Some television shows have relatively small production budgets, but others’ are larger than life. Composed of mega-star casts, lavish production sites, intricate costume design, a massive crew or sometimes all of the above, certain TV shows aren’t cheap to create.
Networks invest a lot of cash in these shows, so their success is paramount. Take a look at the 10 most expensive TV shows to produce, past and present, and find out how much the highest-paid TV casts get paid.
HBO doesn’t seem to have a limit when it comes to spending money on a television show. “Deadwood” was a crime drama set in the 1800s that first aired in 2004 and lasted for three seasons. Despite the show receiving a Golden Globe nomination for best television series, the show was canceled in 2006. But “Deadwood” still ranks as one of the most expensive television shows, with the network spending $4.5 million per episode, according to Statista.
A longtime NBC hit, “Frasier” entertained viewers from 1993 to 2004. By the time the sitcom was canceled in 2004, the network was paying $5.2 million per episode, according to People.
Cast salaries composed most of the television show’s budget and Kelsey Grammer’s salary had risen to $1.6 million per episode, according to E! News, which didn’t help him in his divorce.
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A nod to British folklore, “Camelot” premiered in 2011 on Starz with a budget of $7 million per episode, according to Insider. But the show only lasted one season despite the star power of actors Joseph Fiennes and Eva Green. The network decided not to renew the period show in 2011 due to “significant production challenges,” according to TV Line. But it still remains one of the most expensive series to ever be produced.
4. ‘The Crown’
A Netflix original, “The Crown” series debuted in 2016 and was said to be the most expensive TV series ever made with a rumored budget of $156 million for two seasons. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, creator Peter Morgan disputed this claim and revealed the two-season budget was actually $100 million.
Season one and two cost $7 million per episode to produce, which is still notably pricey, according to Variety. Sky-high production costs for the drama that chronicles the rise of Queen Elizabeth II are likely due to expenses like period costumes and lavish sets. However, the show has since replaced the majority of its lead actors, which could impact the show’s budget. Season three of “The Crown” premieres sometime in 2019 on Netflix.
5. 'The Alienist'
TNT’s new hit show “The Alienist” premiered in 2018 with one big budget. The show, which was nominated for two Golden Globes, is a crime series set in the 19th century that cost an estimated $7.5 million to make per episode, according to Variety. With the millions spent in production, “The Alienist” is TNT’s most expensive series ever produced.
6. ‘Marco Polo’
Netflix canceled “Marco Polo” after just two seasons, but the drama lives on as one of the company’s most expensive TV series ever. Produced by The Weinstein Co., Netflix paid $90 million for the first 10 episodes, according to The New York Times.
The show’s two-season run cost the company $200 million in losses, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The root of its roughly $9 million per episode budget wasn’t revealed, but costumes and sets for the period drama based in 13th century Mongolia likely added up fast.
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This sci-fi drama debuted on Netflix in 2015, but it didn’t stick around long despite its massive budget. The first season of “Sense8” cost an estimated $120 million to make, according to The Verge. During the show’s second season, production costs hovered around $9 million per episode, according to The Verge. Although the show received a score of 85 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, Netflix canceled the series after its second season. But “Sense8” did briefly come back on the air in 2018 to premiere a two-hour finale for fans.
Before it was home to “Game of Thrones,” HBO had “Rome.” The TV series was canceled in 2007 — before its second season even aired — due to its enormous production costs, according to Entertainment Weekly. A period drama set in the final days of the Roman Republic, the show was filmed just outside Rome, with a per-episode cost at $6 million to $10 million, according to Forbes.
In a 2014 interview with Entertainment Weekly, creator Bruno Heller noted that “Rome” was HBO’s first big-budget period drama filmed abroad. He called it a learning experience for the network and said many of its directors and producers later moved on to “Game of Thrones.”
It’s been off the air since 2004, but “Friends” is still one of the most popular shows of all time — and NBC paid dearly for it. In the show’s final seasons, stars Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer banded together to negotiate a salary of $1 million each for seasons nine and 10 of the TV series, according to Business Insider.
The then-record-breaking cast salaries added up to $6 million per episode, which composed the bulk of the show’s final production budget of $10 million per episode, according to Entertainment Weekly, and they’re still raking in millions from reruns.
10. ‘The Big Bang Theory’
Nerdtastic sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” has been gracing the CBS TV lineup since 2006. It has a budget of nearly $10 million per episode, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
The series’ core trio Kaley Cuoco, Jim Parsons and Johnny Galecki, had been earning $1 million per episode since 2014, according to Deadline. However, these three along with the other two original stars, Kunal Nayyar and Simon Helberg, agreed to take a $100,000 per episode pay cut for seasons 11 and 12 to make room in the budget to give co-stars Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch a raise. The five will now earn $900,000 each per episode, and Bialik and Rauch get $500,000 each per episode, according to a 2017 Variety report.
The show is currently in its 12th and final season.
11. ‘The Get Down’
Created by Stephen Adly Guirgis and Baz Luhrmann and starring Justice Smith, Jimmy Smits and Jaden Smith, Vanity Fair cited “The Get Down” as Netflix’s most expensive series ever in 2016. Originally slated with a budget of $7.5 million per episode, the show exceeded that amount, according to Variety. In total, “The Get Down” cost $11 million per episode, according to Statista. But overall, “The Get Down” cost at least $120 million to produce for its one and only season, according to Variety.
Production costs included fees to obtain the worldwide rights to intellectual property the show used, a number of filming shutdowns, staffing changes and script rewrites, according to Deadline. “The Get Down” was canceled in May 2017.
12. 'Band of Brothers'
In 2001, HBO produced an expensive war miniseries called “Band of Brothers.” The show, which was produced by actor Tom Hanks and famed director Steven Spielberg, had a budget of $125 million, according to the Hollywood Reporter, which for 10 episodes would average out to $12.5 million per episode. Production costs quickly added up due to the show’s elaborate set design, large cast and heavy use of special effects and pyrotechnics, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
In 1999, “ER” became the most expensive drama in television history when production costs reached $13 million per episode, according to the Baltimore Sun — and cast salaries comprised much of those production costs.
The long-running NBC medical drama debuted in 1994 and stayed on the air until 2009. During its tenure, several major stars were part of the cast, including George Clooney, Julianna Margulies and Maura Tierney.
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14. ‘Game of Thrones’
“Game of Thrones” filming has taken place all over Europe, including Ireland, Iceland, Malta, Croatia and Spain. Season seven of the hit HBO show had a studio in Belfast, Ireland, but many scenes were filmed on location in historic spots like Castillo de Almodovar — aka Highgarden — in Andalusia, Spain.
Season six of “Game of Thrones” cost $10 million an episode to produce, according to Entertainment Weekly. And season 7 might have been even more expensive, because stars Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Kit Harington, Emilia Clarke and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau earned an estimated salary between $500,000 to $2.5 million per episode, according to the Chicago Tribune.
But the show’s final season, which airs in April 2019, is estimated to cost a staggering $15 million per episode to produce, according to Variety.
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15. 'The Pacific'
One of HBO’s miniseries, “The Pacific” was a critically acclaimed war drama set in World War II. The show cost approximately $100 million to produce, making it the most expensive miniseries in history, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Much of the production costs came from the extensive set design, which featured the recreation of WWII battle scenes. For example, the landing on the French shore of Peleliu scene cost $13,500 per take, according to the Hollywood Reporter. In total, the cost to produce each episode was reportedly $21.7 million, according to Insider.
Click through to read about movies that weren’t worth their production budgets as they bombed in the box office.
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Taylor Bell contributed to the reporting for this article.