”
Production on season two of Yellowstone is already underway.
A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.