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Yellowstone versus Blue Bloods: Big Sky versus Big Apple

It's not a field of dreams!

Kevin Costner is still having a moment (see Tom Cruise, Kevin Costner, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden: The Heroes We Want vs the Leaders We Have). The fifth season of the hit series Yellowstone has arrived.  It has done so with extensive media coverage far beyond what one would expect from a TV series. For example:

11/10/22 How Taylor Sheridan created America’s Most Popular TV Show (The Atlantic)
11/10/22 Is Yellowstone a Red-State Show? According to Fans, the Answer Is Complicated (online)/ Everybody Loves a Cowboy (print) (Time)
11/13/22 In ‘Yellowstone,’ the Land Votes (NYT print)
11/16/22 The Best Character on Yellowstone Is Also Its Worst Person (The Atlantic)
11/29/22 Bridging Hollywood and Native Realms (NYT print).

All in all, the above examples are an impressive performance of media coverage.

To be sure, Tom Cruise is still getting his due. During the binge run-up to the opening episode of Season 5, there were plenty of ads for his Top Gun movie to be shown in December on the same network. There also were plenty of ads for the new series starring Rocky/Rambo. To top it off, the movie following one day’s binging was Gladiator so we can see the niche Paramount is carving out for itself.

In the previous blog, I noted that Yellowstone existed in a TV universe populated by such shows as Bonanza, Dallas, Dynasty, Law and Order, NCIS, CSI, and Blue Bloods. These long running shows frequently with spin-offs share some common characteristics. In some of them there are actual biological families involved while others are episodic and have work families. In this blog, I wish to address the similarities and differences between Blue Bloods and Yellowstone. I write this blog wondering if there is any audience overlap between these two shows set in New York City and Montana, what it means if there isn’t, and what it means if there is?


In both shows, family comes first but the families are both eerily similar and distinctly different.

In both shows, a patriarchal figure is the pivotal figure. The actors came to the shows with previous national renown. By coincidence, there just was a big article about Tom Selleck and the movie Mr. Baseball (NYT 11/29/22 print). The movie is not in the same league as Bull Durham or Fields of Dream, but apparently for American baseball players headed to Japan to play baseball, it is required viewing still after 30 years. In any event, both shows are led by strong male actors already known to the public.

In both shows, there is no matriarchal figure. She is dead before the show begins although there always is the option for flashbacks.

In both shows, an adult son dies/is murdered. I confess I have not seen the death scene in Yellowstone and didn’t even realize that there was one. In Blue Bloods, the son dies before the first show and is remembered constantly.

In both shows, sons Kaycee and Danny served in the Middle East and brought home traumatic memories which sometimes appear in various episodes.

In both shows there is a Harvard-law-school educated son named Jamie. The Yellowstone Jamie pursues a legal/political career in the show. He thought he was going to become governor until his father did instead. By contrast, the Blue Bloods Jamie followed in his father’s steps as a beat cop. He has a long way to go if he is going to work his way up to being commissioner especially as a heterosexual Irish Catholic white male since times have passed him by.

In both shows there is a fighting daughter. In Blue Bloods, Erin fights using the law. In Yellowstone, Beth fights by whatever means it takes. The article cited above about the best and worst character in the show is about her.

Both families have family meals … sort of. In Blue Bloods, the Sunday family dinner is one of the staples of the show. Attendance at the dining room table has been fairly consistent over the years excluding people who outgrow their roles or marry into the family. Sometimes the discussions become heated, but the gospel remains “let’s keep it civil” and family comes first.

The Yellowstone table is a battleground. There is no consistency on who will be seated when the meal begins. And one can practically guarantee that after a heated exchange of words expressing true animosity, someone will leave the table.


In Yellowstone there is no religion. When daughter Beth marries, they practically “kidnap” a priest to officiate at the ceremony. The denomination is irrelevant. He doesn’t know the couple and they don’t know him. I don’t recall any scene involving a church although it is quite possible there was one.

In Blue Bloods, religion in front and center. The family says grace before the Sunday dinner. They went to parochial school. They attend church together. They are on a first name basis with priests and bishops. The Church figures in some episodes. All in all, the Reagan’s are a good Irish Catholic family in a truly urban show.


