The writers’ strike continues, but I want to talk about one specific facet, which is the Taylor Sheridan of it all. He is, of course, the actor-turned-hitmaking screenwriter behind the Yellowstone television universe, which is basically the only thing propping up Paramount right now.
They had a bad week last week following a dividend cut, which money people say is a bad thing, but Paramount claims is a good move toward profitability for its streamer, Paramount+. Warren Buffet, who is a major shareholder in Paramount, says cutting dividends is a bad thing, so I guess I’ll believe the billionaire investor about this. Besides, he aptly identifies the whole problem with streaming, which is that it either needs way less competition, or way higher prices, or else the whole model doesn’t work.
Anyway, Taylor Sheridan and Yellowstone is the draw for Paramount+, though seasons 1-4 are streaming on NBCUniversal’s Peacock platform, which is part of Paramount’s problem, they did not lock down streaming exclusivity for their own hit show. Taylor Sheridan is also a writer-hyphenate, he’s a writer, but he also directs episodes, and more importantly, serves as showrunner for the series. He is also the sole credited writer for the spin-offs 1883 and 1923—which second season is supposed to premiere next year—and also serves as showrunner on those spin-offs, as well. There are collaborators, yes, such as directors Jon Linson and Ben Richardson, and Chad Feehan, the showrunner of Lawman: Bass Reeves, but Taylor Sheridan is unquestionably the driving creative force behind the Yellowstone franchise.
Problem is, no one knows if he’s on strike. Sheridan famously shuns Los Angeles, and works from his ranch in Texas (he is the face of a consortium that bought the legendary 6666 ranch in north Texas). Does Sheridan’s disdain of Hollywood extend to his peers in the WGA? Showrunners are already in a sticky situation, with studios demanding they go back to work in a “strictly” producorial capacity. Studios are also threatening to suspend overall development deals, which seems like a sort of sweaty move. Is that all you got? That’s your big power play? Take the peanuts we already gave you, or…? They’re holding out for bigger nuts! This metaphor is bad, but you know what I mean!
Anyway, producers aren’t on strike, and showrunners straddle the line between writing and producing. But you can’t really separate the two, especially on set when a showrunner might be called on to make last-minute adjustments to a script (especially if there is not a staff writer present on set). Writer Matt Braly succinctly breaks it down:
Taylor Sheridan, caught in this position along with every other showrunner in the industry, occupies yet more rarified air—he has financial leverage on Paramount. He is one of the very few showrunners who could strike and INSTANTLY make his bosses feel it.
Paramount CEO Bob Bakish insists they have plenty of stuff in the pipeline—1883 spin-off Bass Reeves is in production, though that is, again, sticky given that no one is supposed to be writing and writing never stops on a film or TV series until the moment it is picture locked for distribution—but they don’t have season 5B of Yellowstone shot yet—might not even be written, it’s unclear because Taylor Sheridan hasn’t shared an update with the class. 1923 season 2 is also on the rocks right now. As is whatever the post-Yellowstone show will be once Kevin Costner exits after season 5 (finally) wraps.
There’s a lot of Yellowstone’s future up in the air right now. And if Taylor Sheridan clarified what he’s up to—writing or not writing—he could significantly weaken Paramount’s position. It’s only going to take one studio to buckle to bring the rest of it down. The minute one studio or streamer gets desperate for new stuff to air, they’re going to fold. (And no, AI won’t save them, it’s not advanced enough yet. AI writing programs still need humans to refine and polish broad ideas.) Taylor Sheridan could throw his weight around on behalf of his fellow writers, but no one knows where he stands. I hope on the side of labor, but the longer he’s silent, the more suspicious it looks.
Live long and gossip,