Paramount Network is moving full speed ahead toward its January 2018 launch.
In a competitive situation with multiple outlets bidding, the soon-to-be-former Spike TV has handed out its first straight-to-series order for Taylor Sheridan frontier drama Yellowstone, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.
The 10-episode drama, produced by The Weinstein Co., will debut on Paramount Network in summer 2018. Production will begin in the fall and casting is already underway. Yellowstone is the first show developed for Paramount Network under Keith Cox, president of development and production at the cabler.
Yellowstone revolves around the Dutton family, led by John Dutton, who controls the largest contiguous ranch in the U.S., under constant attack by those it borders: land developers, an Indian reservation and America's first National Park. The series is described as a study of a violent world far from media scrutiny - where land grabs make developers billions, and politicians are bought and sold by the world's largest oil and lumber corporations. Where drinking water poisoned by fracking wells and unsolved murders are not news, but a consequence of living in the new frontier. It is the best and worst of America seen through the eyes of a family that represents both.
"Yellowstone exemplifies what a Paramount Network original dramatic series will be with premium storytelling, high production values, compelling characters and the best talent behind the camera and in front of it," Cox said.
For his part, Sheridan - who will write and direct Yellowstone - was nominated for an Academy Award for his original screenplay for Hell or High Water. His credits include Sicario, Wind River and an onscreen role on Sons of Anarchy. John and Art Linson (Sons of Anarchy, Fight Club, Heat) will exec produce alongside the Weinstein Co.'s Harvey Weinstein and David Glasser as well as Sheridan.
"I've been fortunate to work with partners like Weinstein and John and Art Linson in developing Yellowstone and am grateful that it has found a home in the Paramount Network," Sheridan said. "The show is both timely and timeless. As much as it explores themes painfully relevant to the world today, it explores the very essence of family, and how the actions of one member can alter the course of generations."
Yellowstone marks The Weinstein Co.'s latest small-screen project and second collaboration for Paramount Network following the Waco miniseries starring Taylor Kitsch and Michael Shannon as well as Spike's The Mist. (The latter remains in contention for a second season at the rebranded network if it performs well on Spike.) The company also has Amazon's David O. Russell drama and History military series Six.
"Taylor has penned yet another incredible story that dives into the fascinating tensions and rivalries of the modern American frontier and we're excited to explore his talent in a longer format," TWC co-chairman Harvey Weinstein said. "[Paramount Network president] Kevin Kay, Keith Cox and the entire team at the new Paramount Network have a clear dedication to creating the highest caliber TV and we're thrilled to continue developing these amazing projects with them."
Yellowstone joins a forthcoming slate of originals at Paramount including Cox-developed TV Land imports American Woman, Heathers and Waco, which will all launch in the first quarter and be joined by docuseries and unscripted fare including Spike's Lip Sync Battle, Ink Master and Bar Rescue, among others. Kay told THR in March that he'd like to have six scripted originals on the air within the first year of Paramount Network. Yellowstone brings that total to four, with TV Land's retooled First Wives Club pilot still in consideration.
"I'd like to grow that over the next couple of years to eight," Kay said. "That's a big number in this world we live in today, and Viacom seems very willing to support that and help us build to that."
Paramount Network is one of the six "core brands" Viacom CEO Bob Bakish labeled as a priority as he looks to reinvigorate the media conglomerate. (The others are Comedy Central, BET, MTV, Nickelodeon and Nick Jr.) Paramount Network has been identified as the broadest of all six.
For Cox, who added oversight of development at Paramount Network to his TV Land duties, Yellowstone marks the first premium sort of programming he's searching for as he hopes the network becomes synonymous with its feature film arm as well as TV studio. Below, Cox talks with THR about the message he hopes to send to the town with Yellowstone and what he envisions for Paramount Network.
Why Yellowstone? What made this pitch stand out?
The minute I got the Paramount Network job, Harvey Weinstein called and wanted to have breakfast on Oscar Sunday. I sat with him and he talked about a few things and said Taylor Sheridan has this great series that he'd been dying to do. His last two movies are some of my favorites - Hell or High Water and Sicario the year before - and he wrote both. When Harvey explained Yellowstone's broad strokes, it has the DNA of exactly what I wanted our first big purchase to be. Heathers and American Woman moved over but we need to buy that first Paramount Network show that told the town, "this is who we are" and "this is the kind of business we want to be in." The Paramount studio is famous for Godfather and I wanted a big, dysfunctional, exciting, at-times violent, crazy and complex family show. And that's what this is. It's based in Montana and Taylor seems to write these shows based in smaller towns but the people are much more complex than you think and it's much more interesting. I love the idea of starting with a complex and big family drama.
How competitive was it to land Yellowstone?
It was competitive with some SVODs. Our big pitch to Taylor was that I grew up on a farm and understand this show. He wanted someone who understood it. And it's our signature drama. We're going to get behind this in a big way. This is going to be our huge launch. He got that.
This sends a very specific message for the town but where do you go after this in terms of scripted originals?
It says this is the level of talent, this is the great kind of storyteller we want to be in business with. It doesn't have a massive hook like a lot of other dramas, and that's OK. It's one of the strongest writers in town with a solid concept with really rich characters that's premium with high production value and big cinematic scope. That's the message we're sending. That's the kind of shows that Paramount Network needs to do. We have the same name as the TV and movie studio so there's an expectation and we have to meet that. If we're leaning into the movie studio with that name, we need to go after one of the hottest feature writers in town. If you're going to say you're premium, you better be. And I think we are.
Kevin Kay said he'd like to launch with six scripted originals. You're at four now, plus potentially First Wives Club and The Mist. Are those the two remaining slots?
They might be. If I can identify the perfect writers for First Wives Club, it might go to TV Land or Paramount Network, it depends on the tone and how it comes out. And if The Mist works in June, that will come back for season two. There's some stuff we're still waiting on, including Darren Star's (Younger) second show. We have an overall deal with him and he's developing a second series for us once we wrap Younger season four. But I'm still searching for what the Yellowstone is in the half-hour space and what our signature half-hour is. Paramount Network is more dramedy and TV Land is real comedic female leaning. That's the difference. We're going to hear pitches in the half-hour space and figure out what's better for TV Land and what's better for Paramount Network. Some are on deck and some, we're still looking.
Do you want all six in production by the end of 2017?
That's the goal. If The Mist works, we can move very fast. Darren will likely write his passion project, hand it to me and I'll say shoot it - if it's good. That could very easily be on in 2018, too.
This is the first series picked up for Paramount Network and the first you'll cast specifically for the network. How will that compare budget-wise to TV Land? This is a defining moment for this network.
Without telling you a number, it's cinematic - let's call it that. Taylor is coming in and we'll talk talent. He's a magnet for talent and he has prototypes in mind for the family.