Yellowstone controversy: A timeline of the Kevin Costner debacle

How the ratings hit turned into a behind-the-scenes disaster

Jacob Stolworthy
Thursday 07 September 2023 06:44 BST
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Yellowstone season 5 trailer

The controversy surrounding Yellowstone is continuing following lead star Kevin Costner’s claims about the show.

Costner has played ranch owner John Dutton on the hit US series since it premiered in 2018. While Taylor Sheridan’s drama has divided critics, centring its stories on the American ranchers and land developers in the borders of the fictional Broken Rock Indian Reservation, it has become one of the most successful TV shows in recent years.

However, the house of cards came toppling down in February with actor-director Costner’s bombshell decision to walk away from the show with seasons to go. This led creator Sheridan to call time on the show in May, far earlier than planned.

Costner broke his silence about his reasoning for quitting the show last week. His claims are at odds with the viewpoint of Yellowstone creator Sheridan.

Below, we run through a timeline of the history of Yellowstone, an unlikely success story whose legacy has been tarnished by behind-the-scenes tensions.

20 June 2018:Yellowstone, starring Kevin Costner, debuts in the US on Paramount cable channel, the Paramount Network. It becomes one of the most-watched shows in the country. Creator Taylor Sheridan said of the show’s success to The Hollywood Reporter: “People couldn’t understand how a linear cable channel that no one can even find suddenly had the biggest show on television. Because it has cowboys and this is supposed to be a dead genre, right? Of course, that’s not what the show is really about, that’s just the sugar on the pill.”

February 2021: Sheridan signs a lucrative five-year deal with ViacomCBS and MTV Entertainment Group to create new projects, including Yellowstone spin-offs.

December 2021: Paramount Network releases Yellowstone prequel series 1883, starring Tim McGraw, Faith Hill and Sam Elliott. It achieves the biggest debut for a cable show in more than six years, and helps launch the networks’ streaming service, Paramount+. However, with Sheridan busy on the spin-off, Yellowstone season five is delayed.

August 2022: Costner begins production on his passion project, Horizon: An American Saga. Each instalment of the four-part Western epic will last for three hours, with production on each film expected to run for up to six months.

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November 2022: Costner wraps production on the first part of Horizon: An American Saga early. The first part of Yellowstone season five, filmed before the delay caused by 1883, is released.

Kevin Costner in ‘Yellowstone’

6 February 2023: A report in Deadline claims that Costner has locked horns with Sheridan over scheduling conflicts for the second part of Yellowstone’s fifth season and that he has left the show. Multiple sources state that Costner only wanted to spend a single week shooting his scenes.

21 February 2023: Costner’s attorney refutes reports the actor-director demanded he spend just one week shooting his scenes for Yellowstone season five, part two.

April 2023: Yellowstone supporting actors replace lead stars, including Costner, in a last-minute shake-up at TV convention PaleyFest. The announcement receives gasps from the crowd. But Keith Cox, president of scripted at MTV Entertainment Studios, refers to the actor as “our star, the face of our show, and the executive producer”, adding: “We are very confident he will continue with the show.”

May 2023: Costner officially quits Yellowstone and it’s announced that the fifth season will be the last. The show was expected to last for at least two further seasons.

June 2023: In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Sheridan speaks out about the Costner controversy. He says: “My last conversation with Kevin was that he had this passion project he wanted to direct. He and the network were arguing about when he could be done with Yellowstone. I said, ‘We can certainly work a schedule toward [his preferred exit date],’ which we did.”

Taylor Sheridan said he was ‘disappointed’ Kevin Costner quit ‘Yellowstone’

Sheridan suggests the involvement of Costner’s lawyers confused the situation, stating: “I’ve never had an issue with Kevin that he and I couldn’t work out on the phone. But once lawyers get involved, then people don’t get to talk to each other and start saying things that aren’t true and attempt to shift blame based on how the press or public seem to be reacting. He took a lot of this on the chin and I don’t know that anyone deserves it. His movie seems to be a great priority to him and he wants to shift focus. I sure hope [the movie is] worth it — and that it’s a good one.”

Sheridan said Costner’s decision “disappointed” him as “it truncates the closure of his character”.

July 2023: Filming of Yellowstone’s final season is put on indefinite hold due to the SAG-AFTRA Hollywood strikes.

September 2023: Costner breaks his silence about his decision to quit Yellowstone during his divorce hearing. The actor-director is reported to have said the situation was “complicated”, and that he “did negotiate” to return for three more seasons. According to reporters present at the trial, Costner said: “There were issues about creative. I tried to break the logjam. They walked away.” He is believed to have said he will “probably go to court” over the matter.

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