The longer television shows last, the more it costs to make each episode. The rise of streaming options and higher, more cinematic-like productions has also sent costs skyrocketing. From the $15 million an episode that Game of Thrones cost to the first season finances of Stranger Things, the real costs of your favorite television programs are no laughing matter. If you want to know how much The Big Bang Theory cost per episode, keep reading!
The Pacific – $21.7 Million Per Episode
When it comes to miniseries, HBO spares no expense. Looking to cash in on the success of Band of Brothers from 2001, the network spent nearly $22 million an episode on sister series The Pacific in 2010.
The miniseries takes place in Japan during World War II and was executive produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. When awards season came around, the costly series was awarded a Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe for Outstanding Miniseries.
Game of Thrones – $15 Million Per Episode
By the time the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones debuted, the cost per episode had ballooned to $15 million. Then again, the show was never cheap to begin with – the second episode cost a reported $8 million!
With every new season of the show, the writers asked for more money from HBO. Since the show was a cash cow for the network, the answer always seemed to be yes.
The Crown – $13 Million Per Episode
When Netflix decided to create a series about Queen Elizabeth II, the streaming giant spared no expense. It an effort to make the show as lavish and period-accurate as possible, each episode costs an estimated $13 million.
According to Business Insider, the more than 7,000 costumes that the show has used is one of the largest expenses. The replica of the Queen’s wedding dress cost a reported $35,000. However, like Game of Thrones for HBO, the cost of The Crown has been worth every penny for Netflix.
ER – $13 Million Per Episode
ER ran for 15 seasons on NBC and helped launch the career of George Clooney. At the peak of the show’s popularity, the cast salaries grew so high that the per-episode cost was an astounding $13 million – an unheard of price in 1998!
The pricey deal set NBC back $440 million over two years. One producer was so shocked they called it “the half-a-billion-dollar blunder.” With 331 total episodes and massive syndication deals for ER, we doubt NBC regrets the decision.
Band of Brothers – $12.5 Million Per Episode
Before The Pacific, HBO struck gold with Band of Brothers. The miniseries was one of the most expensive ever produced, costing around $12.5 million per episode. Produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, the money was spent to make the series look and feel as real as possible.
Band of Brothers was an instant hit and critical darling, with Paul Clinton of CNN saying, “a remarkable testament to that generation of citizen soldiers, who responded when called upon to save the world for democracy and then quietly returned to build the nation that we now all enjoy, and all too often take for granted.”
Westworld – $10 Million Per Episode
Westworld is one of the most expensive shows that HBO has ever produced. Based on a Michael Crichton movie from 1973, the show expanded on the futuristic concept and spent $25 million alone on the pilot episode.
The first season of the show cost a reported $100 million, leading Screen Rant to determine each episode’s average cost. Now in its third season, the big money bet appears to be working out just fine for the premium cable network.
Friends – $10 Million Per Episode
One of the most famously expensive shows of the ’90s was Friends. It ran for ten seasons (1994-2004) and eventually cost NBC $10 million per episode. So how does a show about six friends that spend most of their time in their apartments cost that much?
The answer is contract negotiations. During the final season of the show, the cast members stood in solidarity to make sure the three female leads made the same salary as the three male leads – $1 million each.
Marco Polo – $9 Million Per Episode
Produced by Netflix as an international series, Marco Polo was a highly ambitious production that filmed in Italy and Kazakhstan. For those reasons alone, you know it wasn’t cheap to make. Marketplace estimates the per-episode cost to have been $9 million.
Following the story of Marco Polo and his interactions with Kublai Kahn, the pricey series ended up being a flop with both critics and audiences. After two seasons Netflix canceled the show, which wound up costing them a total of $200 million.
Rome – $9 Million Per Episode
Without Rome being broadcast on HBO, series creator Bruno Heller claimed that shows like Game of Thrones could have never existed. Premiering in 2005, the period epic had a huge budget of $9 million per episode.
When ratings dropped significantly in the second season, HBO announced the show was being canceled. The network did not cite ratings as the reason, though, instead saying the show was always intended to be a two-season event series. Bruno Heller disputed the claim and revealed what he had planned through five possible seasons.
The Big Bang Theory – $9 Million Per Episode
For twelve seasons The Big Bang Theory ruled the airwaves as television’s top comedy series. Following the lives of scientists, the show found a balance between “nerd humor” and sweet sincerity. Like other shows with large casts, the longer the show aired, the more money each actor got.
