Taylor Sheridan is calling out HBO for underestimating the allure of the Neo-Western genre.
The creator of “Yellowstone” shared a wide range The Hollywood Reporter cover story that HBO fell through the initial deal on the blockbuster series before it made it to the Paramount Network. Sheridan pitched “Yellowstone” as “’The Godfather’ in Montana” and the script, although originally written as a film, was in series development at HBO under then-president of programming Michael Lombardo.
Though Sheridan pitched the idea of Kevin Costner playing patriarch John Dutton, the network “didn’t see it” and wanted Robert Redford.
“They said, ‘If you can find us Robert Redford, we’ll green light the pilot,'” Sheridan recalled. “I go to Sundance and spend the day with (Redford) and he agrees to play John Dutton. I call the senior vice president of manufacturing and say, “I got it!” “You got who?” “Robert Redford.” ‘What?!“You said if you had Robert Redford, you would have kicked off the show.” And he says — and you can’t make this shit up — ‘We meant a Robert Redfordguy.’”
Shortly thereafter, an HBO network vice president, “whose name I remember, but I won’t say,” Sheridan added, invited Sheridan and “Yellowstone” co-creator John Linson to a meeting to discuss next steps.
“Let’s go to lunch somewhere fancy in West LA,” Sheridan said. “And John Linson finally asks, ‘Why don’t you want to do it?’ And the vice president says, “Look, this is how Central America looks.” We are HBO, we are cutting edge, we are trendsetters. It feels like a step backwards. And frankly, I have to be honest, I don’t think anyone should be living out there (in rural Montana). It should be a park or something.’”
The HBO exec also reportedly took issue with the character of Beth Dutton, now played by fan favorite Kelly Reilly.
“’We think she’s too abrasive. We want to tone it down. Women won’t like it,’” Sheridan recalled the vice president’s dictum. “They were wrong, because Beth says the quiet part out loud every time. When someone is being rude to you in a restaurant or interrupting you in the parking lot, Beth says the thing you wish you had said.
He added: “So I told them, ‘OK, are you all done? Who on this call is in charge of a scripted show that you guys have on the air? Ah, aren’t you? Thank you.’ And I hung up. They never called back.”
It wasn’t until Lombardo’s 2016 release that Sheridan was able to pitch “Yellowstone” elsewhere.
“When the regime changed, Lombardo called me. To his credit, he said, “I always believed in the show, but I couldn’t get any support,” Sheridan said. “His last act before he got fired was to give me back the script. I took it to TNT, I took it to TBS!
“Yellowstone” eventually landed at Paramount, with the big-budget season one premiering in 2018. To an Atlantic report in 2022, Sheridan told Viacom executives that the series would cost an estimated $100 million and that he would retain total creative control.
The first season of ‘Yellowstone’ was expected to cost $7 million per episode, but by the end of production, the budget was over $20 million over $20 million due to script and production delays. However, Paramount’s bet on Sheridan has paid off: ‘Yellowstone’ has spurred numerous spin-offs, and Sheridan is also behind the other Paramount-backed hit series ‘Tulsa King’, ‘Mayor of Kingstown’ and the upcoming “Special Ops: Lioness”. The original series “Yellowstone” will conclude later this year after five seasons after the departure of the protagonist Costner.
And former HBO executive Lombardo knew Sheridan would be a hit from the start.
“I thought Taylor was the real deal,” Lombardo told THR. “In a world of people posing, she wrote what he knew and cared desperately about the show. The idea of doing a modern-classic western was a great idea – we were always doing urban shows and this felt fresh.