Kevin Costner’s Yellowstone set new rating records with its Season 4 finale on Sunday, with more than 11 million viewers tuning in – the highest views since the 2017 Walking Dead Season 8 premiere.
The drama takes a break from TV’s typical New York City or LA settings to focus on a real American family in Montana who are fighting to protect their cattle ranch from land-grabbing interlopers.
The non-woke Paramount series, which first aired in 2018, has been besting cable TV mainstays with over 7 million viewers on the week of December 6. It was only surpassed by the 13 million attracted to the New England Patriots versus Buffalo Bills football game, outpacing the FOX channel’s The Five, Special Report with Brett Baer and Tucker Carlson Tonight.
On January 2, it became the most watched show on TV since The Walking Dead Season 8 premiere on AMC in October 2017, which drew 11.4 million viewers.
Yellowstone’s finale, which was aired on Paramount Network and CMT, was viewed by 10.3 million people, while the Paramount Network encores boosted the figures to more than 11 million viewers – 81 per cent higher than its season three finale’s 5.2 million.
‘Yellowstone continues to shatter records with more than 11 million viewers tuning into the season finale, proving we’ve hit a cultural nerve – from the center of the country to each of the coasts – and still have lots of room to grow on linear,’ said Chris McCarthy, President and CEO, ViacomCBS Media Networks.
‘Our strategy to franchise Yellowstone into a universe of series to fuel growth for Paramount+ is already exceeding expectations with 1883 and Mayor of Kingstown proving to be two of the top titles.’
Social media mentions of the Season 4 finale were up by 115 percent, and was the most-mentioned show across platforms, according to Deadline.
Co-creator Taylor Sheridan, 52, who writes his scripts from a ranch in Weatherford, Texas, has ridden the show’s rising wave of popularity, releasing Yellowstone prequel 1883 and Mayor of Kingstown, about two Michigan brothers who serve as the liaisons between prisoners and the surrounding community in a town home to multiple prisons, on Paramount+ in December and November, respectively.
When it launched three years ago, it took off in Nielsen D markets – the least-popular TV markets, like Albany, Georgia or Missoula, Montana, as opposed to ‘Nielsen A’ markets like Los Angeles and New York City – ranking fourth among viewers between 25 and 54 in that designation.
In ‘Nielsen A’ markets, it didn’t even crack the top 50 watched shows, according to the Wall Street Journal.
When McCarthy took over ViacomCBS in 2019, he shifted the show’s slot from Wednesdays to Sundays and began advertising it on the Network’s other channels, like MTV and CMT.
‘We needed to do things that would signal that the show has coastal appeal,’ McCarthy told the Journal.
‘It’s a misconception to think you can only play to the coasts or the center. The question is: How do you play to both?’
Now, the show’s viewers are more evenly distributed, with 28 percent of its Season 4 finale viewers in A markets and another 28 percent in D markets.
David Glasser, chief executive of 101 Studios, which produces Sheridan’s shows, said that city and country viewers alike can appreciate Yellowstone – ‘it doesn’t matter where you sit, on the coasts or in middle America, it’s about protection of your family.’
But the show depicts a way of life unfamiliar to coastal viewers, with pans on ranch landscapes and drawn-out scenes of cowboys elegantly wrangling cattle.
And Yellowstone depicts modern-day struggles that are all too real for middle-America viewers in those D markets, like the development of rural areas and the clash between landowners and government over stewardship.
Kevin Costner’s character, patriarch John Dutton, put it bluntly in Episode 7 of Season 4: ‘there’s a war on our way of life.’
‘They’ll tell you that the land’s only hope if for them to be its steward. The ugly truth is they want the land, and if they get it, it will never look like our land again.’
‘I am the opposite of progress. I am the wall that it bashes against it, and I will not be the one who breaks.’
Lafayette, Indiana had the highest proportion of Yellowstone viewers in the country when Season 1 first aired in 2018. Jim Hedrick, 62, who lives there and works for Horizon Ag Consulting with farmers across the Midwest, said the show touches on issues that he can relate to, close to his own experience.
‘They really dig into some parts of the culture that are at risk in this country,’ he told the Journal.
Co-created by Taylor Sheridan and John Linson, Yellowstone is the cornerstone of a rapidly expanding Taylor Sheridan universe on ViacomCBS. It was used to successfully launch two new Paramount+ series from Sheridan this season, Yellowstone prequel 1883 as well as Mayor Of Kingstown, both of which received linear airings on Paramount Network behind Yellowstone in addition to their streaming runs on P+.
Yellowstone, along with the other Taylor Sheridan series, is co-produced by 101 Studios and MTV Entertainment Studios. David C. Glasser, Stephen Kay and Ron Burkle executive produce for 101 Studios, along with John Linson, Art Linson, Sheridan, Costner and Bob Yari.
‘It is incredibly rewarding to see the Yellowstone audience continue to expand even as we come to the close of our 4th season,’ Glasser said. ‘This expansion is a true testament to the original voices and universe that Taylor created. Our partners at ViacomCBS and MTV Entertainment Studios have supported Taylor’s universe utilizing linear and Paramount+ to fuel each other and continue to build the viewership.’
Yellowstone follows the Dutton family, led by John Dutton (Costner), who controls the largest contiguous ranch in the United States, under constant attack by those it borders – land developers, an Indian reservation, and America’s first National Park.
In addition to Costner, the ensemble cast of Yellowstone’s fourth season included Luke Grimes, Kelly Reilly, Wes Bentley, Cole Hauser, Kelsey Asbille, Brecken Merrill, Jefferson White, Forrie Smith, Denim Richards, Ian Bohen, Finn Little, Ryan Bingham and Gil Birmingham with Will Patton.