It’s absolutely incredible to look at the many ways in which the medium of television has grown and evolved in what’s really not that long of a period of time. The increasing totals at the box office and the more and more films that rake in a billion dollars get a lot of attention, but television continues to be the place where audiences and actors are going for truly innovative storytelling. There has been a lot of talk over the past few years about the “Golden Age” that television has recently entered and while that’s very much true, it’s also been a gradual progression that still continues to grow. Television continues to find new ways to explode and surprise viewers, and it’s the reason that newcomers like Apple are trying to get into this game. It’s where the future—and the money—is headed.
Viewers have seen the ways that television has creatively grown over the past decade, but that shift often means that more money is needed to bring production to this next level of quality. An insane budget isn’t fundamental to tell a good story, but acclaimed storytellers continue to be rewarded with increasingly staggering budgets to bring their dreams to life. Accordingly, Here Are The 30 Most Expensive TV Shows Ever Made (And How Much They Cost)!
30 Fringe ($4 Million Per Episode)
Fringe was an ambitious serialized mystery show that never became a ratings smash on FOX, but still had enough of a loyal audience that it was able to finish its story over the course of a five-year run. Fringe very much feels like The X-Files for a new generation, but the show would in many ways surpass its predecessor in terms of how it expertly pairs together its cases of the week with the show’s larger mythology.
Fringe tells a story that continues to grow in its scope and spans multiple dimensions. All of this wasn’t cheap and each episode cost about $4 million to produce, but the show’s feature-length pilot cost $10 million.
29 Lost ($4 Million Per Episode)
Television shows like the previous entry wouldn’t have been possible without the runaway success of ABC’s Lost. There were certainly many other serialized, mysterious programs before Lost came along, but this show and its addictive structure turned into a phenomenon. Whether you think Lost stuck the landing with its ending or not, there's no denying that it grabbed the public; but part of what helped make this possible was the show’s generous budget.
Each episode of Lost approximately cost $4 million and the show’s pilot cost somewhere between $10 and $14 million, which included the purchase and shipping of a decommissioned airliner for plane wreckage.
28 Hemlock Grove ($4 Million Per Episode)
Horror used to be a fairly niche genre for television to tackle, but it’s recently turned into an insanely popular trend for the medium and every network wants to be a part of this craze. Netflix’s big foray into horror was Hemlock Grove, a messy mélange of the supernatural with a pilot directed by Eli Roth.
A ten-episode season cost $40 million to produce, but the show’s first year was given $50 million for thirteen episodes. The series ultimately proved to not be worth its expensive price tag and Netflix pulled the plug. Viewers would have to find moody werewolves elsewhere.
27 Deadwood ($4.5 Million Per Episode)
Deadwood is known for being one of HBO’s big prestige dramas from the old regime. The show was set all the way back in 1876 and it’s understandably a whole lot more expensive to accurately recreate that atmosphere than say a modern New York City apartment or office building.
All of the copious set decoration, costuming, and even production details like the horses that would be needed all add up. Episodes of Deadwood cost a minimum of $4.5 million, which wasn’t that extravagant for a show of its nature, but still an expensive purchase for HBO. After three seasons, they decided the cost was no longer worth it.
26 Once Upon A Time ($4.5 Million Per Episode)
Any period piece is certainly going to turn into an expensive operation for the attention to detail alone, but the same thing is also true for series that skew in the entirely different direction and embrace high fantasy. For instance, ABC’s Once Upon A Time is a mash-up of many fairy tale and Disney classics that’s largely set in a fantastical kingdom. So sure, period-specific cars cost a lot, but so do magical special effects and creatures.
Once Upon A Time may fly under the radar a lot of the time, but it costs $4.5 million per episode to bring this outlandish world to life.
25 House Of Cards (Upwards Of $4.5 Million Per Episode)
When it comes to expensive television shows, sometimes the money is all on the screen in terms of production design or effects, but there are also occasions where the expenses are much more about the people that are involved in the show. House of Cards is a political thriller that looks at a twisted view of the presidency and there’s nothing about this series that screams expensive, yet each episode costs $4.5 million and that numbers only increased through the show’s run.
In the case of House of Cards, much of this budget goes to the “A-list” actors, like Kevin Spacey, in order to lock them into doing the show.
