50 Most Expensive TV Shows + Budget Per Episode

most expensive tv shows

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 ever made – including their budget per episode, from least to most costly.

50. Spartacus

Per Episode: $2 Million

Source: Hollywood Reporter

For a show set in Ancient Rome which boasts gorgeous costumes, bloody battles and lavish props and parties, a budget of $2 million may sound pretty tame to today’s audience. Yet, that sum was huge at the time when Spartacus first aired 10 years ago. With every episode’s strong script, phenomenal fight scenes, and fantastic actors, it’s safe to say the show did pretty well in terms of budget. Apparently, filming in New Zealand helped subsidize production costs, tremendously! 

49. Narcos

Per Episode: $2.5 Million

Source: Screenrant

The first season of Narcos is said to have cost Netflix around $25 million in total, and we can imagine that the hefty price tag remained considering the success of its next four seasons (including Narcos: Mexico). Set in Columbia and following the chronicles of legendary drug lord Pablo Escobar, this TV show had to authentically capture the essence of this era in the 1980s. Period costumes, well-known actors and costly filming locations probably amount to the large budget of this series.

48. The Walking Dead

Per Episode: $2.75 Million

Source: Forbes

One word – zombies. Since most of The Walking Dead’s intrigue unfolds without much need for CGI or costly locations, most of the budget generally goes into the prosthetics and makeup needed for the walker team. Not to mention the training that goes into becoming a walker. Just like the other actors need to learn their lines, the walker actors must rehearse zombie movements at “zombie school” before appearing on screen. Yes, you’ve read that right. While the first season had a budget of $3.4 million per episode, AMC had to cut costs to $2.75 million for the subsequent seasons. Other than walker costs, let’s not forget the paychecks of the enormous and increasingly popular ensemble cast – Andrew Lincoln was making approximately $1.6 million per season! 

47. Daredevil

Per Episode: $3.3 Million

Source: Digital Trends

Like any show that requires a vigilante to regularly beat up baddies, Daredevil needed a solid budget to make sure stunts and action scenes looked badass and believable. With an approximate $40 million budget per series, Netflix apparently paid a lot towards having rights to the story and its pricey setting. Across its three seasons, the show garnered a loyal fanbase that proved Marvel doesn’t necessarily need the big screen to impress. 

46. Breaking Bad

Per Episode: $3.5 Million 

Source: Variety

This one shouldn’t surprise a soul as Breaking Bad is now considered one of the best shows of the last two decades. With gripping intrigues, terrific characters and unforgettable dialogue, the showrunners put out all the stops for several years to baffle viewers, and it worked. And of course, as the show’s popularity grew, so did the salaries of its two main actors, Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul. Before the final season, every episode cost around $3 million (higher than the average cost for a basic cable show), but naturally, the budget went up a notch before they drew the curtain. Thankfully, filming in New Mexico had financial benefits for the show.

RELATED:
20 Epic ‘Breaking Bad’ Facts You Never Knew

45. Mad Men

Per Episode: $3-4 Million

Source: Hollywood Reporter

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.

44. Lost (tie)

Per Episode: $3-4 Million

Source: Screenrant

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!

43. Terra Nova

Per Episode: $4 Million

Source: Deadline

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 (dinosaurs included) did not erase the fact that the audience’s interest was way too small to make up for blockbuster-type expectations. Dinosaurs, man!

42. Fringe (tie)

Per Episode: $4 Million

Source: Screenrant

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.

41. Hemlock Grove (tie)

Per Episode: $4 Million

Source: Cheatsheet

Although this show about vampires and werewolves living in a small town didn’t exactly make waves despite Netflix’s ardent promotion, its budget is still one of the priciest of its era. Like most series with mythical creatures who live in a supernatural world, makeup and practical effects are part of the reason why the budget had to be so generous. Turns out, it wasn’t worth the money, because it got cancelled. 

40. Orange is the New Black (tie)

Per Episode: $4 Million

Source: The Tab

Praised for its humanizing portrayal of prisoners, Orange is the New Black was expensive for a couple of reasons. First, the intrigue followed about a dozen main characters each season, which can only mean that the salaries were not on the cheaper side. Second, it also required countless extras to play other inmates as well as the staff. Not to mention the efforts needed to make the set look like a minimum security prison and the fact that it ran for seven whole seasons. 

39. Vikings (tie)

Per Episode: $4 Million

Source: The Wonderlist

Like any historical show, Vikings required a hefty budget to make the incredible costumes, weapons, and makeup as stunning and historically accurate as possible. The budget also went into finding breathtaking, isolated natural locations that the real Vikings would have found themselves in. Also included in the costs were those epic battle scenes – and they don’t come cheap! 

38. True Detective

Per Episode: $4-4.5 Million

Source: Showsnob

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 Harrelson, Mahershala Ali and Colin Farrell – it becomes understandable why this moody series about gritty murders and grittier secrets is pricey.

37. Deadwood (tie)

Per Episode: $4.5 Million

Source: What Culture

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!

36. Once Upon A Time (tie)

Per Episode: $4.5 Million

Source: Screenrant

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.

