When Terence Winter first read Taylor Sheridan‘s script for what would become the new series Tulsa King, it had an entirely different name and setting. The series initially took place in Kansas City, MO. but Winter made a few changes upon taking the helm as showrunner. The series needed a more remote location to work with Sheridan’s idea.
Taylor Sheridan initially set ‘Tulsa King’ in Kansas City
When the idea for a new series called Taylor Sheridan, he answered as soon as possible. According to Sheridan’s producing partner David Glasser, it took him less than 24 hours to write the pilot for what would become Tulsa King.
“Taylor starts to spitball the idea of a fish out of water story for an hour,” Glasser told The Hollywood Reporter. “Then, Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m., he goes, ‘Check your inbox.’ There is a script he’s already written called Kansas City King, and it’s incredible.”
Sheridan and Glasser secured the legendary Sylvester Stallone to play the lead. Then they turned their attention to the Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter, who agreed to take the reigns as showrunner for Tulsa King. “Taylor said: ‘It’s your baby, I just have visitation rights,'” Winter remembered to THR.
Terence Winter says Kansas City wasn’t a ‘remote enough’ setting
Terence Winter had some changes to make to Sheridan’s Tulsa King, which initially went under the name Kansas City. Variety announced the series’ original concept:
“The series, set in present day, follows legendary New York City mobster Sal (Stallone), who is faced with the startling task of reestablishing his Italian mafia family to the modernized, straight-shooting town of Kansas City, Missouri.”
However, for the show to be a real fish-out-of-water story, Stallone would need to head somewhere far away from his character’s bustling New York roots, which led the setting to shift from Kansas City to Tulsa.
“It didn’t feel remote enough,” Winter said of Kansas City. “The New Yorker in me started thinking, ‘All right, what sounds like the middle of nowhere?’ I looked at the map, and I’m like, ‘Oklahoma.'”
After 25 years in prison, the show’s protagonist, whose name was changed to Dwight, is sent to Tulsa to establish the mob’s influence. Dwight has a lot to learn about middle America, leaving plenty of room for hilarious mistakes and misunderstandings.
‘Tulsa King’ also changed Dwight’s personality
It’s worth noting that Stallone’s character Dwight also went through some critical changes. “In the original concept, Dwight was a thug,” Stallone revealed to THR.
“A tough, strong-arm guy. His name was like Tony or Sal — that kind of thing. Then we started adding things like: How do you get sentimentality in there? It’s about the journey. It’s the inability to be recognized or taken seriously, or about pride or hope — those kinds of things.”
“This felt like a new way into familiar territory,” Winter added. “The genius of Taylor’s pilot is it’s a marriage of two genres: the Western and the gangster movie.”
Tulsa King premieres Nov. 13 on Paramount+.