Guns play an important part in the storylines of both shows. One might expect that from a cop show. However, as the Chief of Police notes, cops rarely draw their guns, let alone discharge them, let alone wound or kill someone. In the TV show, Danny Reagan practically fires his weapon every show or so it seems. There are plenty of SWAT episodes and shoot outs, the kind you never read about in paper but which seem to routine for urban TV cops. Initially, after a fatal shooting, Danny had to go through a great deal of debriefing and paperwork. That process still applies the first time someone else kills someone for the first time. For Detective Danny, the writers must have realized that they needed him blazing away show after show without being hampered by paperwork or suspension from service pending an investigation of the shooting.

In Yellowstone, the guns are privately owned. They are a testament to the so-called Second Amendment advocates. The Duttons take the law into their own hands. It is a show of the wide-open West even in the 21st-century. People viewing the series for the first time, will be surprised at how irrelevant the law is. The Duttons do what has to be done to protect the family ranch.

Special note should be made of some distinctions between the two shows.

There is no Blue Bloods counterpart to the mean, nasty, insulting mouth of Yellowstone’s Beth. Her vitriol is always personal. She doesn’t uncorked her animosity against peoples of any hyphen. It is always directed against individuals, generally face to face. It is as if she is doing it for sport and the victims are her hunting trophies. In the course of a mere four shortened seasons, she has accumulated quite a trophy room. Erin Reagan’s trophies are the people she has convicted in a court of law; Beth’s are the people she has eviscerated in a non-legal arena.

There is no path for succession in Blue Bloods. Once the patriarch steps down as chief of police, it is curtains for the show. Perhaps it could continue as a Law and Order type show but it wouldn’t be the same. The family glue would be gone.

Yellowstone is aware of this problem. Rancher John Dutton like Chief of Police Frank Reagan has followed in his father’s footsteps. Now he has taken a career change by becoming governor of the state. The change creates a raft of new storylines but he is as much a fish out of water as if Frank Reagan became mayor of New York City. Of course, Dutton has become governor in the TV world and not the real world. That gives him the option of ignoring many of the culture-war issues that some governors in the real world feast on. It is strictly up to Taylor Sheridan whether or not any such issues are written into the show. If it happens, the show that avoids being a red-state or blue-state show will have to take sides. Whatever decision is taken on any particular culture war issue would then alienate some of the audience. The show might lose some of its cachet.

In this regard, Yellowstone may confront the dilemma of another show that was a media favorite without ever becoming a fan favorite. Friday Night Lights became a national phenomenon without ever garnering bigtime ratings. The TV series based on a movie based on a book managed to become part of the national vocabulary. This Texan high school with its football team and related community connections drew a non-red state audience which cared about what happened to some of the characters. The situation may be different with Yellowstone – you watch the characters perform but do you care about any them as people?


The big difference between the two shows, the urban and the wide open West is the Confederated Tribes of Broken Rock. It is a casino owning fictional Indian nation. Its elected chief Thomas Rainwater loves the land, the same land as John Dutton’s ranch. Sometimes they are allies, sometimes they are foes.

Kaycee Dutton has married a daughter of the tribe. Initially her brother will not speak to her husband. Later Kaycee participates in a vision quest assisted by Mo (short for Moses), the assistant to Rainwater. He started as a nameless driver in the series and now has become a named character in it.

It is in these relationships where Yellowstone has an opportunity to be something more than it is. The show makes the Indians part of the story without being a condescending woke elitist or a cowboy-and-Indian cavalry to the rescue show. Where this storyline goes is in the mind of one person, Taylor Sheridan. He is not writing a history as much as crafting a new national narrative. In so doing he will reach more people about Indian and American relationships than a scholar will.

Urban Blue Bloods potentially could become something more than it is. Suppose for example Blue Bloods Jamie ran for New York City Council and had to deal with the issues that the real Council has to address. One wonders what would happen to the audience if it did. One wonders if the elitists would recognize the show for having made that change.

The story of the relationship between the American Indian and the American settler and the land they share in common as part of their heritage is a story of national importance. So far Sheridan has shown he is prepared to write that story about real people. How far he takes it remains to be seen. Even he probably doesn’t even know for sure at this point. Watching that story play out among real people probably is unique in TV series and gives the show a great power. Who cares if the elitists always overlook Yellowstone in their awards ceremonies if the show wrestles with these real world challenges that the nation faces?

Tom Cruise, Kevin Costner, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden: The Heroes We Want vs the Leaders We Have

We are a storytelling species who wants heroes (Wikipedia)

Tom Cruise and Kevin Costner are having a moment.

