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The reason Kevin Costner makes so much money per episode of Yellowstone

Apparently, it takes a lot of the old do-re-mi to get Kevin Costner to cowboy up these days.

Though the actor has delivered several memorable performances among the sprawling vistas of the wild, wild west (see Dances With WolvesWyatt EarpOpen Range), Costner is currently earning attention for his first modern-day western — the small-screen cowboy tale Yellowstone, airing on Paramount Network. Co-created by Wind River writer-director Taylor Sheridan, Yellowstone follows the travails of a Montana ranching family entrenched in a constant, brutal battle with developers, billion-dollar corporations, and dirty politicians to ensure what's theirs will remain theirs. 

Costner plays the head of that family, Yellowstone Dutton Ranch owner John Dutton, and he's flanked on screen by a stable full of talented performers — including Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes) as Beth Dutton, Luke Grimes (The Magnificent Seven) as Kayce Dutton, Wes Bentley (American Beauty) as Jamie Dutton, Cole Hauser (Dazed and Confused) as Rip Wheeler, and Danny Huston (Succession) as Dan Jenkins. Even among those notable names, Costner is easily the biggest star on the country drama. And since he's also the paterfamilias of the central Dutton clan, he's appeared on screen far more than his co-stars over the first two seasons of Yellowstone — and there's little reason to suspect that'll change on the upcoming third. 

As such, it should come as little surprise that Costner is also the highest paid performer on Yellowstone. One might, however, be surprised by just how much money the actor makes for a single episode. That number is a staggering $500,000 per episode, which ranks him among the highest paid television actors around — bringing him just behind NCIS' $525,000 man Mark Harmon and level with the principal cast of HBO's Game of Thrones. Costner's per-episode payout means that through the first two seasons of Yellowstone (a total of 19 episodes), the actor made about $9.5 million.

That number makes him extremely high-priced talent for a series that doesn't seem to sport the same sort of fandom as a Game of Thrones. But why does he make so much money per episode of Yellowstone

Costner's face is one of the most recognizable in Hollywood, and has been for a few decades now. It seems that legacy status was exactly what Paramount Network brass were counting on when they cast the actor on their flagship original series. When asked by The Hollywood Reporter to justify Costner's mammoth salary for Yellowstone, Paramount Network's programming chief Kevin Kay offered a simple explanation: "The statement we wanted to make was that we're open for business and we're willing to pay top-tier actors whatever their quotes are. It sends a message and that's what we want to do."

Paramount's statement did, in fact, signal to Hollywood that the company was looking to build a new empire with a swing-for-the-fences small-screen mentality. 

Is Kevin Costner worth the big bucks on Yellowstone?

With a gargantuan salary like that, the real question is whether or not Kevin Costner has been worth the investment for Paramount Network. The short answer is a resounding "yes."

In its first two seasons, Yellowstone didn't quite prove itself a critical darling, but the show's enthralling second season helped it become one of the most watched series on cable. More to the point, Yellowstone's increasingly rabid fanbase would tell you that the series simply wouldn't be the same without Costner's distinguished presence. 

That'll come as no surprise to Costner's fans either. Since breaking into Hollywood back in the early '80s, Costner has remained one of the most charismatic screen presences in Tinseltown. The actor (and Oscar-winning director) has shown to be as effective in classic gangster pics (The Untouchables) and sports flicks (Bull DurhamField of Dreams) as he is in historical dramas (JFKThirteen Days), blockbuster fare (Man of Steel), and romantic fables (The Upside of Anger). The actor's chiseled features, easy-going charm, and steely stare also make him a perfect fit for the Western genre — which is what led Lawrence Kasdan to cast a then-fresh-faced Costner as a cocksure young gunslinger in his 1985 Western-Comedy Silverado. (Costner made the most of his Silverado appearance, stealing the show from a group of well-established players like Kevin Cline, Danny Glover, Scott Glenn, and John Cleese — and using his big break as a stepping stone to one of the more storied careers in Hollywood.)

As for his work on Yellowstone, the role of John Dutton is seemingly tailor-made to utilize Costner's old-school cowboy vibe with his modern-day intellect and roguish charm. For his part, Yellowstone co-creator Taylor Sheridan (who also directed nine episodes) seems particularly equipped to make the best use of those characteristics, as crafting incisive "modern day" Westerns (he also wrote Sicario and Hell or High Water) has basically become his calling card. 

With a wealth of talent in front of and behind the camera — and increasingly encouraging viewership numbers to boot — it was an obvious choice for Paramount Network greenlight a third season of the show. Yellowstone season 3 is currently slated to premiere on Paramount Network in June 2020. And yes, fans of the series can rest assured that Kevin Costner will indeed be back in the saddle for the upcoming third season. If Yellowstone continues to deliver the drama and the ratings, it's a safe bet he'll be there for quite a long time.