Taylor Sheridan is the first to admit that the number of series he is fielding for various Paramount platforms is “excessive.”
“This volume of work is not sustainable for a long period of time,” the “Yellowstone” co-creator says. “But it’s an opportunity to tell stories the way I want to tell them with a creative freedom that just doesn’t exist in this space. And so I kind of have to take advantage of it…I don’t necessarily want to be doing this when I’m 70. I don’t know that I want to be doing it when I’m 60. So I’d rather work real hard to do it now.”
Sheridan has nine shows on the air or in the works, including a project that marks Sylvester Stallone’s first regular series role.
*“Yellowstone” — The mothership that started it all in 2018.
*“1883” — “Yellowstone” prequel about the Dutton family’s origins.
*“1932” — An “1883” sequel, with the Duttons enduring Prohibition and the Great Depression.
*“6666” — A present-day “Yellowstone” spinoff set at the titular ranch.
*“Mayor of Kingstown” — A non-“Yellowstone” drama starring Jeremy Renner as the head of a powerful family in a town kept afloat by the local prison.
*“Tulsa King” — A mob drama starring Sylvester Stallone as a lifelong Mafioso banished to Oklahoma.
*“Lioness” — An espionage thriller starring Zoe Saldaña, with Nicole Kidman executive producing, about women who are trained to infiltrate terrorist and criminal networks.
*“Bass Reeves” — David Oyelowo stars in the true story of the first Black US marshal to work west of the Mississippi.
*“Land Man” — A contemporary tale revolving around Billy Bob Thornton as an oil company crisis manager in West Texas.
The backstory of “Tulsa King” underscores Sheridan’s pull in the creative community. The process of coming up with the idea for the show, writing the pilot script and getting Stallone onboard took about a week, Sheridan says.
“I was talking with a producer, and it’s COVID,” he says. “Everyone’s kind of going stir-crazy. He was asking me about ideas. I said, ‘Look, all you need, in my opinion, to have an interesting TV show is take a really fascinating character and drop them in a world that we don’t know anything about.’”
READ MORE: The ‘Yellowstone’ Empire: How Taylor Sheridan Struck TV Gold by Reinventing the Western
From there, Sheridan dreamed up the character of Dwight “The General” Manfredi. With time on his hands because of the pandemic, Sheridan dove into writing the script.
“I call [the producer] two days later and said, ‘Hey, I wrote that thing we talked about.’”
Sheridan then phoned Stallone directly to talk about the show. The actor was at home in Florida and was also going a bit stir-crazy during the early days of the lockdown. A day after Sheridan sent him the script, Stallone was back on the phone. “’I love it. When do we shoot it?’” Sheridan says the “Rocky” legend told him. Days later, the two sold the show to Paramount.
In similar fashion, Sheridan, spec script in hand, reached out directly to Saldaña and Kidman to take part in “Lioness.” (The idea for the show, based on a reallife CIA initiative, came to Sheridan from actorproducer Jill Wagner.)
“I don’t think anyone can speak to my projects better than me,” Sheridan says of his habit of direct-dialing A-list stars. “So I might as well just cut out the middleman and just call myself.”
For “Lioness” and “Tulsa King,” Sheridan is doing something he has never done before — hiring a writing staff. He has typically penned every episode of his shows himself, but given his busy schedule, he has had to spread the work around for the first time. He knows it will test his mettle as a showrunner after operating as a lone wolf for so long.
“How am I delegating? How am I at expressing myself to these writers in a way that they understand, that they can then execute the draft and hold my vision? We’ll find out,” he notes.
As a storyteller, Sheridan says he doesn’t always have a crystal-clear idea of how the plot of a series will evolve from episode to episode. But he always starts out certain of the finish.
“Just like with a feature, you’ve got to know how the thing ends before you know anything,” he says. “So I know how all these series end. And then it’s a question of how do we get there?”