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How ‘Yellowstone’ Became TV’s No. 1 Show

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Yellowstone has grown into television’s No. 1 show.

On Sunday, Yellowstone’s season 4 finale set a new viewership record with 9.3 million viewers on Paramount. The episode drew the most cable viewers for any series telecast since the Walking Dead’s season 8 premiere on AMC in October 2017 of 11.4 million.

From start to finish, Yellowstone finished 2021 as the #1 series across broadcast, cable, and premium in key viewership demographics of adults 18-49 and 25-54.

How did that happen? How did a show on Paramount, hardly an HBO competitor, find the latest piece of TV monoculture?

Yellowstone began as a hit only in small-town markets. The Wall Street Journal reports that the series premiered in 2018 to a niche following in some of the least-populated TV markets, categorized by Nielsen as D markets.

At the time, Yellowstone didn’t rank in the top 50 in a single A market, a category that includes New York and Los Angeles. Yellowstone was just a modern-day western with a modern-day western audience size.

Then, Americans got wind of the series. It turned out, even in this ultra-sensitive culture, one program still appealed to America’s roots and interests, with cowboys, naked women, welcoming dialogue, and mind-bending suspense.

Yellowstone caters to not its critics but its viewers, a strategy so rare in entertainment. And because no one reads Slate’s reviews anymore, the everyman’s word proves much more valuable than positive online media coverage.

Today, the interest in Yellowstone is widespread in both A and D markets. By contrast, HBO’s Succession remains popular only in major cities, barely registering in middle America.

Yellowstone could be one of the more influential series of the decade. Paramount doesn’t view series creator Taylor Sheridan as a guy with only a single idea. ViacomCBS, Paramount’s parent company, has set out to create a Sheridan-made universe moving forward. Following Yellowstone’s success, ViacomCBS extended Sheridan to a big-money, multi-year deal to develop numerous new programs.

Behind Sheridan’s pen, ViacomCBS is confident a Yellowstone universe can put Paramount+ on the map to compete with Netflix, HBO Max, Disney+, Hulu, Peacock, and Amazon Prime.

“Our strategy to franchise Yellowstone into a universe of series to fuel growth for Paramount+ is already exceeding expectations with 1883 and Mayor of Kingstown proving to be two of the top titles,” said Chris McCarthy, President and CEO, ViacomCBS Media Networks.

ViacomCBS launched 1883 — a prequel to Yellowstone featuring Sam Elliott, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and Billy Bob Thornton — last month to record-breaking streaming numbers on Paramount+. Sheridan is now working on another prequel series, titled 1663.

Yellowstone entered the fray as the underdog, behind big-time investment projects from Amazon, Apple, and Netflix. But as Yellowstone reminds its viewers, Americans have not changed as much as Hollywood pretends. How do we know that? Because viewers are choosing to watch Yellowstone over HBO’s The Sex Lives of College Girls every week. 

Written by Bobby Burack

Bobby Burack covers media, politics, and sports at OutKick.

4 Comments

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  1. I have been a Yellowstoner from Day One. Cole Hauser’s “Rip” is THE coolest guy since Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns. IMO, the show “jumped the shark” a bit in Season 4 which is not unusual for a long-running series. How many times can “Beth” say “F**k is in danger of becoming a parlor game. … Awesome scenery !!!
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    “Beth goes ballistic in the dress shop” in Season 2 was Best Scene in TV History. OK, but it was a Humdinger.
    .

  2. , Americans got wind of the series. It turned out, even in this ultra-sensitive culture, one program still appealed to America’s roots and interests, with cowboys, naked women, welcoming dialogue, and mind-bending suspense.

    Omg..now Very Fine People are trying to culturally appropriate a TV Series? Damn, that’s a sure sign of desperation

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