‘Yellowstone’: How Taylor Sheridan Reinvented the Western Through His #1 Show

by Jon D. B.
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Whether he meant to or not, pouring an unparalleled amount of himself into Yellowstone led to Taylor Sheridan redefining the Western genre.

If you know Yellowstone, then you know Taylor Sheridan. Officially credited as a co-creator, Sheridan is, in truth, nothing short of the full-blown mastermind behind the series. He’s written (or co-written) each and every episode of the series. He’s directed as much as his schedule allows. He occasionally guest stars as horsemaster Travis Wheatley (a fictionalized version of himself). And this is all on top of executive producing his flagship show whilst crafting numerable spinoffs; the first of which, 1883, becoming a critical and ratings darling.

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Luke Grimes and Kevin Costner star in Taylor Sheridan’s Yellowstone as the Duttons. (Photo via ViacomCBS / Paramount Network Press Center)

Through it all, Sheridan has remained true to his roots. Raised on a ranch and choosing to spend his adulthood immersed in the heart of it all, the Yellowstone architect is a cowboy to his core. He owns and operates two ranches outside Dallas, where he regularly spends his mornings rounding up herds of cattle. He was inducted into the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2021.

And his heavy-handed involvement in all things Yellowstone works for one reason: Taylor Sheridan is “the real deal,” as his co-Executive Producer David Glasser calls him. So much so, in fact, that he’s single handedly redefined the Western genre over the last decade – something that has come to a fever-pitch with Yellowstone.

How The West Was Won: Taylor Sheridan’s Journey to ‘Yellowstone’

Sheridan’s journey began as an actor. A frustrated actor. Television bit parts led to supporting roles, his most famous being Officer Hale in Sons of Anarchy. But the further frustration Anarchy would provide him proved a blessing in disguise.

Soon, Sheridan would give up acting altogether in order to pursue his own stories. And he went back to what he knew – the American West – to do so.

Sheridan began writing Neo-Western films, each taking heavy inspiration from the places he’d lived, the friends he’d made, and all the struggles in-between. Sicario (2015) put him on the map. And his follow-up, Hell or High Water (2016), would give him an Oscar nomination.

By sticking to what he knew, Taylor Sheridan began to slowly reinvent the Modern Western through films. The Neo-Western, as it were. But oddly enough, it would be his transition back into television that would completely redefine the genre.

The Rise of ‘Yellowstone’ Defines ‘Western’ Today

It took a few seasons, but once Yellowstone took hold, Taylor Sheridan’s vision would become inseparable from the term Western. Four seasons in, Yellowstone is now the highest-performing Western television series of all time. In 2021 and 2022, Season 4 would be the most-watched television show on cable or streaming by a large margin, too; something that harkens back to a time when Westerns like Gunsmoke and Bonanza ruled the small screen.

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HOLLYWOOD, CA – JUNE 11: Taylor Sheridan, Kelly Reilly and Kevin Costner attend the premiere of Paramount Pictures’ “Yellowstone” at Paramount Studios on June 11, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Presley Ann/Getty Images)

Indeed, it took America almost a full century to return to the concept of a popular Western. But it didn’t happen by accident. It happened by the meticulous creative energy of Taylor Sheridan – and the resulting power of Yellowstone.

Perhaps the strongest evidence of this comes in the form of copycats. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all. And 2022 holds a race of Paramount’s competitors attempting to capitalize on Yellowstone‘s wild success.

Currently, Amazon is pushing their Josh Brolin-led Outer Range, which is looking to unapologetically mimic Yellowstone (but with enough of a sci-fi twist to keep the lawyers at bay). NBC is simultaneously piloting Unbroken, a ranching family drama set in California. And these are only the big-budget attempts.

But Taylor Sheridan himself is less than flattered by Yellowstone‘s copycats.

‘A lot of people watch Westerns. Let’s make Westerns…’

“I don’t know that it’s flattering, because I don’t think they’re doing it because Yellowstone is good,” Sheridan told Variety in April 2022 . “They’re doing it because 15 million people watch it. And they’re like: ‘A lot of people watch Westerns. Let’s make Westerns.’”

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Sam Elliott and Tim McGraw star in Taylor Sheridan’s Yellowstone prequel, 1883. Photo Cr: Emerson Miller/Paramount+ © 2022 MTV Entertainment Studios. All Rights Reserved.

He’s not wrong. In fact, Sheridan addresses the sheer impact of his influence while seemingly unawares. These aren’t Modern Westerns or Neo-Westerns anymore. Neither is Yellowstone. They’re Westerns now. They’re the genre.

Yellowstone is the genre.

But the irony is – once Sheridan’s modern-set show redefined the Western, it gave him the opportunity to create a true Western; 1883.

As a direct prequel and part of his ever-expanding Yellowstone universe, however, 1883‘s success would only further cement the Yellowstone name – or brand, more aptly – as inseparable from the Hollywood Western.

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