The ego-driven clash at the heart of all the Yellowstone drama

The ego-driven clash at the heart of all the Yellowstone drama

Even if Costner returns to Yellowstone, will there be a Yellowstone to return to?

What do you get when you cross two ego-driven, larger-than-life personalities, each with his own famed machismo, with a hit show about ego-driven, larger-than-life cowboys fighting it out in the Wild West?

An epic drama that could jeopardize the whole series, apparently!

Attendees of the popular TV fan convention PaleyFest met with a disappointing twist over the weekend when the entire main cast and crew of Yellowstone skipped out on the event.

This isn’t the first rumbling of strife behind the scenes of the hit series. The show’s production has, according to rumor, been completely waylaid due to an ongoing feud between creator Taylor Sheridan and star Kevin Costner. Until now, the rest of the show’s large ensemble cast had been on the sidelines. But at Paleyfest, to the chagrin of hundreds of festivalgoers, most of the scheduled panel, including Sheridan, all of the cast members who compose Yellowstone’s Dutton family, and executive producer David Glasser, went AWOL at the last minute, apparently without giving the fest time to update the panel information.

The snafu was reportedly due to scheduling conflicts — the same vague excuse, incidentally, that has been masking lots of on-set turmoil for months. The short notice and absence of the entire main cast left scores of fans disappointed and wondering if this was more fallout from the ongoing drama that has plagued the production.

Perhaps even worse, according to Variety’s Emily Longaretta, who spoke on the red carpet with the few cast members who did show up to the event, the production hasn’t even begun filming the second half of the current season.

So much for wondering whether the series will make it to its concluding sixth season; will there even be a completed season five?

Yellowstone’s offscreen conflict seems written in the (movie) stars

The juggernaut Paramount network hit recently dropped the first half of its fifth season, airing from November 2022 to January 2023. The second half is tentatively expected to air at some point in 2023, but reported scheduling conflicts have delayed the release.

Tongues first began to wag after Deadline reported in February that Costner could be leaving the show thanks to conflicts over his shortened film schedule. The report, which alleged Costner wanted to limit his entire work on the season to a single week of shooting over the summer, came complete with a rather frigid statement from a Paramount spokesperson that firmly supported Sheridan and hinted Matthew McConaughey could be waiting in the wings to replace Costner with a new Yellowstone spinoff series at any time.

Yellowstone's Offscreen Controversies Through the Years

As reported by industry journalist Matthew Belloni later in February, Costner has allegedly been embroiled in a “standoff” with Sheridan and Paramount executives, demanding increased pay and perks despite already making the highest salary on TV, earning $1.2 to $1.5 million per episode, all the while making himself less and less available for filming. And while Costner’s lawyer vehemently denied the accusation, the production delays are real: initial expectations of a summer air date have now been pushed back to November, per Belloni, and it’s not clear that the season will be ready then — especially since they haven’t started filming it.

Part of the problem seems to be a clash of titans with titanic personalities. Despite a long career roster of playing relatable everymen, Costner comes off in industry anecdotes as a classic Hollywood diva, perennially pushing for more personal control over projects and often helming his own, with his pique famously creating delays and frustrated directors.

Sheridan is every bit as much of a Hollywood insider, but he’s successfully cultivated a brand as anti-Hollywood. His posture of rugged individualism and heart for the heartland has made him a kind of “red state whisperer” for the industry. Even his pitch to Paramount for Yellowstone was Trumpian. It came with brash, controlling demands that Sheridan would be the sole authoritarian in charge; the role of the executives would begin and end at footing the bill for Yellowstone’s exorbitant $100 million budget.

That gamble clearly paid off for the network — Yellowstone was the top-grossing show of 2021 and season five’s premiere netted over 16 million viewers — but Sheridan’s attitude may have grated with Costner. Per Belloni, the two have allegedly clashed for years, warring egos wrestling for control over the show. Considering what a huge hit Yellowstone is, the stakes are high for both men, even when tension seems to be at a breaking point.

“I think the negativity right now has gotten to the point where it’s going to be very difficult for [Costner] to come back to the show,” Belloni told ET Canada.

The beef with Costner might not be the only reason for the delayed production. Sheridan has so many Yellowstone spinoff shows in development — known as “the Sheridanverse,” all steered by Sheridan himself — that he’s drawn criticism for being “overworked” and letting the main show fall by the wayside. Insider sources told Belloni that the schedule was borked because Sheridan kept delaying scripts and rejuggling things based on his writing schedule.

However, while Sheridan almost certainly is overworked and juggling things, it’s possible that he also simply can’t write the end of season five until he knows whether or not his main character is going to be in it.

This uncertainty is likely taking its toll on the cast as a whole. At the least, it’s wrought plenty of confusion. Speaking at the Country Music Television Awards Sunday night, cast member Ian Bohen (who wasn’t scheduled to attend the PaleyFest panel) could only promise the season would air “later this year,” while also asking fans for “patience.” At the same event, Yellowstone’s Lainey Wilson (who also won the CMT award for Best Female Music Video for her song “Heart Like a Truck”) told reporters she had “no idea what’s going on” with the show. The fact that neither actor had specifics at this late date could suggest a cast kept in the dark about the details, or details that have yet to be hashed out.

In any event, Paramount execs attempted to put up a sunny outlook despite fans at PaleyFest reportedly booing the downsized panel. Keith Cox, Paramount’s president of development and production, told fans he was “very confident” that Costner — “the face of our show” — would be continuing to film.

But there’s a larger question hanging over all of this drama: If Costner does return to Yellowstone, would audiences return with him? And even if they did, what sort of show would they be coming back to?

Yellowstone’s chief appeal has always been a kind of brazen commitment to rugged individualism at all costs, even if it requires destroying members of your own family (when you’re not allying with them in uneasy truces that last until you need to destroy each other again). The show offers a heady glorification of an iconoclastic Wild West, in contrast to the carefully politically sensitive shows of “liberal Hollywood.”

That illusion only lasts, however, as long as viewers believe in the conceit the show is selling. Now, the ongoing and highly public Costner-Sheridan showdown has reminded audiences that you might be able to take the Hollywood stars to Montana, but even in Montana, you can’t take the Hollywood out of the stars.

Would John Dutton, tireless, unfussy rancher king, still resonate with viewers when audiences have heard so many allegations that the actor playing him allegedly wanted to work only one week out of the summer?

For that matter, what of the Yellowstone mythos itself? Yellowstone seemed to be, and arguably was, a show born of Sheridan’s fierce Texan independence, unbeholden to the messy games of America’s elite coasts. But this infighting has all the trappings of classic Hollywood idols fighting over petty Hollywood status symbols. Would the mighty house that Sheridan built be able to stand on prima donna legs?

At the current rate — a complete standstill — we may never know. Still, the Yellowstone story might wind up being a fascinating morality play. An outlandish, outsized show eaten by its creatives’ own egos? That might be a more fitting end to the show than even Sheridan could imagine.

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