So are Donald Trump and Joe Biden, but in a different way.

The juxtaposition of these two pairs provides an opportunity to compare the people we admire as heroes with the actual leaders we have. The difference exposes the challenge to America today and in the next two elections this year and in 2024.


Tom Cruise has unexpectedly rocketed to a billion dollar gross in his new “Top Gun: Maverick” movie. Movies have suffered during Covid. Attendance plummeted. Movie studios wondered if people would return to the theaters, to the experience of seeing movies in-person with up to hundreds of other people. Maybe the next one would the blockbuster would be the one…. Maybe the one after that.

Then along comes the Tom Cruise move. BOFFO AT THE BOX OFFICE to use an old Hollywood term. Seemingly out of nowhere, this generation-later expansion of the original Top Gun movie startled everyone with its power. What gives?

One major difference is that the movie is a Tom Cruise movie. It is not a Roman numeral movie. It is not the latest incarnation of a super-duper movie reflecting Hollywood’s unending ability to crank out ever more new costumed beings. There are no dinosaurs in the movies or aliens of any kind. The story is not set in some mythical world in the past, present, or future. It isn’t even a special effects movie as many of the scenes that ordinarily would be special effects instead were real people learning how to fly.

In this regard, Tom Cruise represents a form of nostalgia to the good old days. You go to see (or not see) a Tom Cruise movie because it is a Tom Cruise movie. Do you really know the names of the characters he has played in his movies? Do you really know the name of the characters John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, or Gary Cooper played? No! You saw the movie because it starred John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, or Gary Stewart.

Similarly Tom Cruise is larger than his movies. In almost every movie he plays himself or at least what we imagine him to be like off screen. We didn’t care what Spencer Tracy or Jimmy Cagney was really like. Even in one of the great Star Trek episodes where Kirk travels to the 1930s past, Joan Collins says her man (Kirk) is taking her to a Clark Gable movie. The title is irrelevant.

As a country we like the Maverick character of Pete Mitchell and flock to the multiplex to see it.

Kevin Costner also is having a moment. It is on the small screen and has been building for years. He has had an iconic career in movies starring in classics in American mythology. Perhaps it is coincidence but Durham began its most recent growth spurt with the movie “Bull Durham.”  Who would have thought that an actual corn field in Iowa split among two owners would become a tourist site where fathers could have catch with their sons.

Costner like Cruise performs in human roles. Generally, he lives in the present or the real world. In that sense he is always Kevin Costner. The Lakota Nation adopted Costner as an honorary member. As a result of his performance with Whitney Houston in “The Body Guard,” he was one of eight speakers at her funeral giving by all accounts a very moving eulogy. Name another actor with that kind of intimate cross-cultural acceptance. Name a politician.

But the real impetus for his success today is an outgrowth from a different movie, “Dances with Wolves.”  As with the TV series “Yellowstone,” Costner is the driving force behind both productions. In the movie he is John Dunbar; in the TV show John Dutton. In the movie, he encounters a wolf; in the TV series, his son has a vision quest with a wolf.

“Yellowstone” has snuck up on people. It is not one of those edgier shows that draws the attention of media critics. It is not gritty. It is not urban. It isn’t even about twisted tortured souls although that might not be true in all cases. It is not exactly the Ponderosa either. Times have changed. The fictional Broken Rock Indian Reservation and people are an integral part of the continuing story line.

So here we have two athletic male heroes with charm, good looks, and ease of appearance. And then there is the real world.


Only one week ago on July 5, I wrote SCOTUS and Hutchinson: The Howard Baker Moment Has Arrived. I claimed that it was all downhill for Trump from that point forward and that was exactly right.

Not only did a minion witness tamper with Hutchinson, but it seems that Trump himself tampered with a witness not yet revealed. Indictments forthcoming.

Foxhub has bad-mouthed some of the Trumpican candidates as unworthy of being elected. It remembers the debacle of the 2010 Senate races when Republicans lost sure-fire pickups by nominating nut cases. It does not want to see that happen again even if they are loyal to Trump.

Polls suggest Republicans are increasingly tired of Trump-shenanigans and it is only going to get worse. They are ready to move on if he will let them. Relitigating 2020 may be Trump’s only priority but it is not that of Republicans.

Polls show that even against the near-dead Biden with horrendous approval ratings, the Loser would lose again.

At some point soon, even closet Republicans in the Congress may be ready to stand up and be counted.

