How Taylor Sheridan’s ‘Yellowstone’ Changed Hollywood
The “Yellowstone” expanded universe changed Paramount’s fortunes, Hollywood headshots and possibly Texas politics.
Over the past 20 years Andy Rooney headshot photo trends have come and gone. The last? Since January of this year, almost every client he’s shot – well over 100 – has wanted to style himself as a “Yellowstone” cowboy.
“Almost everyone I’ve shot so far in the last few months has shot these looks in addition to what they’re shooting,” Rooney told IndieWire. “Even people I never thought would get into such a mood. Everyone wants that.”
Welcome to the Sheridan Effect. Right now, everyone wants to be part of Taylor Sheridan and his growing roster of western-themed shows, which began with “Yellowstone” and now includes spinoffs “1883” and “1923” and the upcoming “Land Man,” “Bass Reeves, ” and “6666.” (Not to mention “The Mayor of Kingstown” and “The King of Tulsa.”) But it goes much deeper than acting; the Sheridan effect shapes everything from corporate strategies to government policy.
Sheridan takes over Paramount+
When “Yellowstone” premiered in 2018, Sheridan had worked as an actor for two decades (“Sons of Anarchy,” “Veronica Mars” and a whole bunch of one-offs) and three years as an acclaimed screenwriter on “Sicario,” the Oscar-nominated “Hell or High Water” and “Wind River,” which he also directed.
Yellowstone, made by Sheridan with John Linson, had modest expectations. Even broadcaster Paramount Network, newly formed from the ashes of Spike TV, was not high on the show: it sold exclusive streaming rights to Peacock. Kevin Costner led the cast as ranch owner John Dutton, but reviews were mixed.
None of it mattered. It quickly became a basic cable the second most watched program behind only “The Walking Dead”. By 2020, “Yellowstone” was the most popular cable show, period; 4.2 million viewers tuned in for the Season 3 premiere that year. In 2021, the Western series was around 10 million audience members for the season 4 finale.
According to Whip Media’s tracker TV Time, which tracks the self-reported viewing habits of more than 25 million global registered users, Paramount+ appeared in the top 10 more times in the first quarter of 2023 than any other network. Paramount+ appeared 34 times, 10 more than Disney (24), 13 more than Netflix (21) and 20 more than Apple TV+ (14). Of those 34, 10 belong to Sheridan: “1923” charted seven times (including three weeks at No. 1), and “Tulsa King” charted three.
The momentum behind “Yellowstone” made Sheridan a dining ticket and a cornerstone of its television strategy at Paramount Global. In 2021, Sheridan signed a comprehensive deal that reportedly paid him $200 million and allowed him to produce shows on Paramount platforms through 2028.
Sheridan’s value to Paramount is so great that when Sheridan and Costner got into an argument on set, the studio sided with the creator. If “Yellowstone” must go on without Costner, so be it. (And if “Yellowstone” 2.0 returns streaming rights to Paramount platforms, so much the better.)
Courtesy of Paramount+
Production incentives are greater in Texas
It is currently the Texas State Legislature debate on the adoption of a bill which would provide increased tax credits for film and television projects with budgets of at least $15 million. That campaign update that Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick published Sheridan on February 15 as “the best screenwriter of our time and one of the best storytellers ever to make a film. Best of all, he’s from Texas and he gets Texas. My goal is for Taylor to move all of his TV and film production to Texas. If we work together, I think we can make it happen.”
“Yellowstone” filmed some sequences from Season 5 south of Dallas in Venus, Texas. The movie 1883 filmed some scenes in Granbury, Texas in 2021. In addition to the short-term benefits of production spending on accommodation and transportation, it also brought in tourism from die-hard fans. Texas spinoff “Yellowstone” “6666” is in development at Paramount+.
It’s not like “Yellowstone” alerted Texas to the idea that Hollywood could mean local money. It is surrounded by New Mexico and Louisiana, and to the northeast by Georgia—states that have spent decades building out their manufacturing infrastructure thanks to generous tax breaks.
Texas has so far rejected that idea. Too expensive, especially when movies and TV shows often offend Texan sensibilities. (This is worth noting Patrick’s priorities for the 2023 parliamentary session these include Senate Bill 12, “Banning Children’s Exposure to Drag Shows,” and Senate Bill 13, “Protecting Children from Obscene Books in Libraries.” Eventually, the gravitational pull of the Sheridan effect was too great.
On March 3, the Senate presented it HB 3772 to create the Texas Media Production Enticement Program, which would dramatically increase production incentives in Texas. Currently, the state offers a modest subsidy of up to 20 percent tax credit under a program that allocates $45 million annually. The new bill, proposed to supplement the projects, has a budget of more than $15 million, starts with unlimited and 30 percent credit; for TV series, this can reach nearly 50 percent with various punches and ratings. (Projects with lower budgets would still have access to the original grant.)
Courtesy of Paramount
Let’s cut to the chase!, Let the show begin!, There’s time
Paramount Network chief Chris McCarthy, who helped position “Yellowstone” and acquired Sheridan’s entire business, is now CEO of Paramount Media Networks and oversees Showtime, soon to be renamed “Paramount+” with Showtime. From there, he wants to turn the Sheridan-verse into his own programming philosophy, creating similar universes from his most popular shows like “Dexter,” “Billions,” “Ray Donovan” and more. This turn of events led to the cancellation of several shows, the sale of others, and some no airing at all.
This franchise craze can also be seen at Amazon Prime Video, which is said to be looking to develop several IP-based projects such as “Creed,” “Tomb Raider” and Spider-Man. On April 28, the streamer will debut “Citadel,” Anthony and Joe Russo’s series specifically designed to launch a “global franchise” of connected programming.
Sheridan joins other TV creators who have successful shows at the same time. Dick Wolf almost single-handedly filled NBC’s prime-time shows for years with the procedurals “Law & Order” and “One Chicago.” Shonda Rhimes produced three wildly successful series for ABC — “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder” — before moving to Netflix. Ryan Murphy created a mini-franchise on FX with the “American Story” anthologies and hits like “Glee” and “Pose” before heading to Netflix.
Where Sheridan differs from Murphy, Rhimes or Wolf is her volume and speed. After “Grey’s Anatomy,” Rhimes waited seven years for her next hit. “Law & Order” ran for nine years before Wolf spun off “SVU.” “Glee” premiered 10 years after Murphy’s first show, “Popular.” Sheridan’s predecessors were all established in the heyday of cable and network television; created a bona fide phenomenon on a little-known linear channel.
Wolf mostly stays in his own lane, with his only streaming project being the “Law & Order” show currently in development for the Peacock. Murphy jumped to Netflix in 2018 with a huge deal, but his success with Dahmer and The Watcher has been offset by the failures of “The Politician,” “Hollywood,” “Ratched” and “Halston.” Rhimes doesn’t have many bombshells on her resume, but she wasn’t nearly as prolific during her Netflix contract as Murphy.
I want to be a cowboy
Everyone wants to be a cowboy. Rooney, a headshot photographer, has been taking actor photos at his company since 2005, digitally to be exact, and said that since “Yellowstone” he’s seen a growing interest in Western-inspired photos from clients. It peaked this year: virtually all of your clients want photos that show their inner cowboy.
What does a “Yellowstone” recording look like? Rooney described it as a “pure, real and raw” style, with the subject in a heroic pose and the lighting adding a touch of delicacy; occasionally, literal cowboy hats or Western-inspired jackets are also mentioned.
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