While producing TV shows is almost never cheap, these series take production costs to higher heights, often soaring to price tags that would make most blockbuster producers faint. For some of the hits on this list, the payoff proved to be just as big. When a show becomes eternally popular, it’s safe to assume it pays for these expensive TV shows.
Nevertheless, higher budgets almost always come with higher expectations for how well a show will do. If a network is shelling out millions, they’re banking on a hit. Still, it’s ultimately up to the viewers at home to decide what’s worth watching, streaming, and skipping. These days, there’s more to choose from than ever.
Streaming platforms are not just more popular than they’ve been in the past; they’re having to become more competitive to stay in the game. In turn, show creators are working overtime and sparing no expense. The most expensive shows ever made now draw in audiences by putting everything they’ve got into production value and a phenomenal cast, but they still have no choice but to cross their fingers and hope for the best. Of course, it helps to have millions upon millions to back up their creative efforts. These pricey shows are proof of that.
While you can’t put a price on a truly great series, here are eight of the most expensive shows to ever grace our TV screens and how much they cost per episode.
The Crown wasted no time in forking over the big bucks to build their stream-worthy spectacle. This period drama certainly earned its ever-growing buzz. Rumor has it that even Queen Elizabeth has tuned in to the acclaimed (and sometimes controversial) show.
According to various reports, this Netflix mega-hit based on the royal family has a royal price tag to boot. Per CheatSheet, The Crown cost about $13 million per episode. After enjoying global praise among critics and audiences alike, it’s safe to say all the elaborate and expensive costuming efforts proved to be worth every penny.
$13 million is a hefty chunk of change at any ole time in TV history, but it was groundbreakingly massive back in1998. ER was such an iconic hit that NBC pulled nearly $13 million per episode out of its pocket to keep it on the network.
ER would ultimately have a 15-season run and launch George Clooney into the global star stratosphere. But that doesn’t explain why it cost so much. Here’s what happened, in a nutshell.
As it turns out, timing sealed this pricey deal for NBC. They just couldn’t lose ER in ’98. As noted by CheatSheet, “With Seinfeld set to leave the air and a failed attempt at securing Monday Night Football, NBC went to extreme measures to ensure ER and its profits remained with the company. That’s how the network ended up paying $286 million for the rights to the upcoming episodes.”
After making its debut in 1994, Friends went on to become one of the most-watched and rewatched TV shows of all time. Not only is it forever binge-worthy, but the NBC breakout hit will also go down in history as one of the earliest shows to boast a very big budget.
To be fair, what do you expect when you have six cast members who only get more famous with each season? As some fans may already know, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer all wanted to be paid equally. In the final few seasons, a sizable chunk of that $10 million production cost was undoubtedly tied to each actor’s $1 million fee per episode. It pays to be Friends!
Disney Plus continues to make waves in the streaming world for its massive production budgets. Sticking with the pricey formula that seems to work, many shows are following in the footsteps of the streaming service’s insanely successful first live-action Star Wars TV series, The Mandalorian.
In other words, they’re sparing no expense.
Following the initial release, it was revealed that the popular show actually cost the company “around $100 million” to produce. If we do that math, that technically puts the budget somewhere around $12.5 million per episode. However, some reports claim The Mandalorian actually cost even more than that to get off the ground. According to The Washington Post, the cost per episode was closer to $15 million.
The Morning Show
From the moment I started watching The Morning Show, I was hooked. From the stellar cinematography, great writing, luxurious set locales, and A-list cast, I knew it was no low-budget wonder. Almost everyone on the series is meant to be rich, after all. And it shows.
Still, I had no idea just how expensive it really was to produce this show. Looking back, I suppose the premise itself should’ve tipped me off. Among its many masterful aims, this award-winning drama series explores and exposes the lengths networks will go to secure and maintain the highest ratings possible. The richest characters, living the most lavish lifestyles, are all out to make the most money. And nothing about The Morning Show seems cheap.
Officially renewed for its third season, this Apple TV+ breakout hit reportedly has a per-episode budget of $15 million. With Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell, and Reese Witherspoon in starring roles, one can only imagine how much of that figure has been attributed to sizable salaries.
Game of Thrones
It’s no secret that Game of Thrones was backed by a more and more gigantic budget as its popularity continued to grow. But just how big did it get? In the early days, GoT production came to about $6 million per episode, which is small potatoes compared to the cost of later seasons.
As the binge-worthy series made a name for itself and garnered a devoted audience, those backing the series put their money behind HBO’s biggest hit. The budget for Game of Thrones reportedly climbed to a cool $15 million per episode. However, those behind the scenes have since said the high price tag had to happen.
By the $90 million final season, “the network not only felt more comfortable giving the show money, but it practically had to in order to satisfy fans’ growing demands,” per Looper.
You might not be as familiar with this 2010 television miniseries from HBO. But it has rightfully earned its place on this list nonetheless. Based primarily on the memoirs of two American soldiers during World War II, we see the world through their unique experiences while battling the Japanese Empire. Unfortunately, it proved to be a pricey passion project for those who brought The Pacific to life.
Backed by Hollywood royalty, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks signed on as producers. When it came to recreating war scenes as realistically and viscerally as possible, money was vividly no object. In the end, The Pacific‘s budget was about $20 million per episode.
The efforts didn’t go unnoticed by critics. The Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus called it “an honest, albeit horrifying, exploration of World War II, The Pacific is a visually stunning miniseries not for the faint of heart.” And a very expensive one, at that.
After waiting as patiently as humanly possible (three years, to be exact), Stranger Things returned to Netflix, and we’re finally getting our money’s worth. The New York Times called season 4 “more ambitious than ever.” And if it looks like no expense was spared to bring the Duff Brothers’ sci-fi vision to life, that’s because it probably wasn’t.
While never anywhere cheap to produce, this isn’t just Stranger Things‘ most ambitious season. It’s also by far the show’s most expensive to date. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Netflix hit’s fourth season cost around $30 million, and potentially more. Not to mention, the talented cast’s collective salary is officially stacked higher than ever.
Assuming there will be a season 5, how will Stranger Things outdo itself next time and what will the budget look like? As strange as it may sound right now, there’s no telling what will happen next or if the budget can even go up. As noted by Cosmopolitan, “Netflix just made headlines for its shares plunging 35 percent, so expect it to be tightening up budgets in the future.”
Will the streaming service do whatever it takes to keep their most-watched show going stronger than ever? Or like Friends, will Stranger Things choose to go out on top when we least expect it? My money’s on another season, but only time will tell.