In June 2018, modern-day Western Yellowstone debuted on the Paramount Network as the network’s first original scripted show. Co-created by Hell or High Water screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, Yellowstone follows the Dutton family, owners of the largest ranch in Montana: the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch. Kevin Costner plays family patriarch John Dutton III, who runs the business with his only daughter, Beth (Kelly Reilly), and his two sons, Kayce (Luke Grimes) and Jamie (Wes Bentley). CBS Sunday Morning described the show as “Bonanza meets The Godfather.”
The show wasn’t an immediate hit, but all that changed during the pandemic, when new viewers began tuning in in record numbers. During the 2021-2022 TV season, Yellowstone ranked as the No. 1 non-football show on TV—which is an impressive feat for any series, let alone one that airs on basic cable.
Yellowstone has proven so successful that in 2021 it launched a prequel series, 1883, starring Sam Elliott, Tim McGraw, and Faith Hill. 1923, a spin-off starring Helen Mirren and Harrison Ford, will premiere is December, with another series—the present-day-set 6666—coming in 2023.
Whether you’re a Yellowstone newcomer or already deeply entrenched in its fifth season, here are 15 wild facts about the series.
1. Initially, no one in Hollywood was interested in producing Yellowstone.
When Sheridan tried to sell his Western to Hollywood, he received pushback because nobody wanted to make a Western. “Anytime that Hollywood says a genre is dead, it’s because they made a bunch of bad movies about it,” Sheridan told CBS Sunday Morning.
But Chris McCarthy, Paramount Network President and CEO of MTV Entertainment, saw it in a different way. “People think of Westerns as good guys and bad guys, and this is really such a different show,” McCarthy said. “I’ve been in television nearly 20 years, and there’s very few times where my 18-year-old niece and my 80-year-old aunt ask me about that same show. And this was one of those moments.”
2. The show is about family.
Part of the appeal of Yellowstone is the universality of its main theme: family. “It explores the very essence of family, and how the actions of one member can alter the course of generations,” Sheridan told Deadline.
3. Unforgiven and Dances With Wolves were major influences.
Sheridan told Variety that writers like Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtry, and Toni Morrison wrote about themes he was interested in. “In terms of the movies that influenced me, it was watching Unforgiven when I was in my late teens or very early twenties,” he said. “The same with Dances With Wolves, where you’re looking at the Western genre through a whole new lens that had never been explored before.”
4. Sheridan’s writing attracted Kevin Costner.
Costner—who of course produced, directed, and starred in Dances With Wolves—knows a thing or two about Westerns. “I saw that the dialogue had a fun, realistic approach to it,” he told Variety. “It was raw. It was dysfunctional. And it was set against the backdrop of mountains and rivers and valleys and people on horseback, which is very appealing.”
5. Costner says Westerns are Shakespearean ...
“It’s our Shakespeare, really, the Western,” Costner told Parade. “You know, ‘Yep’ doesn't just mean ‘Yep.’ It might mean ‘That’s the last word I'm having with you, fella.’ Westerns are based on literature of how people lived their life, how they spoke with each other, the danger that was involved with living in an unknown area without the level of protection that we know today in this particular century. When you make a Western, if you don’t acknowledge those abilities, that native intelligence, and also the random acts of violence that occurred when you’re out here, then I think that’s why they miss the mark more often than they make it. I think Westerns, when they’re at their best, invest in the language as much as they do in the gunfight.”
6. ... But Kelly Reilly doesn’t think Beth is like Lady Macbeth.
Throughout the series, Beth has been the most ruthless yet most traumatized Dutton. She has endured sterilization, attempted rape, and a mail bomb attack. But Kelly Reilly, who plays Beth, disagrees with those who have compared her to Lady Macbeth.
“I talk about Beth as a powerful, dangerous woman and Lady Macbeth is that, but Lady Macbeth has a bitterness in her,” Reilly told Vulture. “I’m not sure Beth has that bitterness. She’s so alive. I don’t think it’s necessarily about vengeance, but more, ‘If you come up against me or anything that I care about and love, I will destroy you.’ It’s more active. It’s more American. It’s less sitting in her room, manipulating, thinking of ways she could f**k someone over. And Beth only does that to people she believes deserve it.”