Of course, Joe Biden is having a rough spell himself. His is visibly aging and tiring in a way that cannot be hidden from the voters … even the ones who support him.

There is no end in sight for gas prices or Ukraine.

He was not a bold leader even in his prime and now he is past his prime.

According to a focus group reported on in The New York Times full-page in the Sunday Review on July 10 print, people are hungry for leadership. They want leaders who are willing to tell hard truths, go against the grain, and stand up for something unpopular. These were qualities found in leaders in the past like Churchill, suffragists, and Moses. But they also had a good explanation for why we do not have such leaders – if politicians today are not brave and courageous, it might be because We the People are not brave and courageous either.

As one CNN title put it:

Americans may get the one presidential race the country doesn’t want in 2024

In 2016, Democrats nominated the one candidate Trump could beat.
In 2020, Democrats nominated the one candidate who could beat Trump.
In 2022 Democrats need Trump to suck the oxygen out of the campaign with his revenge campaign, indictments, and 2020 fixation.
In 2024 Democrats need Republicans to nominate Trump again and may even secretly fund that effort.

When the movie “January 6” is cast there will be no roles for Tom Cruise or Kevin Costner. On the other hand, woman will clamor for the opportunity to play Liz Cheney.

Hidden Figures, The Right Stuff and the Coronavirus: Who Will Tell the Story?

"A Great Success Story" (AP / Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The movies Hidden Figures and The Right Stuff offer related but distinctively different views of the Mercury Space program in the early 1960s. They both tell the story but they are not exactly the same stories. The Right Stuff based on a popular book of the same name focused on the astronauts themselves. The very title of the book and movie has become part of the American culture. The subjects and events of this book and movie tended to be known to the general public with a special shout out to ace pilot Chuck Yeager who did not become an astronaut.

By contrast, Hidden Figures portrays a less known facet of the space program. Its subjects are three women, Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, who work as “computers,” people who do computing. More importantly they are Negroes or colored people. Black people had not yet become first Afro-Americans, then African Americans, and people of color. These changes in terminology are part of American history.

Like The Right Stuff, Hidden Figures reveals a very American way of life, just a different one. The lives of the three lead characters and the people with whom they engage are stories of family, education, church, and service to country. It is a story of people who embrace the American dream as much as the astronauts in The Right Stuff do. The difference, of course, is the opportunity to live the American Dream. In the movie, one black woman gains access to the previously restricted education system for the graduate credits she needs to qualify for a NASA position. A second black woman learns to master the new IBM mainframe computer which uses keypunch cards. For some people, that computer may seem like something from the Stone Age when dinosaurs roamed the earth. The third black woman, naturally gifted even as a child, calculates critical flight plans. All three succeed without becoming public figures until the movie.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie occurs when an off-screen voice calls out that astronaut John Glenn is in trouble in his mission. Everyone rushes to see a TV set in a storefront window in their rural community. “Everyone” means all the people of the community, black and white, standing together as one.  This scene is a marked contrast to the newsreel shots from both movies of people lined up along the beaches in Florida. These views are often distant shots but the overwhelming impression is that the people are white. It turns out black people cared about the American space program too.

Whether or not everyone would even gather today to witness what was occurring live in space or on earth today is more problematical. I think of those stock movie scenes where everyone is shown simultaneously reading the latest issue of local paper with the headlines about the subject of the movie. Now many of those newspapers don’t exist (see Spartacus, Local History, and Local Newspapers) and people tend to look down at their palms holding a device instead. I think of the scenes of the people in the Times Squares of the world watching and cheering as Matt Damon is rescued from Mars and wonder if the world could really gather as one anymore.

Other questions occur. Is the Kevin Costner character real or a Hollywood (composite) creation? I don’t know. He has a lot of good lines and is of almost to-good-to-be true character. My favorite scene follows the one when he learns there are no colored bathrooms in the white complex. That necessitates Katherine Johnson having to go a half-mile, sometimes in the rain, to the colored complex to relieve herself.  When she has to explain to Costner why she disappears for so long during the day, she explodes in a tirade. That scene may be great Hollywood, but even if the Costner figure is real, an extended impassioned one-sided tirade by a subordinate, a subordinate female, a subordinate black female seems more Hollywood than real. I could be wrong.

