YEllowstone, a violent drama about family legacy and the tides of change in Montana’s mountains, is the most-watched cable show in the US, though depending on where you live, you might not know it.
The Paramount Network drama starring Kevin Costner as the stony and scheming owner of the largest adjoining ranch in the US attracted more than 11 million people By the end of its fourth season earlier this month with no broadcast, ratings not seen since the heyday of 2010s commodities like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead, which were widely popular and critically acclaimed. . (The sixth season of the HBO fantasy epic, for example, averaged 10.61 million viewers in the first week including transmission; AMC’s basic zombie apocalypse peaked in its fifth season of 2014-2015 with an average of 14.4 million viewers per episode).
However, despite being in the same league as Thrones and The Walking Dead without a clear broadcast outlet (full seasons were licensed to NBC’s Peacock, while new episodes land on CBS’s nascent broadcast network Paramount +). ), Yellowstone does not seek critical attention or media scrutiny. like its predecessors of ratings. Co-creator Taylor Sheridan (who also serves as lead writer and occasional director) has received praise from gritty neo-Westerners like Sicario, Hell or High Water and Wind River, but Yellowstone, which debuted in 2018, has been ignored. for the award ceremonies. . (He received his first major nomination, a Screen Actors Guild Nomination 2022 for best ensemble in a drama, Wednesday). Culture websites like Vulture Y the ringer post episode-by-episode summaries, but there are almost no essays, media conversations on Twitter, or substantive analyzes of, say, HBO’s Succession, the boisterous and painful portrait of a media conglomerate family that parallels the frame Yellowstone-themed: mega-wealth, siblings who fight, a family that protects their assets, and provides a stark contrast to their lack of critical care.
Streaming was supposed to be the great equalizer, whether for access to content (see: global mega-hits like Netflix’s Squid Game, South Korea’s dystopian drama that reached a whopping 111 million households worldwide a end of 2021) or its segmentation in competitive platforms that fight for its niche. and slice of IP. Yellowstone presents a fascinating rebuke to these trends: a word-of-mouth hit in the heart of the country, for want of a better term for the broad but distinct geographic segmentation in the US, and a phenomenon of cultural silos among consumers. urban cable and ex-urban consumers (smaller cities surrounded by farmland, suburbs, small towns, rural communities) of basic cable. Paramount is building a popular universe around the success of Yellowstone: The 1883 prequel, starring country super couple Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, as well as Sam Elliott, marked the biggest cable show debut since 2015 in December, and a good part of the country has not noticed.
It’s hard not to compare Yellowstone and Succession, both on a surface level and an indicator of culture bubbles. Though opposite in tones (Succession is serrated, cynical, and lyrically profane, Yellowstone elegiac, melodramatic, and prone to philosophical musings), both represent ultra-wealthy scions striving to protect their assets (a media conglomerate similar to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp; a Ranch the size of Rhode Island) from threats outside the family (other businesses, real estate developers, and Native American tribes seeking restitution).
Both traffic in arcane trade disputes (hostile takeovers and shareholders’ meetings, land and water use rights). Both patriarchs prefer to travel by helicopter, while the offspring (three sons and a daughter, the toughest of all) compete for attention and approval. Both have established lush visual motives to communicate lofty ambitions: For Succession, airy and impersonal luxury suggests the utter soullessness of mega wealth; for Yellowstone, the broad shots of the mountainous region and the relentless depictions of ranch work argue that one’s land is the soul worth fighting for.
But for all the cultural fixation, Succession only draws a fraction of Yellowstone’s audience. The Emmy-winning drama drew its largest audience to date, 1.7 million viewers across all platforms (including HBO Max), by the end of its third season in December, largely concentrated in major cities where it has grown as a word-of-mouth hit (and Meme generator) for the online; 73% of your audience for the recent final they were located in the so-called A markets such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Yellowstone, on the other hand, has skyrocketed in popularity outside of major markets, which represent 28% of the viewers of its fourth season, according to the Wall Street Journal. The season premiere in November 2021, for example, attracted 14.7 million viewers no broadcast, and it performed particularly well in smaller cities whose agricultural foundations resonate with the program’s basic ranching sequences and focus on ownership disputes: Abilene, Texas; Boise, Idaho; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Lexington, Kentucky; and Topeka, Kansas, not to mention the area around Bozeman, Montana, where the show largely takes place.
Part of this division comes down to the mechanics of delivery: the basic cable, which contains the Paramount Network, reached maximum market saturation in 2010 with 105 million homes; As of 2021, it has been reduced to approximately 82.9 million, and bias older. HBO and HBO Max, a premium cable network and streaming service, had in contrast 45.2 million US subscribers last year. It’s partly due to the skillful marketing efforts of Paramount’s parent company ViacomCBS, which has pushed the show into smaller markets. And part of it comes down to it: more than anything else, Yellowstone is concerned about property ownership; Most of the conflicts stem from Costner’s John Dutton and his family struggling to keep the ranch in their name – an idealization of the American dream of home ownership that resonates with audiences outside of mobile-tenant cities, and in places where the possession of physical assets dictates local power.
In other words, Yellowstone is the spectacle of what historian Patrick Wyman has called the american nobility – the class of local elites who own land and businesses in smaller markets across the country, whose politics tend to skew the conservative and whose influence tends to go unnoticed compared to ostentatious oligarchs, billionaires, and those whose wealth is not tied to a specific place. As inherited wealth tends to be in the US, this class is disproportionately white, as is the Yellowstone audience; The show consistently ranks among the least diverse television audiences in the U.S. (In February 2021, for example, Yellowstone drove the lowest non-white audience share of all shows, at 23%, according to the firm television analysis Samba).
Yellowstone’s conservative spirit has led some commentators to defend it as a rebuke to the liberal media – Former View host Meghan McCain, for example, attributes its success to be “not awakened”, and various media have labeled it “Prestigious TV for conservatives”. Which is true, up to a point; Yellowstone is conservative in lowercase, as its primary concern is the meaning of a way of life (white ranch owners) threatened by progress, outsiders, and a changing culture. “I don’t know if it’s a uniquely American fear or just a human fear: the fear that a way of life is ending,” Sheridan. told the New York Times at the end of December 2021. “It’s what drives our policy right now. I think it’s a massive issue, this fear of losing someone you love or a place you love. That’s pretty universal. “
Sheridan is on to something. That is An oversimplification to dismiss Yellowstone as “Succession to the Red State,” but the show’s aspirational richness and victimhood fantasy (and the genuinely entertaining romance, name calling, and conversational chess) have clearly resonated outside the bounds of critical buzz. concentrated in liberal-leaning cities. Depending on your social circle, this is obvious or surprising – a fact that, like the show that draws millions of Americans to live television weekly, demands serious scrutiny.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism