Television has a reputation for being cheaper than those Big Hollywood Feature Films—but just because something is seen on TV doesn’t mean it’s cheap to produce. Television shows can be expensive, especially if they require elaborate sets, a significant amount of digital or CGI work, or feature actors who command some pretty hefty salaries per episode. Let’s look at some of the priciest TV shows to ever grace the airwaves!
It should be no surprise that Game of Thrones, the action fantasy show beloved by millions around the world, is also one of the most expensive in regards to production. The show’s production involves filming in international locations, building large sets, creating hundreds of costumes, as well as digital/CGI work done in post-production. Each episode of the show costs about $6 million to $10 million to produce, depending on exactly what needs to be done for each episode. Episodes with more digital work, for example, require additional money to pay the CG designers—episodes that require huge set pieces, such as castles or fortresses, also add up to a higher production cost.
E.R. was the beginning of the modern medical drama. The show focused heavily on the doctors, nurses and other staff rather on the patients themselves—a huge shift from other medical dramas at the time. The show also featured realistic hospital settings and medical procedures, a large ensemble cast, and frequent guest star roles for very prominent film and television actors. Naturally, this means that the budget for the show was not exactly cheap. When the show first started, it cost a whopping $2 million per episode for its first full three seasons. Seasons four through six cost $13 million per episode, although this “dropped down” to $8 million for seasons 7 through 15.
This slick period crime drama seems built for a hefty price tag: the director of the show’s pilot was the famously expensive Martin Scorsese, the show featured several high profile actors that come with high profile salaries, and the show’s iconic boardwalk set cost $5 million just to build. The pilot episode of the show was one of the priciest in history: $18 million dollars! Each episode of the show past the pilot has cost $5 million to produce, and the show is just now entering its fifth (and final!) season.