into the sunset

Yellowstone Is Dead, Long Live a New Yellowstone Sequel

Kevin Costner as John Dutton in Yellowstone. Photo: Yellowstone/YouTube

After months of speculation, there is finally some clarity about the future of Yellowstone: Paramount Network says its Kevin Costner–led megahit will return for the second part of its fifth season in November, air its series finale in December, and then be immediately replaced by a new, Yellowstone-branded sequel series from franchise creator Taylor Sheridan. While this project has been widely rumored to be a starring vehicle for Matthew McConaughey, for now the network isn’t confirming that casting or releasing any other creative details about the sequel, including which current Yellowstone actors (if any) will appear in the new show. It also isn’t acknowledging how its ambitious rollout plan may be impacted by the start of the WGA strike, which may stretch on for months.

While there’s been buzz for months that Costner appeared to be ready to move on and Yellowstone was on its way out, Friday’s announcement is still big news: The biggest show on linear TV is ending after five seasons, years earlier than any industry insider would have predicted even six months ago. And yet, in a way, it’s kinda not. Paramount’s release didn’t lead with the news of its massive hit exiting, and Chris McCarthy, president and CEO of Showtime/MTV Entertainment Studios, issued a statement that was focused on the future. “Yellowstone has been the cornerstone on which we have launched an entire universe of global hits — from 1883 to Tulsa King — and I am confident our Yellowstone sequel will be another big hit, thanks to the brilliant creative mind of Taylor Sheridan and our incredible casts who bring these shows to life,” the exec said. The only mentions of Costner in Friday’s release are rote acknowledgments of his role as an executive producer and a parenthetical noting he plays the lead role of John Dutton.

All of this seems like a plan to make the transition between the two shows nearly imperceptible to audiences. For example, sources tell Vulture this new Yellowstone series will include the word Yellowstone in its title, unlike past spinoff series from the universe. And Davis Glasser, CEO of Yellowstone producer 101 Studios, said in Friday’s release, “The Dutton story continues, picking up where Yellowstone leaves off in another epic tale.” Finally, having the mothership’s finale lead right into the sequel — rather than make fans wait months or years — is a clear effort to ensure as many viewers of the current show watch the follow-up.

But while the two shows may feel like two sides of the same coin for viewers, Yellowstone as it has existed officially and contractually for the past five years will end in December, and it is being replaced by a completely “new” series. And because of that legal finality, NBCUniversal’s Peacock will soon see its supply of fresh Yellowstone episodes dry up: While part two of the original series will stream on Peacock after its Paramount Network run, the sequel’s streaming home will be Paramount Global–owned Paramount+. While the streamer has benefited greatly from the McCarthy-greenlit spinoffs, not having the original on P+ has confused viewers and denied the streamer the promotional lure of TV’s biggest current linear hit. All that goes away once Yellowstone hangs up its spurs.

While Paramount Network’s timetable for the transition was pretty decisive, it is possible that things won’t go exactly according to plan because of the WGA strike. Even if Sheridan has already written the scripts for Yellowstone 2.0, he’s not allowed to do any rewrites on episodes until the strike ends. What’s more, a strike by the Screen Actors Guild isn’t impossible to imagine; its current contract expires June 30. Sheridan’s Yellowstone machine is a high-performance engine that has proven itself able to turn around new series with astonishing speed, but how it handles an ongoing labor action remains to be seen.

Yellowstone Is Dead, Long Live a New Yellowstone Sequel