With new original series, remakes of classics, and spin-offs being released every other day, some may say we are in the golden age of television. And with streaming platforms and channels betting on them so much, it isn’t surprising that some of these top TV shows are more expensive than the most priciest blockbusters!
To put things in perspective, here is a list of the most expensive TV shows to date – including their budget per episode, from least to most costly.
27. Mad Men – $3-4 Million per Episode
Mad Men was one of the biggest TV shows from 2007 to 2015 and it comes as no surprise that this series, set in 1960s New York, has one of the biggest budgets of its time. With impressive, colorful and historically accurate set designs and outfits, the show ranks amongst the best “period” show to date, not only thanks to its perfect attention to detail and charming retro aesthetics, but also for its stellar cast and top-notch dialogue and intrigues.
26. Lost – $3-4 Million per Episode
Lost was one of the big hits of the mid-2000s thanks to its insane twists and turns, and its many characters and exciting interwoven plotlines. Bearing in mind that the series mostly takes place on an island, and the casting is huge and star-studded, it’s not difficult to imagine how the numbers were so out of this world. But, true fans will argue that it was worth every penny!
25. Terra Nova – $4 Million per Episode
Terra Nova was Fox’s big bet back in 2012, with $14 million invested in the pilot, alone! There were clearly high hopes placed in this sci-fi show which was about human-kind trying to save itself from extinction by returning to the prehistoric age. Unfortunately, the sky-high special effects (as we said, there were dinosaurs involved) did not erase the fact that the audience’s interest was way too small to make up for blockbuster-type expectations. Dinosaurs, man!
24. Fringe – $4 Million per Episode
It doesn’t come as a shock knowing that sci-fi shows make the top of this list. They are the most demanding in terms of special effects, set design and costumes, after all. Fringe is no exception to the alien rule. The Fox drama about paranormal occurrences and parallel worlds was not Star Trek-level of sci-fi, but it had its dose of alien-like creatures and scientific experiments gone awry, which explains why it couldn’t be cheap.
23. True Detective – $4-4.5 Million per Episode
True Detective might seem like any other procedural drama out there, but this anthology series has one of the most impeccable set designs to date. Add to that astonishing A-Listers at every turn, such as Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelsson, Mahershalla Ali and Colin Farrell – it becomes understandable why this moody series about gritty murders and grittier secrets is pricey.
22. Deadwood – $4.5 Million per Episode
Another world more demanding than the prehistoric age: the Wild West. Deadwood is a highly underrated show about cowboys living in a lawless town, which naturally demanded the following – historically accurate costumes, accessories and props, as well as horses, which fortunately didn’t have to be historically accurate, but still had to be trained. Given all this, we can’t believe the budget wasn’t even bigger!
21. Once Upon A Time – $4.5 Million per Episode
This cute ABC show about fairytale protagonists meeting the modern characters of a small American town, was as expensive as anything Disney has written under it. Magical special effects, enchanting costumes, and two “worlds” to design (modern Storybrooke and the world of fairytales) meant that the cost would only be astronomical.
20. House of Cards – $4.5 Million per Episode
A television show that replicates The White House wouldn’t cost peanuts, right? Add this to the fact that the original Netflix show gained huge momentum in recent years (until the whole Kevin Spacey thing, of course) — meaning the actors’ paycheck gained some zeros. It’s very likely that the budget has gotten much bigger since then, though the updated numbers are kept private.
19. Boardwalk Empire – $5 Million per Episode
Once again, historical reconstruction is no easy business, but the team behind Boardwalk Empire saw that challenge and came through! This award-winning series set during the Prohibition Era in Atlantic City is so beautiful to look at, it will hurt your eyes – from fantastic shiny costumes, expensive accessories galore, and breathtaking decors. Let’s not forget that the crew built a 300-foot-long boardwalk in Brooklyn for $5 million dollars, so you know… dedication!
18. True Blood – $5 Million per Episode
We all remember the era, not so long ago, when vampires ran rampant on our television screens (AKA Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight, The Vampire Diaries). Well True Blood was born in that era, too, and this sexy/violent show about Louisiana vampires had a cost so stupendous, it’s difficult to believe. That being said, the series did have a LOT of fake blood to contend with, varied locations, actors with increasing paychecks, and gory supernatural scenes that could only demand good investment.
17. Frasier – $5.2 Million per Episode
Given that this television show started in 1993, way before the post-Breaking Bad ‘golden age of television’, it’s difficult to imagine how a simple sitcom could cost so much. But, looking at its huge success and cast of stars (especially Kelsey Grammer who was probably a big part of that high budget), we kind of get it.
16. Altered Carbon – $7 Million per Episode
When it’s not dinosaurs, it’s futuristic cities.This sci-fi show, set in a world where people can download their consciousness into different bodies is as expensive as it sounds. Most of the set designs in Altered Carbon are CGI, and if not, it all still looks costly as a fabergé egg. Not to mention, the action scenes and hefty violence. The show has done quite well, but we do hope Netflix knows that money can’t reincarnate.
15. The Alienist – $7 Million per Episode
You’ve got the hint by now – period shows are expensive, and here we have The Alienist – a perfect example of a show that really succeeded in reproducing the New York of the Gilded Age. This psychological thriller, dealing with pretty gory stuff and gritty themes is costly because it had to be, and we’re glad to see that its success seems to have matched its efforts!
14. Camelot – $7 Million per Episode
Every now and then, a network really believes in a show and realizes that, just like dating, making good television isn’t just about good looks. Camelot was this huge Starz show that tried its luck at the Arthurian Legend, and needless to say that the Game of Thrones level of involvement in beautiful set designs and fantasy aesthetics were not compelling enough since the series was cancelled after only 10 episodes. Everyone together now- “what a waste of money”.