7. The landscape plays an important role.
Christina Alexandra Voros, a cinematographer who has shot more than two dozen episides of Yellowstone, told IndieWire that “the main character on the show is the land,” and that they pay close attention to the landscape and time of day while shooting. “That’s what everyone is fighting for and over and trying to protect, so it’s imperative to show that character in all her glory ... Obviously everyone wants to shoot magic hour all the time, but sometimes there are landscapes that are more impressive in front light, or the effect is more emotional when the sun is two hours from setting and it hits the leaves in the trees in a certain way.”
8. Costner’s dad was skeptical about him doing the show.
Parade asked Costner about his new fanbase and Costner told a story about his late father: “My dad took a big interest in my career. He said, ‘You’re going to lose your audience, fellow. That is a naughty show.’ He said, ‘They’re going to drift away, son.’ He said, ‘You mark my words. That’s naughty.’ Then two years later, he’s going, ‘The nurses want to know how it ends. They just love it.’ He just forgot about that other prediction.”
9. Reilly thinks Beth is a “primal” character.
All Lady Macbeth comparisons aside, Reilly thinks fans respond to the authenticity of Beth. “There’s something that I think people are responding to, where we’re supposed to be nice all the time, especially women. Right? I’m not talking about female empowerment, but there is that to it, where women are empowered by her,” Reilly told Esquire. “With women, you’re supposed to be the Virgin Mary, or you’re the whore. It’s like this gray area of in-between, which is where all women live—or human beings live—which is the truth. Somewhere in that, there is a primal thing that Beth kind of touches on, which I think is what makes her such a unique character.”
10. Reilly also thinks Beth is a “cockroach.”
“Beth has nine lives. She’s a cockroach,” Reilly told Vulture of her character. “She should never have survived that bomb. She’s like a little superhero without the cape; she’s just never going to die until she’s probably an old lady, hopefully peacefully.”
11. Costner thinks fans like how candid the characters are.
In an interview with The Playlist, Costner explained the appeal of John (his character) and Rip—his ranch hand and son-in-law, played by Cole Hauser. “Rip is doing things a lot of guys wish they could do,” Costner said. “And John Dutton, in really critical moments, is saying things we wish we would have thought of on the spot. We’ve all wanted to be Clark Gable and say, ‘I don’t give a damn.’ And there are lines and situations on Yellowstone that resonate with people.”
12. Sheridan is a bona fide cowboy.
In 2021, Sheridan was inducted into the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame for his authentic representation of what it takes to live the Western way.
According to Hall of Fame website: “Sheridan is passionate about representing the Western way of life to the masses and shows the difficult changes agriculture and ranching has had to endure. According to Sheridan, he also wanted the show to not just be about cowboys, but be for cowboys also.”
13. Sheridan owns the horses that are used in the show.
The writer-director, who also plays horse trader Travis Wheatley, owns two ranches in Texas and bought the horses the actors ride. “All the horses, for the most part, in our business are terrible,” Sheridan told CBS Sunday Morning. “They’re not very broke. They’re not very safe, which is one of the reasons you don’t see actors on ‘em very often. And I didn’t want to do that. So, I bought all the horses for the show, and then taught the actors how to ride ‘em.”
“I just make movies to support my horse habit,” Sheridan joked.
14. Costner thinks Yellowstone’s appeal is in how it depicts a certain “way of life.”
“Whether people want to admit it or not, some people don’t realize that that way of life is still alive,” Costner told Variety. “This meat doesn’t get to our cities without somebody getting up early in the morning and late at night taking care of those animals in some way. It’s a way of life still. You know that the country still has some big open spaces. And [Yellowstone] takes that all in.”
15. You can visit Dutton Ranch.
Yellowstone takes place in Montana and mostly films there, too (some parts of the first few seasons were shot in Utah). The real-life Dutton ranch is Chief Joseph Ranch, which is often referred to as “a log mansion.” The property, which was built in 1917, is located in Darby, Montana, approximately 60 miles south of Missoula. For $1200 to $1500 per night, visitors can stay at Lee Dutton’s and Rip’s cabins, and take a tour of the working ranch and film sets.