Here’s a fun contract detail that talent representatives will enjoy: Kevin Costner has a “moral death” provision in his Yellowstone deal. The clause, which was inserted during one of his renegotiations on TV’s No. 1 show, lists in general terms the various ways that Costner’s character can and can’t be killed off, including deaths that would cause shame or embarrassment to John Dutton—and, implicitly, to Costner and his family.
Yes, that’s unusual; I asked a few seasoned talent lawyers if they’d ever seen a clause like that, and nobody had. But it’s kinda not surprising, right? From the beginning, Costner has seen Yellowstone as The Kevin Costner Show, even as its headstrong co-creator and showrunner Taylor Sheridan has maintained ultimate control and the backing of Paramount, and turned it into an ensemble drama with many stars—and the anchor of the lucrative, and very much Costner-free, “Sheridan-verse” of shows. So Costner, with his famously large ego and hostility toward those who question him, felt he needed to protect himself against someone with more power. Hence the clause preventing Dutton from betraying his family or getting fatally kicked in the nuts by a horse.
Ego and power moves are running narratives in this ongoing standoff over Yellowstone, which has dragged on for months now due to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike delays. Remember that Costner, earlier this year, was refusing to finish the second half of the fifth season—dubbed “5B”—until he was afforded a reduced work schedule to shoot the second Horizon movie, which he’s directing, and was satisfied by his character’s arc. Costner argued that the delay was Sheridan’s fault, not his, but Paramount and producer 101 Studios ended talks and announced in May that the show will end with Season 5 and restart as a “sequel” series shortly thereafter—essentially a Costner kiss-off.