Paramount Network has greenlighted its first scripted series. Viacom’s new general entertainment network and leading scripted brand, which will replace Spike in early 2018, has given a 10-episode straight-to-series order to Yellowstone, a sweeping, cinematic family drama written and directed by Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water and Sicario screenwriter Taylor Sheridan and executive produced by The Weinstein Company and John and Art Linson, former executive producers of FX’s Sons Of Anarchy, in which Sheridan co-starred.
Paramount Network, designated as one Viacom’s six core networks, will launch at the beginning of 2018 with an inaugural slate, which includes two new scripted series originally developed, piloted and ordered to series at sibling TV Land, comedies American Woman and Heathers, and Spike’s Waco miniseries, also from The Weinstein Co. Yellowstone, eyed to follow the trio with a summer 2018 premiere, is the first series bought for Paramount Network.
“It was important as I knew that the first drama purchase was going to say a lot. I wanted it to be big but I also wanted it to be really meaningful,” said Keith Cox, President of Development & Production for Paramount Network and TV Land, who developed Heathers and American Woman while at TV Land. “I wanted to find a great franchise that really defines the network, and I honestly believe that Yellowstone is that show.”
Yellowstone follows the Dutton family, led by John Dutton, 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. It is an intense 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: they are 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.
“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,” said Sheridan.
Then-TV Land boss Cox had just been named head of development for Paramount Network on Feb. 21 when he got a call from Harvey Weinstein. Just a couple of days later, Cox and Kevin Kay, president of Paramount Network, TV Land and CMT, met with Weinstein for brunch on Oscar day. Weinstein, whose company had the Oscar-nominated Lion, pitched several projects but when he mentioned that they had a series in development with Sheridan, Cox’s face lit up.
“Im obsessed wth Taylor Sheridan, this guy is the most sought after writer in town. Hell or High Water and Sicario are two of my favorite movies of the past few years that I’ve watched so many times,” Cox said.
Sheridan had already written two scripts, which Weinstein sent to the network. “It was on the page, beautifully written, cinematic, big scope, very complicated,” Cox said. “It’s about that big, dysfunctional but exciting, sexy family based in Montana. That to me is exactly what I was looking for in a Paramount drama. I wanted to do something grounded, very authentic but very Americana, harkening back to these big, exciting fun dysfunctional families and also celebrating the heartland, the Midwest,” Cox added, listing HBO’s The Sopranos and Six Feet Under — both complex family dramas — as some of his favorite shows.
As the first one out of the gate, Yellowstone will serve as a calling card of what projects the net will be after. “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,” said Cox, who will be sitting down with Sheridan next week to work on the series.
Yellowstone is the latest collaboration between The Weinstein Co. and Spike/Paramount Network, joining Waco and two event docuseries with Jay Z, Time: The Kalief Browder Story and the upcoming Rest In Power: The Trayvon Martin Story.
“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,” said TWC co-chairman Harvey Weinstein. “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.”
While Yellowstone was a straight-to-series order in a competitive situation based on the level of auspices involved, Sheridan’s vision and existing scripts, the network also will use a traditional development model, buying scripts and producing pilots. The goal is to order 1-2 more scripted series by the end of the year, with the number likely dependent on how Spike’s The Mist will do. In success, it will be renewed and join Paramount Network next year.
What genres will Paramount Network look to mine in drama? “Personally I always lean towards things that are a little bit more grounded,” Cox said. “But psychological thrillers, that’s something that’s always appealing because it does so great serialized, and also, I’m not saying a traditional cop show, but that world, cable version of the FBI, CIA, cop I think is fascinating, there’re always amazing stories to be told in that genre. And we are also flirting a bit with sci-fi. I would say those three areas, psychological thrillers, cable cop drama and dysfunctional family.”
As for tone, “I don’t want to really be super dark. There is so much really dark stuff on TV,” Cox said. “What I like about Yellowstone is, it has dark moments and it actually has really humorous moments, and it’s very sexy but it’s also very violent too.”
While the current push is in drama, Paramount Network also will be buying comedies. “Our goal in Paramount vs. TV Land comedy is, on TV Land, we’ve had such great success with female-leaning shows, Hot In Cleveland, Younger, Teachers. For Paramount, we want to do half-hour comedies that have a lot more drama. They still have humor but perhaps material that might be a little more heavier. I think that will pair nicely with those hourlong dramas.”
There are no current feature plans for Yellowstone, though as a core Viacom brand, Paramount Network has been earmarked for tie-ins with Paramount Pictures.
“Our goal is to get out and get the best of the best and keep them in the family and then yes, there is that thought,” Cox said.
He is in constant communication with Paramount TV topper Amy Powell about identifying projects for the network from the sister production studio. Paramount TV just landed the rights to Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles for a high-profile TV series, which Paramount Network is expected to hear when the pitch goes out.
Sheridan is one of Hollywood’s hottest filmmakers with his Western feature trilogy Hell or High Water, starring Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine, which received several Oscar nominations, including best picture and best screenplay; Sicario, starring Benicio del Toro, Emily Blunt, and Josh Brolin, which won a WGA Award for Best Screenplay; and Wind River, starring Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen, which marked Sheridan’s directorial debut and debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January. It will premiere nationwide this summer.
Yellowstone is executive produced by John Linson, Art Linson, Taylor Sheridan, Harvey Weinstein and David Glasser.