The Emmys Are Yellow-Bellied About ‘Yellowstone’

But is it all part of Taylor Sheridan’s master plan?

The Hollywood elites have done it again. This year, everything was supposed to be different for Yellowstone. After four years of snubs, Taylor Sheridan’s neo-Western seemed destined for the recognition by the Television Academy with numerous Emmy nominations that would finally bring the megahit a measure of critical respectability. It had finally proven its mettle, hadn’t it? Over four seasons, the drama, with Kevin Costner, a bankable Hollywood star, heading the cast, had become the most watched cable television program at a time when people are increasingly abandoning cable and networks for streaming content.

Sure, the program had initially built a following primarily in small towns and rural areas–a population inclined to appreciate Yellowstone’s gritty Western oeuvre–but over the past couple of years, the psychodrama around the Dutton family and its beautiful ranch in Montana’s Paradise Valley had attracted an audience on the coasts as well.

In fact, interest in the Dutton family’s efforts to protect its way of life has become so popular that Yellowstone has grown into its own digital empire much in the vein of Star Wars, with at least two prequels about the Dutton family facing key moments in American history–1883, which premiered earlier this year and the recently-renamed 1923, which is in now in development and will star Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren–and another spinoff, 6666, which will focus on on the travails of Yellowstone meth-head turned cowboy, Jimmy, on a renowned Texas Ranch. And 1883 itself  will have its own quasi spinoff focused on the legendary black cowboy, Bass Reeves.

Along the way, Sheridan has become one of the hottest commodities in Hollywood. He has up to 9 programs under development, one of which will star Sylvester Stallone. He has appeared on magazine covers, in NY tabloids, and during Sunday news shows. Sheridan has become one of the most significant television phenomenons of the current moment.  Sure, he had directed some well-received films, but his new-found fame (and fortune) is because of Yellowstone’s cable domination. And the Television Academy totally ignored the show this year. NOT ONE NOMINATION for his signature program, and only one nomination (for one episode) in the past few years. This year was going to be different, they told us!  The Hollywood elite was finally going to accept that the Duttons were worthy of acceptance in the hallowed halls of Southern California and New York where reputations are made, solidified, and financed.

Now, yes, the first Yellowstone prequel,  the terrific 1883, did receive three Emmy nominations this year, but these were for cinematography and music.  So that is four seasons of Yellowstone and one season of 1883 with not one nomination for either best acting or best drama. Kevin Costner?  Tim McGraw? Faith Hill? Not one award? Needless to say, Yellowstone fans aren’t pleased. Heck, some TV reviewers aren’t pleased.

1883
The Dutton family saga continues in ‘1883’ (Paramount+)

This was the year the Duttons were going to become as much of an American household name as the Roys on Succession! Earlier this Spring, rapper Drake wore a Dutton Yellowstone Ranch vest in a much-shared social media clip, inspiring the Yellowstone social media team to note, “Started at the Bottom, Now We Here.” Yet “Here” was supposed to be the promised land of recognition, dignity, and credibility by grizzled TV reviewers and the media outlets that pay them. The Duttons had broken through to the other side. This week, The Emmys were supposed to just recognize the obvious. Instead…nothing.

Maybe the Hollywood elite does hate Yellowstone despite its star wattage, legions of fans and cable dominance. Maybe Meghan McCain was right that the show was popular because it wasn’t “woke” (despite the obvious and modern care that Sheridan takes with portraying Native Americans in his show). The legions of early Yellowstone fans–the ones that rewatch the shows during Father’s Day Weekend marathons–certainly believe that their show has run up against the mores and attitudes of Hollywood. When you dis their show, you dis them and Yellowstone groupies now have more proof that the Television Academy hates them and their way of life, too.

Some reviewers think Yellowstone was collateral damage from the lingering disgust at comments made by 1883’s Sam Elliot about gay themes in the critically-acclaimed film, The Power of the Dog (he later apologized). Others wondered whether the Television Academy has moved on from Western genre, once the dominant cultural export from Hollywood. Many noted that with 800-plus shows to review that they can overlook many good shows. This reviewer wondered whether the abortion/sterilization storyline around Beth Dutton from her teenagehood, and the role it plays in Beth forcing her step brother to kill his biological father at the end of Season 4, was just too much for the Academy in a post-Dobbs America.

Or maybe this is just the way it is supposed to be. Maybe this snub is just what John Dutton would have wanted (or at least expected). He’s here to defend his way of life and his land, by any means necessary. If the Television Academy, with many of its executives surely having second homes in the increasingly expensive Bozeman, MT area, can’t recognize that Yellowstone–with its inherent Red Vs Blue storyline–is the American story du jour and deserves recognition, maybe that is the story itself.

Sheridan, of course, is laughing all the way to the bank as he (and his fans) prepare for Season 5 of Yellowstone in November. At this stage in his career, Costner certainly doesn’t need this.  Sure, some of the supporting actors in Yellowstone (and 1883) could have used the recognition, but many are already getting new deals based on their connections to the Sheridanverse.

In the end, it is the show’s fans, particularly its base of fans who latched onto the show from the beginning, who are most disappointed at the Emmy’s snub. In Yellowstone, in Rip, in Casey Dutton, in Beth Dutton, the fans see a bit of themselves. And now, the Television Academy has taken a look at them and the show and taken the whole thing to the Train Station yet again. Maybe the fans (and reviewers) shouldn’t have expected any different. In an age of populism,it’s the numbers that count, not the fancy awards. And there, unlike the fictional, financially-troubled Yellowstone ranch, the program is a towering giant. As John Dutton notes, “it’s the once constant in life. You build something worth having, someone’s gonna try to take it.” Maybe the Emmys not nominating Yellowstone, for anything, is its own victory.

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Adam Hirschfelder

Adam Hirschfelder runs public programs in Marin County for the Commonwealth Club of California. Hirschfelder graduated with honors from Northwestern University and received his MA in education policy from Teachers College, Columbia University. He serves on the boards of directors of the Marin Cultural Association. A New Jersey native, he now lives outside San Francisco. The Force is Strong with Him.

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