The sun may be setting on Yellowstone, but there's still miles to go before Kevin Costner hangs up his spurs as John Dutton III on Paramount's biggest television franchise outside of Star Trek.
Earlier this year, the studio announced that the Taylor Sheridan-created series would end with the current fifth season, originally set to return to the airwaves in November, but delayed by the dual strikes by the Writers Guild of America, which has since returned to work, and the Screen Actors Guild, which is still on strike.
Meanwhile, the wheels are already in motion to launch a sequel show — potentially starring Matthew McConaughey — that would continue the story of the present-day Dutton clan even as Sheridan continues launching prequel series like Harrison Ford's 1923 and Faith Hill's 1883. Season 1 of Yellowstone has also had a successful primetime run on CBS, which is using previously-aired episodes of the shows to fill programming gaps generated by the strikes.
There are fresh developments in this real-life Western saga. Here's everything you need to know about the future of Yellowstone.
Mark your calendars...
Because Yellowstone as we knew it is ending exactly one year from now. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Paramount Network has slated the final batch of Season 5 episodes, capped by the series finale, for a November 2024 premiere. That'll give the cast and crew plenty of time to ramp up production after the SAG strike is settled, although another potential labor dispute looms next July, when IATSE — the union that represents multiple crew positions — will negotiate with the AMPTP.
A November premiere also means that both halves of Costner's big-screen Western epic, Horizon, will have played in theaters by the time Yellowstone returns. The star has invested a fair amount of his own money in the two-part production, which Warner Bros. is releasing in theaters during the summer blockbuster season. Part 1 will premiere on June 28, while Part 2 is scheduled to open on Aug. 16. As a result, neither installment will benefit from the Yellowstone bump in terms of commercial break advertising.
But with both movies having already played in theaters, Costner's busy schedule might clear up just enough for him to film a real farewell for John Dutton... presumably one that doesn't violate the "moral death" clause he reportedly has in his contract. While Sheridan has reportedly plotted out a final run of episodes that won't require the star's presence, there's always the chance that they could mend fences before Yellowstone hits those happy trails.
The Hollywood Reporter also has fresh details about new Yellowstone spin-offs that will further move the franchise beyond Costner. The first, 2024, will follow other members of the extended Dutton family in the present day. It's unclear whether this is the same series that Matthew McConaughey is reportedly being courted to star in, or if that will be another post-Yellowstone yarn.
Meanwhile, the second spin-off, 1944, will presumably depict how the Dutton ranch weathered the World War II years, although no specific story or cast details have been revealed.
Previously on the ranch ...
Sept. 15: Kevin, phone home
Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when Costner and Sheridan awkwardly spoke over the phone about John Dutton's future for the first time in months. That tense tête-à-tête is one of the many blockbuster details featured in the latest Yellowstone report by Puck's Matt Belloni. According to Belloni's sources, the conversation went down in early July as Costner sought a way to return to the series — albeit on his terms.
The actor's representatives were equally eager to see him restored to the Yellowstone universe, not just for the second half of Season 5, but potentially two additional seasons. The reasoning reportedly was that a prominent berth on Yellowstone would be good for Costner's bottom line, as well as a marketing tool for his multi-part big-screen Western epic, Horizon.
But that phone call turned out to be a major flop, largely because Costner came into the conversation with a list of demands — including more cash, fewer shooting days and script approval. Belloni reported that the star also has a unique "moral death" provision in his contract that sets strict limits on the ways that his alter ego can be killed off. That clause was added during one of Costner's contract renegotiations and specifically prevents Sheridan from conceiving of fatal exits that would cause "shame or embarrassment" to Dutton.
Needless to say, Sheridan was uninterested in accommodating Costner's demands. Plus, the Yellowstone mastermind had already written a version of the show's endgame that didn't require Dutton's presence, so there was little incentive on his part to acquiesce. So talks between Paramount and Costner's team broke down once again, just as the SAG strike went into effect, delaying the start of production on the Dutton-free second half of Season 5.
Instead of headlining more Yellowstone, Costner is currently starring in a courtroom drama alongside his estranged wife, Christine. During a Sept. 1 court appearance, the actor implied that he might take Paramount to court over his Yellowstone salary, suggesting that the studio walked away from paying him. Belloni reported that Costner was already paid for the second half of Season 5 — which he likely wasn't going to be in anyway — and thus was likely referring to a potential payday for a potential Season 6 and 7. But those seasons will never be made now that Paramount has pulled the plug on the flagship Yellowstone series and is starting over at Season 1 with the spin-off that will feature McConaughey alongside other returning favorites.
Belloni reported that the final episodes of Yellowstone are ready to start filming as soon as the strike ends, and pre-production is already underway to ensure a faster turnaround time. Meanwhile, the show's previous seasons — which have traditionally aired on the Paramount Network and are streaming on Peacock — are about to launch on CBS as the network tries to fill the programming holes caused by the strike.
May 19: Costner's multimillion-dollar next act
While Paramount executives are nervously awaiting Costner's final decision about how much time he's willing to give the final episodes of Yellowstone, the actor himself is hard at work on his next feature film project — the ambitious (and pricey) multi-part Western, Horizon. Costner shared an image from the set on his Instagram, writing that he hasn't "felt this way about a movie since we were making Dances With Wolves." That 1990 film, of course, ended up gifting him with an Oscar for Best Director and another for Best Picture, and there's little doubt that he'd love for history to repeat itself.
