Yellowstone’s recent premiere on Paramount Network cemented the channel’s vision to create a destination for viewers by prioritizing the names on the credits.
The network has been working to distinguish itself by giving industry heavyweights creative freedom to play within the bounds of cable’s limitations. The slate of new programming—which launched with the Waco miniseries in January and was followed by American Woman in June—has a consistent cinematic style, driven by complex characters.
It’s a strategy devised to compete in the current TV landscape, in which ad-supported networks have to compete for audience attention with on-demand content services that have the freedom to “take more risks and can get away with more,” as Paramount Net’s President of Development and Production Keith Cox told THR.
“What we aspire to be, is to have the quality of an HBO or a Netflix, those kinds of productions that feel premium,” Kevin Kay, president of the network, told Viacom. “That’s what the audience is used to, and that’s certainly what we aspire to be.”
Early success of Yellowstone indicates that the audience is officially on-board. Written and directed by Oscar nominee Taylor Sheridan and starring Kevin Costner as the head of the Dutton family and its ranch, the June 20th premiere earned 4.8 million viewers in L+ 3 (for time-adjusted viewing). The airing ranks as the most-watched on ad-supported cable this year after The Walking Dead. It’s also earned a place as the most-watched original series in the 15-year history of Spike, the network’s previous brand iteration.
“As a new channel, Paramount Network allows you to participate in setting the tone of something absolutely brand new.”—John Wells, American Woman executive producer
Next up: The Ron Howard-directed dark comedy, 68 Whiskey. It’s adapted from the Israeli television series Charlie Golf One, which follows a group of Army medics deployed to a base in Afghanistan called “The Orphanage.” There’s also Accused, which follows different characters each week as they head to the courtroom to learn if a jury finds them guilty or innocent. David Shore is developing the series. Also coming down the pipeline is the TV series First Wives Club, which is based on the 1996 movie. It’s being written by Girls Trip screenwriter, Tracy Oliver.
A Movie Model for TV
The ability to have a hand in the network’s initial slate and developing its audience is part of the creative appeal for industry talent. “As a new channel, Paramount Network allows you to participate in setting the tone of something absolutely brand new,” says John Wells, American Woman’s executive producer. “It allows your show to be part of shaping an entirely new audience.”
For Waco creators, brothers John Erik and Drew Dowdle, it was something else: “We loved their commitment to high-quality scripted programming,” says John Erik. “We saw they were willing to make this show right and we loved that. They are smart and passionate about their shows.”
Kay knew the Paramount name would provide brand recognition and credibility. But ultimately, success depends on the talent in front of and behind the camera. “We were chasing Taylor [Sheridan] and trying to get a project with him,” says Kay. “I think the reason Taylor came through the door was because it says Paramount on the network. When someone the quality of Taylor Sheridan comes through your door, the others follow.”
“If there’s such a thing as too much freedom, there was almost too much of it,” said Sheridan during the TCA tour. “I told them my vision, how I wanted to make it, and they agreed. It’s not a model TV follows.”