Big-budget films attract a lot of people to cinemas, but while the biggest hits cost several hundred dollars to make, they don’t really hold a candle to the amount of money production companies fork over for their TV shows, especially the longer-running ones.
Cast salaries, elaborate costume designs, detailed sets, special effects, exotic shooting locations, and even extensive post-production requirements add up to the expenses. Here are some of the biggest-budget shows on TV, ranked for their budget per episode:
ER, $13 million
One of the longest-running TV shows to date, ER was aired on NBC from 1994 to 2009 and starring A-list actor George Clooney. The American medical drama follows the life of doctors in the emergency room at the fictional County General Hospital in Chicago. The show started with a $1.9 million budget per episode. However, in 2000, it ballooned up to $13 million because NBC had to fork over $10 million per episode to Warner Bros. Television for the rights to continue airing the show for its 2000–2001 season.
Friends, $10 million
Why would a show that takes place mainly in a coffee shop and two apartments—with no need for special effects—cost so much to make? Thanks to its popularity, the six main cast members of the series that ran from 1994–2004 rallied together for fair pay and demanded to get paid $1 million per episode during their later seasons.
What’s amazing, however, is that more than ten years after its final episode aired, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer are still rolling in dough due to the show’s syndication.
Marco Polo, $9 million
The Netflix series aired in 2014, and like any other high-budget period drama, it required a lot of money to make due to the exotic filming locations, large casts, elaborate costumes, and detailed sets. It’s unclear how popular the show is, but it must have gotten a lot of viewers—Netflix renewed it for a second season, which is set to be released in June 2016.
Rome, $9 million
Airing in 2005–2007, the HBO series had its producers wanting to ensure accurate depictions of Rome during the roman times, which led them to shell out a lot of money. The show was well received by critics and viewers; however, they just couldn’t keep up with the amount needed to run it—its budget became its downfall.
Camelot, $7 million
Not a lot of people even heard of the show, but the single season it ran on the Starz network in 2011 was enough to make it on the list of most expensive shows in television. The $7 million budget was pretty steep for a show that didn’t really click, though, so it got cancelled right after its first season finished. It probably didn’t help that it premiered roughly around the same time as HBO’s Game of Thrones either.
Game of Thrones, $6 million
Speaking of, HBO’s show costs $1 million less to produce than Camelot, but it definitely has a lot more people tuning in. The huge budget is, as always, due to set and costume design, but it’s also because of their filming locations—the show is filmed in a studio, as well as on-location in Croatia, Iceland, Malta, Morocco, Northern Ireland, Spain, Scotland, and the United States. Oh, and if you haven’t caught the latest episode yet, here’s a tip: prepare some tissues.
Boardwalk Empire, $5 million
This show is no exception to the massive budgets HBO has for its shows. The pilot cost $18 million, but fortunately, that wasn’t the price they had to pay for every episode during its five-season run. It’s still no joke, though. Each episode costs $5 million to tell the story of Nucky Thompson, a bootlegger and part politician, part gangster, and ruler of Atlantic City.
But what about other well-received shows that gained a lot of audiences during their run? Among the expensive shows to make include Lost and Fringe, which cost $4 million per episode, Breaking Bad for $3.5 million per episode, and The Walking Dead for $2.75 million per episode.
The last one was a bit surprising, considering the popularity of the show, but the simplistic filming locations cut them a lot of slack—they film mostly in woods and abandoned buildings in Atlanta, Georgia, anyway.