Costner shed more light on Horizon via an extensive conversation with Francis Ford Coppola, conducted by Deadline. In the interview, he revealed that the project originated in the late 1980s, and consists of four films that will depict the evolution of the American West before and after the Civil War. Costner also said that he believes so strongly in Horizon that he's invested his own money in the movies. "I've mortgaged 10 acres on the water in Santa Barbara where I was going to build my last house," he revealed. "But I did it without a thought. It has thrown my accountant into a f***ing conniption fit. But it's my life, and I believe in the idea and the story."
"People might look at this and say, 'Oh, this is a gamble,'" Costner continued. "And I go, "Well, I guess it is, but do I want to go to Vegas and gamble?" No. I’m not that kind of gambler. I gamble on the love of story. I’m gambling on people, in a sense. I can't make them go to the theater, but if they get there, I'm going to try to take care of them the best I possibly can."
Could Arnold Schwarzenegger be a long-lost Dutton relative?
If Costner says "Hasta la vista, baby," to Yellowstone, maybe Arnold Schwarzenegger could step in for the final batch of episodes? In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the Austrian action star indicated that he'd love to get in the Taylor Sheridan business. "I think he's very talented," Schwarzenegger said of Sheridan. "And the cast on [Yellowstone] is phenomenal."
While Schwarzenegger has spent most of his acting career on the big screen, he's getting into the streaming game with the eight-episode action series, Fubar, which premiered on Netflix on May 25. And not for nothing, but his '80s rival Sylvester Stallone already has his own Sheridan-created Paramount+ show, Tulsa King. "Today, I see much more of other people's performances than I did in the '80s, when I was only seeing myself," the ex-Terminator said. "I was thinking: 'I have to win.' It was a competition against Sly, against others. 'I have to be number one.'"
What's in a name?
Kindergarten teachers, prepare to welcome a whole bunch of "Duttons" to your classes in about five years. The Yellowstone family's last name is now a popular first name choice for new parents. According to the Social Security Administration's rankings of popular baby names, Dutton leap-frogged from 1,821st place in 2021 to 835th place last year.
Meanwhile, Kayce — the name of John Dutton III's son, played by Luke Grimes — experienced its own popularity surge. Ranked in 1,077th place two years ago, it climbed to 587 in 2022. Sadly, Kayce's sister Bethany (played by Kelly Reilly) doesn't seem to have benefitted from the Yellowstone bump when it comes to baby names.
May 12: Kevin Costner's death wish
To borrow a line from Auric Goldfinger, no, Costner doesn't expect Mr. Dutton to die. According to Puck's Matt Belloni, the Dances With Wolves star will have a big say in determining his alter ego's ultimate fate as Yellowstone wraps up its run. Belloni reported that one of the reasons that Costner has yet to commit to returning to the set for the rest of Season 5 is that he wants the show's creator to provide some indication of his endgame plans for Dutton.
Belloni suggested that Costner wants to avoid a situation like Patrick Dempsey's notorious exit from Grey's Anatomy, where Derek Shepherd was killed in a car accident after the actor's alleged on-set clashes with the cast and crew. That means that if Dutton does meet his maker, it'll be under circumstances that Costner is happy with. According to Belloni, negotiations are still ongoing in terms of how much time the outgoing star will spend on set if he does return, with options ranging anywhere from one to three weeks (Costner's preference) or 30 to 45 days (Paramount's preference).
Meanwhile, sources close to Costner tell Us Weekly that he's as "disappointed" as Yellowstone fans are about the extensive delays holding up the rest of the fifth and final season. "The holdup is not coming from Kevin," insists the source, claiming that it's all "beyond his control." (Costner is in the midst of directing the ambitious feature film project, Horizon.) The fact that Paramount has scheduled a November premiere date for the remaining episodes suggests that the rest of the cast may soon be heading to Montana... and maybe also a place that's closer to Sheridan's heart.
Taylor Sheridan's ranch life
In 2021, Sheridan purchased Texas's historic Four Sixes Ranch for a reported $320 million, one of several ranches he now owns in the state. And he's put all those properties to work for him. According to the Wall Street Journal, Sheridan has used several of his ranches as shooting locations for various Yellowstone-related shows, billing Paramount for up to $50,000 a week. Additionally, his ranches run "Cowboy Camps" to get actors in riding shape and he also rents cattle herds to his own shows at $25 a head.
While the mothership Yellowstone series is largely filmed in Montana, the Journal reported that expenses have trickled in from Sheridan's Texas properties, including a $3,000 time card from his personal horse wrangler. Appearing before cattle owner convention earlier this year, the prolific writer reportedly said: "There’s nothing better than a movie company showing up and filming for about a month and paying you a bunch of money and leaving. It’s about the greatest deal going."
A Paramount spokeswoman told the Journal that "there are parameters in place to make effective cost decisions," while David Glasser — who runs 101 Studios, which produces Yellowstone — said that Sheridan is attentive to budget concerns. "He is not writing 'shoot at my ranch' in the script. Those demands are never made. When the [line producer] or I go to Taylor and ask him to cut a day out of the schedule for budget purposes, he is more than willing to accommodate."
It's worth noting that one of Sheridan's upcoming Paramount+ shows is 6666 and will tell the centuries-spanning story of the Four Sixes Ranch that he now owns. We'll have to wait and see whether that one will be "filmed on location."
Sheridan's strike silence
While some high-profile writer-producers like Andor's Tony Gilroy and Stranger Things's Duffer Brothers stepped away from showrunning duties during the WGA strike, Sheridan has yet to express a public opinion about whether or not he'll be joining a picket line. And his silence hasn't gone unnoticed by those in the press.
This story was originally published on May 19, 2023 and has been updated with new information.
Yellowstone is currently streaming on Peacock and Season 2 is airing on CBS.