The tirade isn’t my favorite part. It is the scene afterwards where Costner takes a crowbar to “Colored Women” bathroom sign. After knocking it down, he walks away announcing the new NASA policy eliminating the separate and unequal bathrooms (missing paper towels in another scene) by race. He walks away uttering the immortal lines, “At NASA we all pee the same color.” It’s not quite “If you build it, he will come” or “the right stuff,’ but I like it all the same. It reminds me of the scene in To Sir with Love, where Sidney Poitier is cut during a fight and bleeds. One student observing the bleeding teacher says something to the effect of “Did you think he bled ink?” Sometimes you can deliver strong messages with just a few words about body fluids. But did this scene really happen?

Another great scene where I wonder if it is true or not occurs during a briefing. Katherine Johnson impresses on Costner her need to attend the briefing. She is the only female and the only black in the room. The question stumping people is the calculation to determine precisely where the decision has to made for the go-no point of re-entry and where the capsule will splash down so the navy can be in position to recover it. The image of Costner handing Johnson chalk to perform the critical calculation live before an audience of big shots including John Glen is identical Michelangelo’s painting at the Sistine Chapel of the hands of God and Adam. That parallel is not coincidental.

Kevin Costner handing Katherine Johnson chalk to calculate John Glenn’s trajectory (Amazon)

That scene starts a sequence. When the issue of landing coordinates arises in the preparation for Glenn’s flight, Glenn asks Costner to have “the smart one” check the numbers. Johnson has just been reassigned back to the Colored Computer Building and been married, two status changes. Now a white male has to make the run to the Colored Computer Building and not to relieve himself but to have her, the black computer, verify the landing coordinates that the IBM apparently erred on. Both the black female and the white male run back to the white area (why couldn’t the white male run back alone?). Once there, Costner gives Johnson access to the Mission Control Center. As best I recall, there were no females or blacks in the Control Room in The Right Stuff.  Both were present and more when Matt Damon was rescued.

So, how much of this is real and how much is Hollywood? I don’t know if any journalist or historian has compared these two movie versions of the specific incident of John Glenn’s flight. It certainly would be interesting to know.

“Who will tell the story” presumes there is one story to tell. In the real world, that often is not the case once one goes beyond some very precise details: yes, John Glenn did orbit earth and his mission was aborted. At that point, people then start making choices about what to include in the story they want to tell and how they will tell it. The coronavirus provides a current example of the challenge of “who will tell the story?” What story will be told and who will tell it?”

A long long time ago back on April 5, I wrote a blog Current Events and Local History on the challenge to history organizations to collect the history of the coronavirus as it was occurring around them.

         Historians Investigating the Coronavirus Pandemic

I did not send this blog to the media or political distribution lists. I noted the efforts of some European museums to gather this information. I reported on the initiative of the Association of Public Historians of New York State (APHNYS) to request that the municipal historians in the state collect such information. These gatherings did not mean simply collating government press releases or clipping articles where local papers still exist, it meant asking people to journal or express in some way, even daily, their experiences during this crisis. I sent this blog to my history lists in New York and New England close to four weeks ago now.

I also sent a revised version of this history blog to the New York State Board of Regents. I received two replies. One a brief thank you. The second was an email not only to me but to Chancellor of the Board, Interim Commissioner of Education/President of the University of the State of New York, and the Deputy Commissioner of Cultural Education among others.  In the email, the Regent notes the “request for students to offer journal documentation of their experience living through this pandemic crisis, from their perspective, for history.” The Regent specifically asks these three individuals for suggestions on how to reach out to teachers and students to go about achieving this ends.  I don’t know what will come of this effort, but I am sure once students do return to school they will have stories to tell about what they did last summer and spring.

But what about for American as a whole? Who will tell the American story(ies) on the coronavirus? Yes, there will be a White House version touting the great success of America’s greatest President of successfully winning this war and we will be rockin’ by July. Yes there will be a Congressional Commission documenting the complete and total failure of the inept, incompetent, self-centered, ignorant, simpleminded immature child who was the worst President in American history. That’s quite a range of options. We are witnessing the battle to tell the story of the coronavirus in the United States and there is a good chance at least 405 of the country will believe two completely contradictory stories. If you think teaching the Civil War can be challenging imagine the dilemma for teachers and school districts who have to choose between the pond-scum-slime and our Lord and Savior, the Chosen One Blessed Be his Name versions. So the questions for the country isn’t simply who will tell the story but what story(ies) will be told and how will they divide America even more.