Is Yellowstone a Red State show?  It's complicated

In March 2018 — three months before Paramount Network’s hit drama Yellowstone debuted – a woman from Alberta, Canada who goes by the name “Tori F” on the internet. started creating social media accounts under the title “Yellowstone TV Fans”. Tori F. has been building fan spaces online since the mid-2000s; and as a fan of actor Kelly Reilly (who plays Yellowstoneruthless, damaged businesswoman Beth Dutton), she saw a lot of potential in this show. It seemed both western and family melodrama, two genres underrepresented on television. More importantly, it looked soft and fun. She says: “I was looking for something new, for a party with friends on a Sunday night.”

Immediately, however, Tori F. noticed something different about the Yellowstone fans she interacts with online. They were about 10 to 20 years older than most of the people who chatter about TV on the Internet. And they were mostly scattered across the heartland of the US – not in the big coastal cities.

From 2018 Yellowstone has become one of the most-watched scripted dramas on cable, often outpacing shows on the major networks. The January season four finale had over 9 million viewers the night it aired (excluding those who aired it later), nearly double the number that watched the season 3 finale. By comparison, the Emmy-winning critically acclaimed HBO drama Inheritance, which tells a similar story about a wealthy family struggling to hold its own in the modern world, drew 1.7 million across all platforms (including about 600,000 cable viewers) for its third season finale a few weeks earlier.

But who’s watching Yellowstone? It’s a question that confuses people who write for television for a living. When the show’s fifth season debuts on Nov. 13, it’s likely to dominate the ratings again, while garnering little attention from the major media or awards people (it was nominated for one Emi.) Rotten Tomatoes links to 10 critic reviews for its fourth season, compared to 141 for Inheritanceis the third.

When Yellowstone written about, it’s often described as a “red state show” loved more by gun-toting Texans than Brooklyn hipsters. This is not entirely wrong. The networks are tight-lipped about detailed demographics, but at the end of Season 2, Paramount’s website touted huge viewership in cities like Dallas, Oklahoma City and Fort Myers, Florida. Awake Hollywood might read this as a fandom of book-banning suburban moms and angry dudes in MAGA hats, but it’s not that simple. At a time when audiences are fragmented and often seem to only want to watch people who think and look like themselves on TV, it’s fitting that a show that shares its name with a river succeeded by being mainstream.

Read more: 9 episodes to watch next Yellowstone

Although it is true that a many big hit shows have only a minimal presence in the larger popular culture—no one hands out Emmys or writes weekly reflections on NCIS: Hawaii, after all – it certainly feels like Yellowstone should be discussed more. his star Kevin Costner, is an Oscar winner. Co-writer and showrunner Taylor Sheridan wrote the critically acclaimed films Sicario and Hell or high water. His stories deal with corporate greed, class conflict, racial identity—all topics that usually excite cultural commentators.

Republicans who support candidates who promise to protect faith, family and the Second Amendment may certainly be drawn to Costner’s John Dutton, a rugged Montana farming magnate who longs for the good old days and uses brute force against his political enemies. But the show doesn’t seem to be actively trying to court that crowd. YellowstoneThe premise of is in line with classic nighttime soaps like dallas, where almost every character has a bit of an angel and a bit of a devil in them, and where stories sometimes defy logic to get to the next failure. The problems Yellowstone the nods to land management and big business are relevant, but the plots are more about romance, violence and feuds, all set against a gorgeous Montana backdrop.

The 170,000+ followers on Tori F.’s Facebook page are mostly focused on these soapy elements. They are speculating about major plot twists and generates memes. (One popular recurring fanfic is for someone to post “I’m watching Yellowstone about the plot”, followed by images of a hill cowboys.) Fans also yearn for the life of the Duttons’ sprawling, scenic space, where anyone willing to work can become part of the family.

Katie Bowlby is the digital director of Village life magazine that has reflected Yellowstone broadly because, she says, “it aligns with our readership.” She agrees that appeal transcends politics and finds that the show appeals equally to men and women. In the streaming age, it’s “commitment viewing”: a series that everyone makes it a point to watch when it airs so they can talk about it the next day. She adds, “The average American doesn’t care if the show they’re watching is nominated for an Emmy or gets the attention of some critics. They watch it because it’s fun.”

Bowlby also suggests this Yellowstone “is a bit of a contrast to a lot of what you see on TV now, with its wide open spaces and celebration of nature.” That’s especially appealing when almost every other show takes place in cramped offices and messy apartments. That’s what it does Village life successful, as well as other country-themed lifestyle publications that appeal to both ranchers and city dwellers who dream of ranching. See also: Cowboys and Indians magazine that has reflected Yellowstone along with Native American fashion and the best places to buy rustic furniture. Or Ree Drummond’s The pioneer woman franchise that sells a cheerful image of a hard-working family living off the land.

If Yellowstone audience has expanded—ratings have nearly doubled every year since the first season—Bowlby believes one reason is the pandemic, as stay-at-home people across the country binged on the series. (In a weird quirk of show business, the streaming rights were sold to Peacock before it became a hit and before the service, formerly known as CBS All Access, was rebranded as Paramount+. All of its spin-offs — last year 1883, this year’s 1923, and the still unplanned ones 6666— are on Paramount+.)

Bowlby’s claim was supported by David Glasser, a Yellowstone producer, who admits that “in the beginning, the audience was everywhere but on the shores.” These days, though, he’s running into fans of all ages everywhere—including at his daughter’s college, where he says he recently talked to a bunch of brothers at Yellowstone hats who wanted to ask about Cole Houser’s macho fan-favorite ranch boss Rip Wheeler. He thinks the show connects broadly because everyone has a family, even if it’s not like the dysfunctional Duttons.

That said, to the pious Yellowstone fandom, there is an element of “this show is for us and only us”. As Bowlby says, “The Western way of life is alive and well. There are people who live on ranches, farm the land, and compete in rodeos. This is a large element of American culture that is overlooked.

I can vouch for that. I live in Arkansas where kids are often involved in typical teenage pastimes like sports and music while also raising cattle to show at regional fairs. Whenever I have a casual conversation about TV here, I invariably hear, “Are you watching Yellowstone?” My staunch Southern Baptist father-in-law tried out the show, and while he didn’t stick with it (because of all the sex and swearing), the fact that people in his circles pushed him on it in the first place says something. For some viewing Yellowstone it has practically become a social requirement.

Tory F. admits that although most Yellowstone fans just want to jump online to talk about the Duttons, there are times and places — especially on Facebook — when fandom “gets a little Wild West.” She recalls that when she shared Paramount Network’s support for Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, “That started this whole three-week frenzy of people fighting in the comments.” She mentions death threats and doxxing, complaining, “It’s the first time I’ve ever seen anything like that about Yellowstone.

The show itself is pretty even. The dialogue and stories seriously present multiple perspectives: be it conservative landowners protecting their heritage, local activists reclaiming their land, environmentalists stopping exploitation, or career politicians doing what they do. Tori F. says: “If you dig into it, you can probably see where the fan opinions are by default. But I think the show does a good job of not leaning on one side.” She adds, “A lot of my friends describe Yellowstone like a red state show made by blue state people.

For Glasser, it’s even simpler. He says Sheridan is mostly interested in “giving audiences something to come back for.” Who’s watching – and why – are secondary to Yellowstone the boss’s interest in doing what Tory F. was looking for in 2018. He wants to create a good, compelling story that can be enjoyed with other people. As Glasser says, “When Taylor sits down to write at her computer, there’s no notebook, no outline cards, no writers’ rooms. It’s just Dutton and Taylor and his heart and soul.”

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