One of the most fun shows on TV right now is Yellowstone. It's about cowboys, the west, casinos, and lots of dramatic land grabs. It has this old-fashioned, hard-knuckle storytelling, and keeps the audience guessing at every turn. The show started out quiet, but was buzzy when they cast Kevin Costner in the lead role. Since then, it has become one of the biggest shows on TV, with a massive airing audience and an even bigger streaming audience.
There are so many lessons to learn from storytelling, and we'll dive into those today.
Read and download the Yellowstone pilot here!
And check out all of Sheridan's other screenplays here.
3 Lessons from the Yellowstone Pilot
1. Keep the reader guessing
One of my favorite parts about this pilot is how liberal it is with who they kill off. We meet the Dutton family, and they are unlike anyone we have ever met. There are sons, daughters, and even estranged loved ones. But when it comes time to get some cattle back, one of the leads we've grown close to is killed by his brother.
It's an electric way to start a TV series and keeps the audience guessing at what would and could happen next. It helped the show get more episodes and that theme got it even more seasons down the line.
2. Write for an underserved but large audience
There are lots of think pieces about how the entire middle of America is watching Yellowstone and no one is talking about it.
Well, we're not here to adjudicate that, but the numbers speak for themselves. The show is one of the most watched, if not the most-watched, week in and out. The show was picked up because there was nothing on TV like it. People were not watching broadcasts anymore.
Then comes Taylor Sheridan, who wants to bring cowboys back and talk about the changing west. He also spoke to an underserved market who had already tuned into his movies like Sicario and Hell or High Water. This proof of concept allowed him to convince executives that people would watch if he were given the chance to show them what they were missing.
3. Everything should be built from character
The reason a show like Yellowstone gets to air is that it has meaty characters. They even got Kevin Costner to star! In truth, the entire Dutton family is rife with drama. We have the corporate shark daughter, the estranged cowboy son, the adopted lawyer son with resentment baggage, and a patriarch who is trying to hold everything together and hold onto his land as well.
That doesn't even tap into the side characters, who also have their own backstories and interesting details.
This show is not built on plot. It is built on the characters in these stories. We come to know and love these people and want to see their arcs. The plot is secondary to what's happening in their lives.
What other lessons did you learn from this script? Leave them in the comments.