Some TV shows can seem like licenses to print money, but others come as a real risk to the studios and networks behind them. And while it's natural to want high-quality entertainment and to speak out when entertainment companies try to pull a fast one on audiences, it's also easy to forget why they're often so risk-averse.
The fact of the matter is that many television shows are exceedingly expensive to produce. So when the price points of each big production become clear, it makes it easier to understand why some canceled favorites went away and how popular a show needs to be to sustain itself.
The Mandalorian - $15 million per episode
As Variety reported, The Mandalorian costs Disney about $15 million per episode to make.
But considering what a cultural phenomenon the series turned into almost immediately, it's hard to imagine that the entertainment giant considers that price point anything but money well spent. It may cost a lot of money to make a series seem space-faring, but it can pay off.
WandaVision - $25 million per episode
According to The Hollywood Reporter, WandaVision was part of an aggressive push by Disney, in which the conglomerate spent nearly $1 billion on original programming in 2020.
As such, the ambitious series that focused on Scarlet Witch's grief-inspired self-delusions cost a reported $25 million per episode. Though, the mind-bending format experiments make it easy to see where the money went.
The Rings Of Power - $58.1 million per episode
According to Variety, the Lord Of The Rings TV series The Rings Of Power was one of the more expensive productions to hit Amazon's streaming service.
The first season reportedly cost $465 million to produce, which translates to approximately $58.1 million for each of its eight episodes. Even for big-budget TV, that's a staggering amount.
The Last Of Us - $10 million per episode
According to GQ Australia, HBO's The Last Of Us is filmed in Canada and is now the most expensive production the nation has ever seen.
To get an idea of how expensive that really is, estimates put each episode as costing between $10 million and $15 million. And that's not in Canadian dollars, either.
Game Of Thrones: $15 million per episode
Although the cost of the cultural juggernaut that was Game Of Thrones often matched its popularity, the show's budget was not consistent throughout its run.
As Variety reported, Season 1 of Game Of Thrones once cost about $6 million per episode to make, while its maligned eighth and final season reportedly cost $15 million per episode.
Lost - $4 million per episode
According to Quartz, the average episode of Lost cost a fairly reasonable $4 million. That said, there was nothing average about the cost of its pilot.
As Forbes reported, ABC Chairman Lloyd Braun lost his position due to the pilot's $13 million price tag. Thanks largely to the depicted plane crash, Lost had produced the most expensive TV pilot in history up to that point.
Friends - $10 million per episode
Citing Time's personal finance company Coinage, Entertainment Weekly reported that Friends used to cost $10 million per episode. However, it's worth noting that this figure describes the show's cost at its peak, as the main cast's $1 million salaries are the most significant factor in that price tag.
Because according to Business Insider, salaries for the six friends at the center of the show didn't even approach that level until the show's final three seasons.
The Witcher - $10 million per episode
According to ScreenRant, Netflix spent between $70 million and $80 million on The Witcher's first season, which translates to an estimated $10 million per episode.
Although a fantasy series like The Witcher is rarely cheap to make, part of that cost came from Henry Cavill's $3.2 million salary. That paycheck made him one of the highest-paid TV actors while he was on the show.
Bridgerton - $7 million per episode
As Vox reported, the first season of Bridgerton cost $7 million per episode to produce. It's unclear exactly what kind of budget the following seasons were working with, but given the show's success and setting, it's unlikely to have gotten any lower.
After all, one of the fastest ways to hike up a show's budget is to make it a Regency-era costume drama.
House Of The Dragon - $19 million per episode
Although a $19 million budget per episode is certainly nothing to sneeze at for the Game Of Thrones prequel series, a report from Variety made it clear that the show could have been much pricier for HBO.
Indeed, an anonymous source close to the production told the outlet that bringing the show's cost under $20 million per episode was considered a triumph.
Stranger Things - $30 million per episode
Variety once reported that the first season of Stranger Things cost $6 million per episode to make and that this cost rose to $8 million per episode by Season 2.
However, another report from Vulture suggests that this price point has only ballooned in the years since because the Netflix hit's fourth and final season costs $30 million per episode to produce.
1883 - $10 million per episode
Yellowstone prequel 1883 depicts the Dutton family's struggles in the wild west, and it seems the show's production budget was just as untamed.
Esquire reported that Paramount set aside $10 million per episode to capture the wonder and danger of the old west fully. Because if it doesn't seem grand enough, viewers will turn somewhere else.
1923 - $30 million per episode
According to Deadline, the series premiere of Yellowstone spinoff 1923 broke viewing records on both the Paramount Network and Paramount+. And from the looks of it, that's the only way the entertainment giant's gamble could've paid off.
Sheridan noted that Yellowstone's success made Paramount executives confident that they could trust him with $22 million per episode to make 1923. It seems they were right.
Euphoria - $11 million per episode
According to Variety, HBO's Euphoria costs at least $11 million an episode to produce.
This number may seem a little surprising as most of the cast weren't big names before the show began, and there isn't any superhero carnage or historically-accurate costumes to contend with. However, the heavily stylized aesthetic of the series obviously doesn't come cheap.
The Crown - $13 million per episode
In a report acknowledging the research of Time's personal finance company Coinage, Entertainment Weekly mentioned that The Crown costs $130 million per season to produce.
If that figure were divided by each season's ten episodes, the resulting estimate would suggest that each episode of the royal drama costs approximately $13 million.