By the 12th and final season, each lead was earning between $750,000 and $1 million per episode. Add to that the cost for semi-regular recurring actors and theme song royalties and the costs rise quickly!
Stranger Things – $8 Million Per Episode
Stranger Things was a surprise hit for Netflix when it debuted in 2016. The ’80s nostalgia-fueled science-fiction horror blend quickly became a pop culture phenomenon, leading to more money to spend on future seasons.
Currently, Screen Rant estimates each episode for season three cost $8 million. With season four all but a certainty, the budget will undoubtedly increase. Will it go as high as some other shows on this list? We’ll have to wait and see!
Camelot – $7 Million Per Episode
Camelot premiered on Starz in 2011 equipped with strong ratings and plenty of buzz. The strong showing for the expensive show’s first season earned it a Primetime Emmy nomination. Despite the show’s success, the network canceled it, claiming that the shooting schedule had become too difficult.
Camelot starred Joseph Fiennes as Merlin, Arthur’s most powerful ally as he protects Camelot. Critics compared the show to Game of Thrones, and perhaps the competition with the HBO giant was what really derailed production.
The Sopranos – An Estimated $6.5 Million Per Episode
The show that put HBO on the scripted television map was The Sopranos. Created by David Chase, the iconic show premiered in 1999 and was a huge commercial and critical success. While we can’t confirm that each episode cost $6.5 million, it is widely believed to be close.
The show couldn’t be cheap to produce when series lead James Gandolfini was making $800,000 to $1 million per episode. The real question is what happened after the screen went black in the series finale?
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story – $6.5 Million Per Episode
The first season of Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story debuted on FX in 2016 and focused on the murder trial of O.J. Simpson. The show starred Cuba Gooding Jr., John Travolta, Sarah Paulson, and David Schwimmer.
The cost of the show is thanks to its high profile cast. While it may have cost FX more than planned, it worked out incredibly well for the network. American Crime Story was a huge ratings hit and won several awards.
Spartacus – $5 Million Per Episode
Starz struck gold when they decided to pay $5 million an episode to produce Spartacus. The fantastical retelling of the rebellion against the Romans was a big hit, giving the premium network some of the highest ratings it had ever seen.
Tragically, the show hit a roadblock when its star was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. After a lengthy battle, he gave producers permission to re-cast the character. The success of the show would lead Starz to take other big-budget risks on shows including Outlander.
The West Wing – $6 Million Per Episode
One of the biggest political shows ever made, The West Wing was not cheap to produce. Starring Martin Sheen as the president, each episode cost $6 million at the height of its popularity.
Although the show aired its series finale in 2006, fans have kept it alive in syndication. There have even been several petitions for CBS to bring back the show following a new president in the White House.
Frasier – $5.2 Million
A spinoff of Cheers, Frasier was a huge ratings hits and ran for 11 seasons, from 1993 until 2004. Focusing on Kelsey Grammer’s Frasier Crane, the show took place in Seattle where he hosted a radio show and struggled with love.
At the show’s highest point, Grammer was earning an astounding $1.6 million per episode. The salary made him the highest-paid actor on television at the time, although that record has since been broken.
Boardwalk Empire – $5 Million Per Episode
Another expensive HBO show, Boardwalk Empire premiered in 2010 and lasted until 2014. Produced by Martin Scorcese, the period drama’s pilot episode reportedly cost $20 million. After reading that, paying $5 million an episode after doesn’t sound too bad!
The show took several expensive steps to make it seem as authentic as possible. One of the most costly was the 300-foot long boardwalk that was built with a price tag of $5 million.
True Blood – $5 Million Per Episode
HBO cashed in on the popularity of the vampire genre when it debuted True Blood in 2008. The show, adapted by Alan Ball from a novel, was as risque as it could be and was a fan favorite of the network.
When True Blood ended in 2014, it cost HBO around $5 million per episode to produce. As Seth Kelley of Marketplace wrote, “True Blood is one more example of HBO’s willingness to shell out to create good-looking television”
House of Cards – $4.5 Million Per Episode
The first big addition to Netflix’s original series catalog was not cheap. Before starting production on House of Cards, the company had to outbid other networks for the right to produce it. Because of this, the first two seasons of the show ended up costing $100 million.
The per-episode cost of $4.5 million was thanks to a star-studded cast that included Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. House of Cards won numerous awards and ran for six seasons.