How ‘Yellowstone’ Creator Missed Golden Opportunity

Taylor Sheridan became a star the old-fashioned way. He wrote his own success story. 

Literally.

Sheridan came to fame via smart, durable stories like “Hell or High Water,” “Wind River” and “Sicario.” The actor-turned-screenwriter established his brand in a hurry – smart, sophisticated stories that understand the cultural nuances in play, be it a saga set near an Indian reservation or a dying Texas town.

He struck Tinsel Town gold with Paramount’s “Yellowstone,” the neo-western starring Kevin Costner, Kelly Reilly and Cole Hauser. The saga of the Dutton family captivated the nation during its first season, becoming one of the industry’s biggest shows.

Season 5 debuted Nov. 13, and it’s clear audiences haven’t had their fill quite yet.

The Montana-set drama packs plenty of intrigue, from local politics to the cultural grievances of local Native American tribes. Costner’s gravitas anchors the story, but fiery work from Reilly helped make “Yellowstone” a cultural mainstay.

“Yellowstone” does more than entertain, though. The saga appeals to right-leaning viewers in a way few shows manage in our tribal times. Hollywood, reflexively liberal, rarely caters to Red State USA. Most shows either ignore that swath of the country or actively ignore it.

Consider a recent episode of NBC’s “New Amsterdam” in which the core characters gather to mourn the end of Roe v. Wade.

Series Premiered In June Of 2018

“Yellowstone” isn’t FOX News in fiction form, but conservatives rally around its strong sense of family, the sprawling Montana vistas and its ability to embrace the western genre without a need for a “revisionist” take on it.

Tell that to Sheridan, who winced at the notion it’s a right-leaning showcase. He laughs at the suggestion.

“The show’s talking about the displacement of Native Americans and the way Native American women were treated and about corporate greed and the gentrification of the West, and land-grabbing. That’s a red-state show?”

Taylor Sheridan

Taylor Sheridan has a point. “Yellowstone” isn’t a rock-ribbed conservative showcase, and the complexities he brings to his work are on furious display here. That’s to be admired.

The series still taps into elements that appeal to right-leaning viewers, audiences starved for stories that incorporate some of their values. There’s little doubt about that. So why can’t Sheridan say as much?

It’s simple. He’s no Hollywood neophyte. Sheridan worked as an actor on shows like FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” before breaking out as a screenwriter/director, and he understands the cultural forces behind the scenes. You can’t offer sly X-rays of different communities like he’s done in his film and TV work and then be blind to how La La Land operates.

Taylor Sheridan is the co-creator of “Yellowstone.” (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images).

Sheridan’s Previously Been Nominated For An Academy Award

He knows if he publicly embraces the show’s conservative leanings he can kiss goodbye any chance he has for serious Emmy love. The show already struggles with that voting block as is, earning just one nomination over its first four seasons (for production design). 

He doesn’t want to make it worse. Here’s why that’s a mistake.

The show’s Emmy snubs shouldn’t matter at this point. “Yellowstone” is must-see TV for the people who count – everyday Americans.

More importantly, couldn’t Sheridan defend his show while acknowledging how conservatives cheer the show on? Why not point out the show’s many layers, describing how it’s not a Left or Right-leaning tale, then launch into a full-throttled embrace of his conservative fans.

Here’s an example:

“I’m not writing ‘Yellowstone’ to fit an ideology, but I’m pleased that conservative viewers find something worthwhile in my stories. I hope they keep on watching along with everyone else.”

It’s not hard to say that. It’s inclusive to the core and pays respect for the Heartland viewers who made the show a sensation.

But, it’s still too risky for Sheridan, who at the age of 52 is just hitting his professional prime. And he knows a gentle shout out to conservative USA will do him no favors in Hollywood.

He should do it anyway as a thank you to fans and a sign to other creators that they, too, can make stories for both sides of the ideological divide moving forward.

Written by Christian Toto

Christian Toto is an award-winning film critic, journalist and founder of HollywoodInToto.com, the Right Take on Entertainment. He’s the author of “Virtue Bombs: How Hollywood Got Woke and Lost Its Soul” and a lifelong Yankees fan. Toto lives in Denver, Colorado with his wife, two sons and too many chickens.

Follow Christian on Twitter at https://twitter.com/HollywoodInToto

2 Comments

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  1. He is playing right into the leftist’s hands. They are always thinking strategically. They know the show is NOT conservative. But they see that conservatives still like it. So they can’t have that. What will happen is since Taylor is apparently a coward he will right next season to appeal even more to the left. The left wants total woke 24/7. The show is like 60/40 to the left. They will not rest until is 100/0 to the left. Mission accomplished.

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