24 American Crime Story ($6.5 Million Per Episode)
Ryan Murphy knows how to put on a good show, but a lot of the time that means that his sensationalist series cost more than the other dramas on the network. Murphy definitely has a “kitchen sink” mentality to his series where he throws in as much as possible. This sensibility paired with the large, impressive casts that star in his shows means that often it requires a lot of money to make these shows possible.
The first season of Murphy’s American Crime Story cost $6.5 million per episode, which comes down to the period-specific elements that they successfully recreated as well as the involvement of actors like Cuba Gooding Jr. and John Travolta.
23 The Tick ($5 Million Per Half Hour Episode)
Ben Edlund’s The Tick has seen a surprisingly eventful life on television in spite of how it started off as a niche comic property. The Tick is a smart, irreverent satire of the superhero genre that was poking fun at comic book heroes long ahead of the curve. Amazon’s live-action take on the series is the third iteration of the show to be on TV, but it also feels the most mature of the lot.
The Tick presents a heightened version of the world with ridiculous super-powered characters and it tries to make it all look as authentic as possible. That’s evidently not cheap, as each half-hour episode of The Tick costs $5 million.
22 Boardwalk Empire ($5 Million Per Episode)
Crime shows are typically expensive endeavors. It costs a lot to have the proper amount of expendable bodies and artillery to make these turf wars feel authentic. Boardwalk Empire is like if you took a show as explosive as The Sopranos and then set it through the 1920s and ‘30s. Steve Buscemi leads this vehicle that looks at the criminal underworld of Atlantic City during Prohibition and it was a particularly costly enterprise
Each episode of Boardwalk Empire cost $5 million, but the show’s pilot racked up a whopping price tag of $18 million.
21 Frasier ($5.2 Million Per Episode)
Most of the series that have been featured on this list are dramas because they largely tend to be the type of shows that lend themselves to more expensive stories. Obviously that doesn’t mean that sitcoms can’t be expensive, but NBC’s Frasier is a particularly interesting case. The show had built up its reputations for over eleven seasons and this was already after Kelsey Grammer had played his titular character on Cheers for another eleven seasons.
By the final season of Frasier, each episode cost about $5.2 million, but this was mostly due to Grammer’s payday of $1.6 million per episode and the rest of the cast not making that much different.
20 Altered Carbon ($7 Million Per Episode)
Altered Carbon is a flashy cyberpunk noir thriller on Netflix that presents a very expensive looking version of the future. This feels like Blade Runner in television from in many ways and viewers are bombarded with technological advancements and high tech glimpses of the future. Altered Carbon presents constant eye candy and the show’s relentless look costs the high price of $7 million an episode.
Altered Carbon doesn’t just have to cater to its aesthetic of the future, but there’s also a dangerous murder mystery and risky uprisings, all which require a lot of effort to generate the proper gravitas.
19 The Defenders ($8 Million Per Episode)
The Defenders was supposed to be the grand culmination of the first phase of Marvel’s connected universe on Netflix, but it mostly came with a whimper. This effort involved with this crossover was appreciated, but it’s safe to say that it’s no Avengers.
The majority of Marvel’s Netflix properties, like Daredevil or Jessica Jones, were given $40 million for a season, which breaks down to a little over $3 million per episode. However, The Defenders is only a season of eight episodes, which means that this crossover miniseries works out to around $8 million for each installment, putting it above the other series.
18 Camelot ($7 Million Per Episode)
A lot of the series that the Starz network decides to produce really shoot for the moon and, as a result, the majority of these titles burn bright, but often burn out fast. Camelot was only one of Starz’ more ambitious efforts that set out to tell the enchanted story of King Arthur and Merlin. Since shows like Game of Thrones can mix fantasy and military tactics and find popularity, it’s easy to understand what Camelot is going for, but the story of King Arthur is apparently a hard one to connect to.
Each episode of Camelot cost $7 million and Starz decided to only produce one season of ten episodes.
17 The Alienist ($7.5 Million Per Episode)
The true crime wave has fully latched onto to television at this point and TNT’s The Alienist ambitiously mixed together the best elements of a true crime series with a prestige period drama. The series features an electric cast and an infectious storyline that re-invents the police procedural by taking it back to its roots in many ways.
The show is set in 1890s Manhattan and the show painstakingly recreates this era. Each episode of the well-reviewed series cost $7.5 million to produce, with much of that going to the excessive special effects, set decoration, and costuming to properly hearken the audience back to this older century.
