The MTV Entertainment Studios-produced series, created by Yellowstone’s Taylor Sheridan and starring Sam Elliott, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill and Billy Bob Thornton, follows the ancestors of Yellowstone’s Dutton family as they embark on a journey west through the Great Plains toward the last bastion of untamed America, according to the service.
The debut of 1883 comes on the heels of the strong ratings performance of Yellowstone, which drew more than 8 million viewers for its Nov. 7 fourth-season debut and 14.7 million viewers in Nielsen live-plus-3 ratings, making it cable’s most-watched scripted show of the year.
MTV Entertainment Studios president of scripted content Keith Cox spoke to Multichannel News about 1883, the ratings success of Yellowstone and the reemergence of the Western genre in an interview, an edited version of which appears below.
Multichannel News: Does Yellowstone prequel 1883 stand on its own as a series?
Keith Cox: If it wasn't a Yellowstone prequel, it really would be its own show. Just looking at the march over the Oregon trail trying to find a better life before ending up in Montana is a compelling story. If you add in the violence and the people they run into, along with the romance elements and everything, it’s really its own show. It's great that it's attached to Yellowstone’s origin story, but it really stands on its own.
MCN: Can you see 1883 appealing to a younger audience than Yellowstone?
KC: It can appeal younger because it's basically narrated through [country music stars] Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, which I think will be very appealing to younger viewers. Also much like Yellowstone, 1883 is super cinematic – it's like watching episodic movies – which is very different from what we currently see on TV.
MCN: Were you surprised by Yellowstone’s recent record ratings performance?
KC: I'm not surprised. I think actually during COVID a lot of people watched it on iTunes, on Peacock or certainly during all of our marathons. The viewers came for the new season and they came big. We have the number one show of the year on Paramount Network. It’s kind of cool.
MCN: What is it about Western-themed shows like Yellowstone and 1883 that appeals to producers as well as to audiences?
KC: I believe that Westerns are just so American. They speak to who we are as Americans and our values. That comes through especially in 1883, the values of hard work and morals and the just passion to succeed. It's really a shout out to the people ahead of us and the hell they went through for a better life. It's very inspirational – we just got it done. Even the immigrant story is fascinating. They come here because America is free, and we see what they went through for a better life. Certainly there were ups and downs and controversies, but at the end of the day it's a good story.
MCN: With the success of Yellowstone and the launch of 1883, do you feel other producers and networks will look to jump on the Western bandwagon?
KC: I think it’s already happened. The difference between those shows and ours is that they don’t have Taylor writing the shows. That’s like the secret sauce for us. He’s written every episode of both shows and he just knows this world so well. It’s all so authentic, especially the whole Native American storyline which I think is very powerful in both series.
MCN: Is MTV Studios working on any other Western-themed shows?
KC: We have  coming up, which has already been hinted at in season four of Yellowstone. A couple of characters will be leaving the Yellowstone ranch and going to that Texas [Four Sixes] ranch. There are also a few others that Taylor is noodling around with. ■
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.