The ‘Yellowstone’ Empire Is Crumbling
— 6 February 2024

The ‘Yellowstone’ Empire Is Crumbling

— 6 February 2024
Garry Lu
Garry Lu

Ever since the shock departure of Kevin Costner (and by extension John Dutton III), whenever I read a headline about the production of the flagship Yellowstone series, I imagine the war room from Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove.

This week, it’s safe to assume the show’s producers — along with co-creators Taylor Sheridan and John Linson — were scrambling to battle stations as a fresh set of obstacles presented themselves to hamstring the neo-western’s future.

RELATED: In 2011, ‘Yellowstone’ Creator Taylor Sheridan Was Down To His Last $800 — Now He’s Worth Over $200 Million

As some of you may recall, last year, it was revealed that the franchise’s entire contingency plan rested upon the proud Texan shoulders of Matthew McConaughey. Reports indicated he’d been in active discussion with Sheridan to front a spin-off property that would essentially serve as a life raft for every other major character post-season 5 (Part II).

There was just one problem: McConaughey’s commitment wasn’t as confirmed as many believed (present company included). According to industry insider Matt Belloni of Puck, his involvement is dependent on seeing a script beforehand, ostensibly for approval purposes.

Now, the spin-off is apparently circling three-time Academy Award nominee Michelle Pfeiffer for the role of a female lead: whether this means someone to co-star alongside Matthew McConaughey a la Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren in prequel 1923 or replace him entirely is unclear at this stage.

The Yellowstone Empire Is Crumbling

As if nailing down leading talent for the Yellowstone spin-off wasn’t complicated enough, amid all these negotiations, series regulars Kelly Reilly, Cole Hauser, and Luke Grimes — who portray Beth Dutton, Rip Wheeler, and Kayce Dutton, respectively — have recently threatened to walk away from the continuation unless they receive “significant” pay raises.

Reilly is demanding the most in this three-way pay dispute: US$1.5 million per episode. Her onscreen husband in Hauser, on the other hand, is seeking US$1.25 million per episode (US$550,000 more than what he currently earns). Grimes is said to be asking “relatively little” by comparison but a pay bump nonetheless.

For context, Kevin Costner’s Yellowstone salary began at US$500,000 per episode back in season 1 before eventually capping off at US$1.3 million per episode.

“Things could get ugly from here, as, thanks to their pay-or-play deals, the trio is also set for another payday for season 6 of the parent series, even though it’s not happening,” explains Ryan O’Rourke of Collider.

“The studios are allegedly planning to apply that pending salary to the stars’ proposed raises, but the three are already planning to push back against that proposal.”

It’s in Paramount Network’s best interest that the key players behind Yellowstone get what they want. After all, a pay dispute, lack of shooting flexibility, plus an ugly falling out with Taylor Sheridan is precisely what drove Kevin Costner away.

The Yellowstone Empire Is Crumbling

During a child support hearing as part of his divorce proceedings from estranged wife Christine Baumgartner, of all places — because this is Hollywood we’re dealing with here — Costner had this to say (via Variety):

“I’ve been told it’s a little disappointing that [it’s] the #1 show on TV, I’m not participating… I couldn’t help them any more. We tried to negotiate, they offered me less money than previous seasons, there were issues with the creative.” 

Costner added he’ll “probably go to court” to claim the US$12 million owed to him for the second half of the fifth season, given the aforementioned “pay-or-play” clause in his contract.

RELATED: The Western Movie Kevin Costner Ditched ‘Yellowstone’ For Has A Teaser

Prior to all this drama outside of the fictitious Dutton Ranch, as both a flagship series and a franchise, Yellowstone seemed unstoppable — the most successful television franchise of 2021, in fact, generating over US$100 million across physical and digital transactional media alone (i.e. Blu-rays, VOD sales, etc.).

Between its traditional broadcast viewership numbers, which routinely broke ratings records, and platform-defining streaming figures, which tallied grand multiples of the broadcast audience, this was certainly Paramount’s gravy train. Fast forward to the present day and the suits behind the scenes find themselves desperately bailing out water from what sure feels like a sinking ship.

At the time of this writing, Yellowstone season 5 (Part II) has been scheduled to premiere in November 2024 (specific release date TBA). How Taylor Sheridan & Co will decide to handle the story without its linchpin patriarch, Kevin Costner’s John Dutton, is something we’ll be cautiously keen to see; and whether its supporting properties can feasibly make up for the shortfall remains to be seen.

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Garry Lu
After stretching his legs with companies such as The Motley Fool and the odd marketing agency, Garry joined Boss Hunting in 2019 as a fully-fledged Content Specialist. In 2021, he was promoted to News Editor. Garry proudly retains a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, black bruises from Muay Thai, as well as a black belt in all things pop culture. Drop him a line at [email protected]


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