Kevin Costner's Yellowstone Exit Hurts the Fans More Than Anyone Else (2024)

Internal squabbles between the network and the star should have been resolved

Blair Marnell

Kevin Costner's Yellowstone Exit Hurts the Fans More Than Anyone Else (1)

This week marked the end of an era, even though it was something that was apparent over a year ago. Kevin Costner confirmed his exit from Yellowstone and noted that he won't be back as John Dutton now or in the future. The writing was on the wall when the show resumed production earlier this month and Costner was still publicly lobbying for a return. But it didn't have to end this way. Costner's exit from the series after four-and-a-half seasons represents a failure to find a compromise that worked for the star of the show, series co-creator Taylor Sheridan, or Paramount Network. Because of that failure, one of the biggest shows of the last decade will wrap up its run without its main character.

When an actor or actress suddenly passes away, it's acceptable for a show's creative team to either recast or kill off their character off-screen. But Costner isn't dead, and he's been making remarks about his desire to return to Yellowstone for the past few months. In the industry, this is referred to as negotiating through the press. And it doesn't sound like there was much of a dialogue between the two sides. This means Sheridan will likely have to write John Dutton out of the series without ever giving the character the final scenes that he deserves. (Costner has said that he tried to make himself available to film John's death scene, if that's what it took, but nothing was ever worked out.) That's hardly a satisfying way to go, but there are no other viable options now. Fans aren't going to accept another actor in that role while Costner is still with us.

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There may be a lot about Costner's dispute with Paramount Network and Sheridan that we don't know. What we do know is that in February 2023, a report on Deadline stated that Costner and Paramount Network were at an impasse over how many days he wanted to film his scenes for the final episodes of Yellowstone Season 5. No one from Paramount went on the record, but the report claimed that Costner only offered to spend a week filming the episodes due to his commitments to his passion project, Horizon, the first part of which is out this week. Subsequently, Paramount pulled the plug on Yellowstone after Season 5, while also dangling a spin-off series that may potentially star Matthew McConaughey in the leading role. To date, there have been no reports that McConaughey has actually signed on to do so.

Costner didn't publicly respond to any of this until Deadline interviewed him in May 2024, and he almost immediately took Paramount Network to task for not defending him against the previous reports about the end of Yellowstone.

"I don't want to get down in the gutter with the Yellowstone thing, but what I'm telling you is straight up," said Costner. "I have taken a beating from those f***ing guys and I know a lot of times where it's coming from. I just elected not to get into that. But if you know me well enough, I made Yellowstone the first priority, and to insinuate anything else would be wrong. I did not initiate any of those things. They did. They were doing a tap dance and this poor guy was also having to write so much. And I don't know why they didn't stick up for me."

The actor also explained the origin of the rumor about his desire to work only a week on Season 5's final episodes. Additionally, Costner claims that the scripts for Season 5 Part 2 weren't ready during his window of availability.

Kevin Costner's Yellowstone Exit Hurts the Fans More Than Anyone Else (2)

"They didn't have the scripts for anything else," Costner said. "So, what you read in the end was that I said, 'Well, look, I'm doing my movie. If you want me to work a week because you want to kill me or whatever else, I can give you a week.' I really didn't have that week to give them, but I said I'll do that. And then they [spun that] into... he only wants to work a week for a whole season. Do you think that's who I am? I've never missed a day of work. I've never left before fulfilling my contractual obligations."

The truly disheartening part of this is that there was still a lot of time to resolve these issues even after the writers and actors strikes of 2023. If there had been a willingness on both sides to find a solution, the story of Yellowstone Season 5 Part 2 wouldn't have been dominated by the off-screen drama. The fans of this series mostly likely prefer Yellowstone's drama to be on-screen, rather than loudly derailing their favorite show.

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The way this entire situation has played out reminds me of the split between Disney and Sony Pictures in 2019 over the future of Spider-Man in the MCU. Sony and Disney failed to make a deal, and the former said that they would make the next film without Marvel Studios' involvement. After an intense backlash from the public and private lobbying from Spider-Man actor Tom Holland, the two sides eventually reached a deal that led to Spider-Man: No Way Home. The thing that's stayed with me from that incident is Disney CEO Bob Iger's comments on Jimmy Kimmel Live!.

"Sometimes companies when they're negotiating, or other people are negotiating, they forget there are other people who actually matter," said Iger.

That's what the two sides in the Yellowstone conflict have forgotten. Costner and the cast, as well as Sheridan and the crew, collectively made a show that resonates with a large audience across the country. But Yellowstone would not have been a breakout hit if it weren't for the loyal viewers who have followed the story of John Dutton and his family from the beginning. Instead of being rewarded for that loyalty, an important part of that series' conclusion will now be something that we'll never see. Yellowstone fans deserve better than that, and now we'll simply have to wonder what could have been when the final episodes of Yellowstone arrive in November.

Yellowstone returns for its final episodes on Sunday, Nov. 10 at 8/7c on Paramount Network.

Kevin Costner's Yellowstone Exit Hurts the Fans More Than Anyone Else (2024)
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