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Is There Life After Kevin Costner on ‘Yellowstone,’ TV’s No. 1 Hit?

Everything you need to know about this Western-style standoff in Hollywood

Album / Alamy Stock Photo

It’s a scene right out of the juggernaut hit TV series Yellowstone: Star Kevin Costner is reportedly in a Western-style standoff with show creator Taylor Sheridan, potentially delaying its return this summer. Rumors are swirling that the megastar may even quit.

“I was only going to do one [Yellowstone] season,” Costner told USA Today’s Bryan Alexander late last year. “But the moment I feel that it’s not right, I’m just going to step away."

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But never fear! The future for Yellowstone — and, most important, for its legions of grownup fans — is still bright. Here’s everything you need to know about the current real-life drama and what it means for your watching this season. (Spoiler alert: Matthew McConaughey may be involved!)

How big a deal is ‘Yellowstone,’ anyway?

Very! The modern-day cowboy epic about a Succession-like family feud is TV’s number 1 scripted series: Its most recent season premiere broke ratings records; it’s the number 1 DVD bestseller and it’s one big reason why Paramount+ added more subscribers this winter than any other streaming service.​

Don’t miss this: Sorry, Kids: Grownup Movie Stars Are Literally Ruling TV Right Now

So what’s holding up ‘Yellowstone’?

Right now, Costner is writing, directing and starring in Horizon, a $100-million-plus film (with several sequels green-lit) about the settlement of the West, so he’s got less time for Yellowstone. Besides his shooting schedule, money negotiations are likely involved. Insiders told the news site Puck that Costner and Yellowstone auteur Taylor Sheridan are like “Brady and Belichick,” or “silverbacks wrestling.” With his own Western epic universe in the Horizon franchise, Costner may be less lured by the millions he makes on Yellowstone and more interested in creative control (and making even more millions).

Should we know this guy Taylor Sheridan?​

Yes, if you like TV hits with major movie stars. Check out Sheridan’s Sylvester Stallone crime show Tulsa King; Jeremy Renner’s Mayor of Kingstown; the OG Yellowstone and spin-offs 1883, 1923 (with Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren) and the soon-to-be-released frontier epic 1883: The Bass Reeves Story with David Oyelowo; plus the spy show Lioness, with Nicole Kidman and Morgan Freeman. According to audience analysts at Samba TV, 24 percent of people watching Paramount+ only watch Sheridan’s shows. 

 Why might Costner quit his huge comeback hit — and why did an Oscar winner do TV in the first place?

The megastar wasn’t that mega for a time there. “He was going through a fallow period when he did Hatfields & McCoys,” the 2012 Western that became cable TV’s top series, says Showbiz 411 pundit Roger Friedman. “And then he did Yellowstone. Now, Friedman says, Costner is back and reestablished. “Everyone who forgot him remembers him now,” he says. “He doesn’t need Yellowstone.” 


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Would ‘Yellowstone’ fall apart without Costner?​

Not hardly! He’s been less central as the spotlight has fallen more on other vividly ornery Dutton family members and nemeses. Costner helped make it a phenomenon, but now it’s a self-sustaining phenomenon. “It would be easy to write Costner — aka John Dutton — out of Yellowstone and introduce Matthew McConaughey as a new central character,” says Friedman.

Whoa, pardner! Matthew McConaughey? ​

McConaughey is indeed in talks for some sort of show in Sheridan’s universe, not necessarily the original Yellowstone. Some think the native Texan would be ideal for the forthcoming Yellowstone spin-off 6666 — returning to a ranch featured in Season 4, but back in the 19th century — or some spin-off to be named later.

So what does this mean for viewers?

We can’t lose. Maybe Yellowstone continues as is, with Costner riding high in the Montana governor’s saddle, if not this summer then likely by winter. But it’s apt to stay great even without Costner. McConaughey, who earned an Oscar (Dallas Buyers Club) and an Emmy nomination for 2014’s wonderful True Detective (and whose career could use another McConaissance), would be a must-watch on either the existing Yellowstone or a spin-off.

And with Costner’s gold thumb for Westerns, it figures that Horizon — an epic about the settling of the West before and after the Civil War, starring Sienna Miller, Luke Wilson, Jena Malone, Thomas Haden Church and Will Patton — will come out a winner too.