35. House of Cards (tie)

Per Episode: $4.5 Million

Source: Digital Trends

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.

34. The Tick

Per Episode: $5 Million

Source: Showsnob

The colossal investment of this Amazon Prime series certainly didn’t make a strong impact on viewers, as it only lasted two seasons. The story of a blue science-fiction superhero alongside his sidekick accountant reportedly required pricey visual effects and expensive New York City shooting locations that clearly weren’t worth the price after its two-season-run.

33. Boardwalk Empire (tie)

Per Episode: $5 Million

Source: WSJ

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!

32. True Blood (tie)

Per Episode: $5 Million

Source: Ninja Journalist

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.

31. Frasier

Per Episode: $5.2 Million

Source: Ninja Journalist

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.

30. World Without End

Per Episode: $5.7 Million

Source: The Wonderlist

You get it by now, showrunners who decide to try their hand at history need to make sure they have a large-enough budget. The cost needs to cover costumes, makeup and awe-inspiring sets that such stories inevitably require, especially when it needs to remain consistently authentic for 8 hours of runtime. And between huge medieval sets and countless extras, it’s no wonder this mini-series adapted from Ken Follet’s eponymous best-seller required that many zeros. 

29. The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story

Per Episode: $6.5 Million

Source: Screencrush

Recounting the famous trial of O.J. Simpson was no easy task, but American Crime Story did it exceptionally well. Respectfully so, thanks to a large budget that mainly went into the salaries of the extremely bankable set of lead actors (Sarah Paulson, John Travolta, Cuba Gooding Jr, David Schwimmer), as well as some perfectly accurate 90s outfits. Not to mention that infamous car chase scene.

28. Altered Carbon

Per Episode: $7 Million

Source: Hollywood Reporter

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. Turns out, Netflix discovered that money can’t reincarnate, because the show was cancelled after two seasons.

27. The Alienist (tie)

Per Episode: $7 Million

Source: Variety

You get it – 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!

26. Camelot (tie)

Per Episode: $7 Million

Source: WSJ

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 a huge Starz show that tried its luck at the Arthurian Legend. Needless to say that the Game of Thrones level of involvement in beautiful set designs and fantasy aesthetics were not compelling enough, as the series was cancelled after only 10 episodes. Everyone together now – “what a waste of money”.

25. Bridgerton (tie)

Per Episode: $7 Million

Source: The Sun

With a plot that follows the rich lifestyle of a powerful family during the Regency era, it comes as no surprise that Bridgerton is an expensive TV show to produce. Big-budget costumes, locations and actors like Julie Andrews surely cost an arm and a leg, while trying to recapture the essence of the novels it is based on is undeniably costly. Let’s not forget Grey’s Anatomy co-creator Shonda Rhimes serves as executive producer and orchestral versions of pop hits by the likes of Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish are used!

24. Vinyl

Per Episode: $7.5 Million

Source: Stacker

Reproducing the colorful music scene of the 1970s is a mammoth task because there is a fine line between authenticity and parody. But Vinyl knew how to channel these 7.5 million dollars into the right areas, aka the costume, hair and makeup department, as well as actor, set and soundtrack costs. Even with a pilot episode costing $30 million alone, unfortunately, the ambitious HBO show did not attract enough eyeballs to get a second season. No matter how gorgeous a set is, the plot also has to follow through. 

23. Bloodline

Per Episode: $7-8 Million

Source: Vulture

A regular old family drama story with hints of thriller may sound like an affordable series to create, but in fact, the show leaned more on the expensive side. An expensive location in Florida Keys as well as its recognizable casting may be the reason for the high budget of this series. Bloodline also got cancelled after three seasons, possibly due to its overpriced cost.

22. Stranger Things

Per Episode: $8 Million

Source: NY Post

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. The second season of Stranger Things alone 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.

READ ALSO:
15 Best ‘Stranger Things’ Scenes Ever

21. Jack Ryan (tie)

Per Episode: $8 Million

Source: QZ

Shows that involve the military or any kind of espionage are among the most expensive ones for obvious reasons – stunts and locations. Jack Ryan is no exception. To allow John Krasinski to shine in the title role, a CIA analyst who hunts terrorists across Europe and the Middle East, the showrunners had to make sure that practical effects and action scenes were done right, which means these 8 million dollars were an absolute necessity. 

20. The Defenders (tie)

Per Episode: $8 Million

Source: Screenrant

Reuniting four different Marvel heroes in one show can only be on the pricey side. Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Luke Cage and Iron Fist each had their own television shows prior to this, which means their salaries were not thin. Of course, we also find the usual suspects – special and practical effects, as well as costumes and stunts. 

19. Sense 8

Per Episode: $9 Million

Source: The Verge

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.

18. Marco Polo (tie)

Per Episode: $9 Million

Source: Hollywood Reporter

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.

17. Rome (tie)

Per Episode: $9 Million

Source: Screenrant

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.

16. Big Bang Theory (tie)

Per Episode: $9 Million

Source: Screenrant

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.

15. Westworld

Per Episode: $10 Million

Source: Hollywood Reporter

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 third season and is getting ready for its fourth! Yeehaw indeed.