13. Stranger Things – $8 Million per Episode
Since its release in 2016, we’ve not had to introduce this hit Netflix show – it’s that huge. It doesn’t take a scientist to know that the budget for this 1980s revival series is as big and menacing as The Upside Down. Though the third season’s numbers aren’t out, the second season of Stranger Things is said to have cost around $8 million per episode. An understandable number since in this show’s case, we’ve got ‘historical’ reconstruction PLUS big monsters, superpowers and fight scenes. Not to mention the royalty fees paid for using all of those 80s songs.
12. Sense 8 – $9 Million per Episode
At first sight, this heartwarming sci-fi show about strangers connecting with one another despite living in different parts of the globe, might seem like soft sci-fi material, but here’s the thing – the creators were so dedicated, that most of the locations were the actual places they were supposed to depict. This meant that a lot of filming permits had to be obtained and the actors had to travel a whole lot. Money, money, money.
11. Marco Polo – $9 Million per Episode
Another victim of the ‘good looks aren’t everything’ curse – this heavily dramatized and ambitious, blockbuster-type, take on Marco Polo’s life had the recipe for glory, but its ambitions, its gorgeous medieval costumes and overall perfect cinematography, were rapidly drowned by the average success of the programme.
10. Rome – $9 Million per Episode
Ancient Rome is a risky bet, but Rome did quite well despite its overly expensive sets and costumes. A strong intrigue and talented actors were enough to compel viewers for two seasons, and although this might not seem like much, it’s still a win for any show with such an enormous budget and high stakes.
9. Big Bang Theory – $9 Million per Episode
Another sitcom, another Friends phenomenon. The more a sitcom succeeds in making you laugh your head off, the more expensive its stars get. Then you have the royalty fee that had to be paid for the theme song, and the guest stars… in short, this series was very close to beating Friends, but it ended just before hitting that jackpot. You can’t beat a God.
8. Westworld – $10 Million per Episode
We’ve already established that cowboys, their trained horses, and their saloons are expensive. Now add robots and fake high-tech engineering material into the mix, and you get Westworld, a big, bold HBO drama that had about all the challenges a television show could face – history, sic-fi, action scenes galore, and many A-listers. And yet, the series has returned for a second season and is getting ready for its third! Yeehaw indeed.
7. Friends – $10 million per Episode
Also called ‘The One in Which The Actors Get Paid Enough for Their Descendants To Never Have to Work a Day In Their Life’. Friends is the biggest sitcom of all time, and it makes absolute sense. This hilarious, yet simple series about a bunch of friends living in New York and dealing with the ups and downs of being an adult, had a ten-year run and never lost steam. The actors earned circa $1 million each for every 25 minutes of screentime towards the final season.
6. The Get Down – $11 Million per Episode
This series, about a group of kids navigating New York in the 1970s while hip-hop was rising should have been a hit, but although it was well-received by the critics and audience, the heavy cost of costumes, production design and music, made it a much too risky endeavor for a still-emerging streaming platform.
5. Band of Brothers – $12 Million per Episode
Set during World War II, this TV series is as costly as any war show should be. Reproducing combat and war gear, plus having soldiers walk around in a believable war setting is no easy task. And yet, this mini-series of 10 episodes achieved it all pretty well with just a few missteps. Sometimes, the shortest series are worth investing in!
4. ER- $13 Million per Episode
Before Grey’s Anatomy, there was ER, an expensive television show about nurses and doctors saving lives in a Chicago ER. The cost of replicating a hospital and life-and-death scenarios is, wait for it… $13 million per episode. It’s insane, but we also have to think about the fact that the show gained fame, and its biggest actors’ paychecks, including George Clooney’s, eventually made up a lot of the financial demands of the show.
3. The Crown – $13 Million per Episode
Almost stealing the crown as the most expensive TV show is Netflix’s royal biopic hit. The Crown is essentially a maddeningly accurate reproduction of the Queen’s young life, and as you guessed, the usual necessary efforts are involved – costumes, jewelry (so much jewelry), old cars, making London look it travelled back to the 60s… etc, you name it. In short, The Crown is television at its finest, and the show’s talented actors and well-written storylines justify the means.
2. Game of Thrones – $15 Million per Episode
The indisputable king of this list, Game of Thrones is an absolute giant in the television landscape, with one-hour episodes that looked more like mini high-quality blockbusters than small screen material. Before the final season, each episode had a high budget of $6 million (on average), but the latest series pulled the cost right up to $15 per episode! Now that the show has ended, HBO can finally breathe because it’s unlikely they’ll need to throw that much money into production cost for a while. That being said, we can all agree that investing so much in creating the perfect fantasy world, adding in some dragons and zombies, was a hundred times worth it.
1. The Mandalorian – $15 Million per Episode
With Game of Thrones done and dusted (until its prequel shows return, of course), it looks as though other series are here to steal the big-budget limelight. The latest to do so is the Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, which is believed to cost a whopping $15 million per episode as of its first season. With such a hefty price tag, the Disney Plus streaming platform clearly had a lot of faith in this series. Hardly risky, considering it’s a Star Wars project. Oh, and it featured the adorable, viral sensation, baby Yoda.
So, here you have it, The Mandalorian is officially the most expensive TV series ever made, with the biggest budget per episode – for now, that is!
This list might seem big, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg, since new series are constantly coming out and beating records one after the other. We won’t complain though, and we invite you to sit back with us and wait for what’s to come!
What show in this list shocked you the most? Let us know in the comment section below!