16 Vinyl ($7.5 Million Per Episode)
One of the biggest financial and creative letdowns on HBO in recent years, Vinyl started with tons of goodwill behind it, but it could just never rise to the potential of its premise. The series set out to tell the raw, gritty story of rock and roll and the music industry in 1970s New York City, but all it did was create a lot of excess.
The series very famously had a budget of $100 million for its ten-episode season. However, the Martin Scorsese-directed pilot cost around $30 million, which means that the rest of the episodes were still costing at least $7.5 million apiece. Vinyl never made it past its problematic first season.
15 Stranger Things (Upwards Of $8 Million Per Episode)
Stranger Things hit the scene as a cult hit of sorts, but now sits as one of Netflix’s most esteemed and anticipated programs. The show does something kind of incredible in the way that it cleverly offers up pieces from many different genres in order to create a vehicle that appeals to as wide an audience as possible
Stranger Things mixes a coming of age story with mad scientists and demonic monsters in the best way possible. Season one’s budget allowed for $6 million an episode, but this total has risen to $8 million an episode in the show’s second season, and continues to grow in order to tap into this 1980s version of Americana.
14 Jack Ryan ($8 Million Per Episode)
A lot of people scoffed when John Krasinski was announced as the next actor to step in the shoes of action hero, Jack Ryan, but many people did the same thing when he said that he was going to write and direct a horror film, and look how that turned out. Amazon’s Jack Ryan doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s a splashy, explosive action series that connected with enough people to warrant a renewal for more episodes.
Amazon continues to try to prove that they’re one of the big guys and so the action set pieces in Jack Ryan are allowed a budget of $8 million an episode.
13 Sense8 ($9 Million Per Episode)
Sense8 had a small, but loyal, fan base who made a lot of noise for the show when it was prematurely cancelled after its second season on Netflix. The Wachowskis are known for putting together extremely ambitious projects that try to push the medium in new and exciting ways. Sense8 didn’t connect with everyone, but those that liked it, really liked it, and they at least earned themselves a goodbye special to wrap things up.
Part of the problem with Sense8 is that this crazy experiment cost $9 million per episode, which eventually proved to be too much for Netflix.
12 The Big Bang Theory ($9 Million Per Episode)
Against all odds, Chuck Lorre’s The Big Bang Theory has grown into one of the most popular sitcoms of all time. When the series eventually ends, the show’s numbers for the finale may even verge on a total that’s comparable to what the final episode of Seinfeld and Friends brought in. As this simple comedy reached more and more people, the show’s cast went through some public contract negotiations where they’ve become one of the highest paid casts for any sitcom.
Accordingly, the show’s budget has ballooned to at least $9 million an episode because each cast member receives between $750,000 and $1 million for each episode, and then there are of course other expenses.
11 Westworld ($10 Million Per Episode)
Westworld experienced a bit of a rocky start. The highly anticipated series from Jonathan Nolan went through some retooling and a shut down in production during its infancy, but the pilot turned out to be extremely worthwhile as it’s become one of HBO’s heaviest hitters.
The genre blending series has an expansive cast and an even larger playground to tell its stories, but those things aren’t cheap. The show’s entire first season cost $100 million to produce, which means each episode came in between $8 and $10 million each, with a more extravagant pilot that cost $25 million. As the show has gone on, these numbers have only increased.
10 Marco Polo ($9 Million Per Episode)
Marco Polo went into production during a time when Netflix was feeling a little invincible and they thought that even some of their riskier investments would still pay off in the end. Marco Polo presents a romantic idea, but one that just wasn’t exciting enough for many people, especially when the streaming service provides so many alternatives.
The giant series was one of the most expensive for its time as it attempted to accurately depict Kublai Khan and his warring empire. Each episode cost $9 million, but in the end its two seasons accrued a loss of nearly $200 million for Netflix.
9 Rome ($9 Million Per Episode)
When people are pitching television series that are set back during ancient historic periods, they need to be extremely confident in their story because these are often the most expensive shows to produce and therefore often the most likely to get axed. HBO’s Rome struck a chord with a lot of people as it brutally depicted the times of Julius Caesar and beyond.
It wasn’t an easy decision for HBO to make, but because the show cost $9 million an episode, it was cancelled after two powerful seasons. Even still, Rome gets a lot done in this short time and is a testament to not trying to tell too long of a story.
