The Triumph and Tragedy of ‘Yellowstone’

Kevin Costner and Taylor Sheridan
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Matthew Belloni
January 6, 2022

In the Hollywood of 2022, even the runaway hits can cause bouts of anxiety. Just ask Shari Redstone. Her ViacomCBS possesses a truly miraculous property in Yellowstone, Taylor Sheridan’s soapy western that finished its fourth season this week as not only the most-watched series on linear cable; it’s pretty much the only thing in all of scripted television that is growing its audience year-over-year. The finale rose to 9.3 million same-day viewers—a crazy 81 percent increase from last season. If only Redstone cared about her cable TV business.

The tragedy of Yellowstone, of course, is that its streaming rights—the platform that Shari and ViacomCBS C.E.O. Bob Bakish actually do care about; the one they are reconfiguring their entire company to serve; and the metric that Wall Street is using to value their assets—are owned by Comcast’s Peacock. The more Yellowstone grows, the more it enriches a rival streaming service that is jockeying to become the fourth or fifth most popular player in a market that will ultimately support only a handful of general-interest competitors. It’s a literal life-or-death game, and Redstone’s underlings gifted her combatant a gilded sword.