The Big Bang Theory - $10 million per episode
Although it's unclear how much The Big Bang Theory cost when it began, the mega-popular sitcom approached its average cost of $10 million per episode after Season 8.
From that point until the series finale in Season 12, the five leading actors made $1 million per episode each, which goes a long way to explain how the show became so expensive.
See - $15 million per episode
According to The Verge, Apple placed a big bet that See would prove a banner series for Apple TV based on its average per episode cost of $15 million.
The outlet further noted that it's not unusual for other shows to work up to those high costs as their buzz grows over time. But with See, the budget was big right out of the gate.
Band Of Brothers - $12 million per episode
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Band Of Brothers would prove HBO's most expensive miniseries on record by the time it came out.
The World War II epic cost an estimated $120 million in full, translating to roughly $12 million per episode spent over the course of ten episodes. Accuracy is expensive.
One Piece - The Most Expensive Episode In Anime
One Piece fans will be thrilled to learn that the production company is leaving nothing to chance when it comes to the budget of its "Gear Fifth" episode.
With stellar animation and fight sequences, it is rumored that the episode is actually going to be the most expensive ever created in all of anime!
The Boys - $11.2 million per episode
According to Buzzfeed, Season 1 of Amazon's hit superhero satire, The Boys, cost $11.2 million per episode to make.
And while showrunner Eric Kripke revealed that the streaming platform increased the budget for Season 2, it remains unclear exactly how much the show's later seasons cost per episode. But the bigger the action sequences are, the bigger the money is.
E.R. - $13 million per episode
As Entertainment Weekly reported, E.R. didn't start in the upper echelons of expensive television programming, but it definitely joined them towards the end of its run.
Because while early seasons cost about $1.9 million per episode, the show's budget would end up ballooning to $13 million per episode. They had to keep the viewer watching somehow.
Orange Is The New Black - $4 million per episode
According to Quartz, the prison dramedy Orange Is The New Black once cost an average of $4 million per episode, which makes it among the less costly of Netflix's big hits.
As she made clear in an interview with CNBC, that fact was not lost on one of its stars, Danielle Smith. Although she didn't disclose her pay, she said, "When you come to find out the Stranger Things kids are making more than you are in your final season, that's heartbreaking."
Boardwalk Empire - $5 million per episode
According to ScreenRant, the average episode of Boardwalk Empire cost about $5 million, but it would be misleading to just multiply that figure by the number of episodes to get the show's total cost. For one thing, the 300-foot boardwalk set alone cost over $2 million.
But according to The Atlantic, that's only part of why the pilot episode cost $20 million.
House Of Cards - $4.5 million per episode
Although House Of Cards is generally understood to cost $4.5 million an episode, CAA talent agent Peter Micelli said this was only true when the show was in its infancy.
According to Business Insider, he said, "House of Cards started at $4.5 million, and Fincher took it way above that." Unfortunately, it's unclear how much more the show would go on to cost per episode.
Westworld - $10 million per episode
According to The Hollywood Reporter, HBO put a lot of faith in Westworld when it first aired, as its first season ended up with a $100 million budget.
And while the average episode's budget was between $8 million and $10 million, the pilot gobbled up a significant chunk of that total as it reportedly cost $25 million.
True Blood - $5 million per episode
According to The Atlantic, the average True Blood episode set HBO back about $5 million.
But while that may not be the most the prestige network has spent on a given series, those costs add up when a series lasts seven seasons, as the vampire drama did. It's also unclear how budgets fluctuated between seasons.
Rome - $9 million per episode
HBO's Rome showed impressive ambition and attention to detail in its recreation of the Roman Empire, but it's also a tragic case of how expensive that ambition can be.
Because while HBO could sustain Rome's $9 million-per-episode budget for 22 episodes, the high cost of production all but ensured a third season would never come.
The Pacific - $21.7 million per episode
The Pacific was a spin-off of Band Of Brothers that applied a similar framework to the Pacific theater of World War II. And in the process, the show unseated its predecessor as the most expensive miniseries ever made.
Altogether, recreating the mobilization and destruction that American forces saw then led The Pacific to rack up $217 million in production costs. This averages out to just shy of $22 million per episode.
Sense8 - $9 million per episode
Sense8's ambitious, globe-spanning storytelling garnered the series some passionate fans who mourned it deeply when Netflix canceled it. However, that same ambition was likely what led to its demise.
According to Polygon, Sense8 cost $9 million per episode when it aired. At the time, even Game Of Thrones only cost two-thirds of that total. And since Sense8 didn't have the wide audience that Game Of Thrones did, it was only a matter of time before Netflix pulled the plug.
Vinyl - $7.5 million per episode
According to Esquire, HBO spent $100 million on the rock and roll drama Vinyl. However, the show only produced one season before it was canceled, as it could not attract the audience to justify its cost.
Although an average episode of Season 1 had cost about $7.5 million to produce, the two-hour pilot ended up draining $30 million from HBO's hefty total.
The Morning Show - $10 million per episode
According to Business Insider, Apple threw enough money behind its Apple TV+ sitcom The Morning Show for two seasons, which means the company dropped $300 million on the project.
Since there were no reports of any prohibitively expensive pilot episode in this case, one could reasonably assume that each season then costs $150 million. As such, that gives The Morning Show an estimated per-episode cost of $10 million.