8 Friends ($10 Million Per Episode)
Friends grew to such a level of popularity that its cast didn’t even initially want to do the show’s final, tenth season, but were coaxed back with unwieldy sums of money. Friends was the most popular sitcom on television during the end of its run and NBC was eager to keep the show on the air until they had a suitable replacement for it.
By Friends’ tenth season, each of the show’s six cast members were making $1 million an episode, which led to each episode costing around $10 million to produce. This is bonkers for a sitcom, and it even cost NBC money during its final season, but people needed more Friends.
7 The Get Down (Between $11 And $16 Million Per Episode)
The risky thing about working with “creative geniuses” and auteurs is that sometimes their experiments pay off, but other times it results in a messy disaster. Netflix was quite happy to recruit Baz Luhrmann to their service to craft his own series. Luhrmann decided to tell a musically fueled series that looks at the birth of hip-hop in 1970s New York, but his vision for this continued to grow in size and comes to odds with Netflix.
At first episodes were costing $11 million each, but some were reportedly a lot closer to $16 million. Production had to stop and re-examine the series, with a cancellation following down the road.
6 Band Of Brothers ($12.5 Million Per Episode)
Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks’ war drama for HBO, Band of Brothers, was wildly successful for the network and it practically reinvigorated the idea of strong, condensed miniseries. Any war drama that wants to come across as legitimate is going to need to spend a lot of money, but the dream team of Spielberg and Hanks obviously have a lot of clout behind their names and want to do this project right.
HBO allowed their team $12.5 million an episode, which went to the countless expenses for the production, like the production’s gigantic cast and the fact that they were shooting in Europe.
5 The Pacific ($20 Million Per Episode)
Curiously, HBO’s The Pacific was very much meant to act as a companion piece to Band of Brothers, even though it came out nearly a decade later. Both miniseries are set during the same time-frame, but The Pacific focuses on Marines from different regiments of the 1st Marine Division instead of looking at men from Easy Company working their way through the European Theater.
The Pacific is grandiose in all of the same ways that its predecessor is, but this goes even further. Each episode cost an unruly $20 million, bringing the entire season of ten to a budget of $200 million.
4 ER ($13 Million Per Episode)
ER kind of gets overshadowed now because there are just so many television shows out there and even the medical drama genre has gotten saturated to a certain degree. Back in the ‘90s, ER was really one of a kind and its gripping medical stories were incredibly addictive and unlike anything else on television. It was such a big show that Quentin Tarantino even had to direct an episode.
Unsurprisingly, during the peak of the show’s height when George Clooney was still on board, each episode of ER came in $13 million, which is even crazier for the time period.
3 The Crown ($13 Million Per Episode)
If you’re going to depict the royal family and their lives and habits on television, then you absolutely can’t skimp when it comes to budget. That doesn’t mean that you’ll always get as luxurious of a budget as necessary, but it certainly helps when your series is a bona fide success, as is the case with The Crown and its companion series.
The Crown is not only a costume period drama, but also one that features incredibly fancy individuals. Add to that an impressive cast and some truly outstanding locations and it’s easy to see how each episode of this series costs a massive $13 million.
2 Lord Of The Rings (Could Be $20 Million Per Episode)
Okay granted, Amazon’s expensive television series set within the universe of Lord of the Rings isn’t actually on television yet, but the deal that went through over this show was so vocal that it deserves attention because it sets a new precedent. Amazon apparently paid $750 million for the five-season series and were willing to pay $250 million for the rights to the franchise alone. This all works out to around $20 million an episode, if these turn out to be ten-episode seasons.
This is technically higher than Game of Thrones’ budget and so it should be number one on here, but let’s see if they can actually make this show happen, first.
1 Game Of Thrones ($15 Million Per Episode)
It doesn’t get much bigger than Game of Thrones. Even during the show’s earliest seasons it still had an exorbitant budget, but now that the show’s popularity has reached unhealthy levels, the show nearly has carte blanche. The show has turned into such an event that the truncated final season is basically a bunch of movies!
In order for Game of Thrones to pull off all of its mayhem, each episode cost more than $10 million to produce during the show’s sixth season. In the show’s final year, their budget is the same, but there are fewer episodes. This means that there’s even more money for each one, so it’s probably around $15 million now.
These are the most expensive television shows that we came across, but are there any other extremely costly productions that deserve some attention? Now’s your chance to sound off in the comments below!