14. Friends (tie)

Per Episode: $10 Million

Source: Finances Online

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.

13. The Witcher (tie)

Per Episode: $10 Million

Source: Screenrant

What more do you expect from a fantasy show filled with monsters and beasts in a medieval world? Let’s just say it isn’t cheap to turn a fantasy video game to ‘reality’. From intricate period costumes, expensive locations to exquisite scenery, castles and knights, The Witcher is one of the most expensive series out there. We won’t forget to mention the pricey actors that come along with it – Henry Cavill reportedly earns $400,000 per episode!

SEE ALSO:
20 Fun Facts About ‘The Witcher’

12. The Get Down

Per Episode: $11 Million

Source: Deadline

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.

11. Band of Brothers

Per Episode: $12 Million

Source: Screenrant

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!

10. ER

Per Episode: $13 Million

Source: Ninja Journalist

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.

9. The Crown (tie)

Per Episode: $13 Million

Source: Market Watch

Stealing the crown as the most expensive original Netflix series is this 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.

8. The Morning Show

Per Episode: $15 Million

Source: Business Insider

Turns out, creating a prestigious newsroom, with its many employees and offices, is more difficult and expensive than it seems. It requires a lot of attention to detail, as well as numerous extras and authentic-looking television equipment that will exceptionally be in front of the camera. Of course, the overpriced budget of this Apple TV+ series also went to the paychecks of its hugely famous lead actors – Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell and Reese Witherspoon. $2 million apparently went to Aniston and Witherspoon, alone!

7. See (tie)

Per Episode: $15 Million

Source: Metro

This show led by Jason Momoa is set in a dystopian world where people have lost their sight, a concept that obviously demands expensive otherworldly scenery and costumes. See also uses the occasional CGI, which adds even more zeros to the cost of actors’ salaries and practical effects. Momoa revealed in a This Morning interview that the set construction was highly intricate to the point of draining lakes, cutting trees and building a whole new village “so it looked like a world that had taken everything”. Actors also had to partake in  ‘blindness training’, which also added to the hefty sum of the show.

6. Game of Thrones (tie)

Per Episode: $15 Million

Source: Vanity Fair

One of the indisputable highest budget TV show, 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 final 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 (until the prequel shows!). 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.

5. The Mandalorian (tie)

Per Episode: $15 Million

Source: Film Goblin

With Game of Thrones done and dusted, it looks as though other series are here to steal the big-budget limelight. One of 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.

4. The Pacific

Per Episode: $20 Million

Source: Hollywood Reporter

War shows should look as authentic as possible, which means hundreds of extras, expensive stunts, and a large amount of uniforms and military gear are generally required. Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks went above and beyond to make sure that this mini-series looked as realistic as possible with their total budget of $217 million. One glance at the gritty recreation of some violent World War II battles makes it easy to understand why such a budget was agreed upon. Uniquely created uniforms using materials from exact WWII replicas for over 300 actors; intricate action scenes and sets and blank ammunition, weapons and grenades amount to the monstrous budget of this show.

3. WandaVision

Per Episode: $25 Million 

Source: Me Aww

Marvel superhero Wanda Maximoff finding herself in a ‘sitcom world’ shouldn’t be that expensive, right? Wrong. Without getting into spoilers, superhero stuff does happen in WandaVision, and thus Disney had to pull out the big guns to make sure it would still be as thrilling as the Avengers franchise, while keeping it appropriately ‘low-budget’ for a television format. We’ll give you one spoiler – it worked. Visual effects such as superpower tricks, fights and super-speed scenes (with Quicksilver) amount to more than those seen in Endgame (as WandaVision runs for around four and a half hours) and there’s certainly an expensive casting, alongside large set pieces that were used.

2. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (tie)

Per Episode: $25 Million 

Source: Hollywood Reporter

Transfering movie characters to a serial format has many risks, but it’s obvious by now that Marvel has more than enough financial leeway to do it right. Just like WandaVision, the astronomical budget needed to create the small-screen adventures of Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes went into special effects, superhero costumes, and stunts. Not to mention the two lead actors, Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, who had to be paid like the movie stars they are.

1. Loki (tie)

Per Episode: $25 Million 

Source: Cheatsheet

Like every previously mentioned Marvel project, giving Loki the God of Mischief his own show required tons and tons of work in the costume, makeup and special effects departments. SFGate even mentioned that “Loki makes The Mandalorian look like a cheap date” in terms of the extravagant set. That, and having Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson on board can only translate to large checks. Though, we’re not worried about Disney going bankrupt because of that. 

So, here you have it, MCU series WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki are officially the most expensive TV series ever made, with the biggest budgets 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!

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Maria Supplisson

Maria Supplisson

Maria is a screenwriting student at the London Film Academy with a Bachelors' degree in English & Creative Writing, blogger and storytelling-obsessed, from literature to TV shows, movies to documentaries. During her time at the London Film Academy, Maria wrote two short films that were produced by the school, one of which was showcased at the BFI for graduation, and she is now working on multiple projects from a short film to a play, while also translating articles from English to French about film, series, and celebrities for a London-based entertainment news agency. Unhealthily addicted to Game of Thrones lore.

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