1. Friends – $10 Million
Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and Ross helped Friends achieve ten years of TV success. Running from 1994 to 2004, many of the scenes were set in a coffee shop and the characters’ apartments. So what exactly made this popular TV show so expensive? The cast.
As viewers tuned in year after year, many grew fond of the six friends and the amazing chemistry they had together. FinancesOnline.com writes that as the cast became increasingly popular, the actors started to ask for more money. During the third season, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer rallied together to ensure they received fair pay. By the time the final season rolled around, the cast members were each making $1 million per episode, causing the show’s budget to skyrocket to $10 million per episode.
2. Rome — $9 Million
HBO really outdid itself with Rome. The historical drama, which ran from 2005 to 2007, told the story of the lives of both illustrious and ordinary Romans. To depict an accurate and engaging picture of what it took for one to survive in Roman times, HBO used elaborate costumes and very detailed set designs, resulting in a $9 million per episode budget, according to The Richest. While the outrageous budget allowed HBO to add in exquisite scenery and details, it was also the show’s downfall.
Entertainment Weekly writes that HBO executives decided to ax the well-received show in order to save money on maintaining production resources in Italy. “Just like many of the other shows in the same class, it’s a show that ended early rather than got strung out and had the juice squeezed out of it,” show creator Bruno Heller tells Entertainment Weekly. “It ended for reasons other than running out of things to say. I loved it. I thought it was a great show. There’s a sense that there’s unfinished business.”
3. Game of Thrones — $6 Million
HBO’s Game of Thrones costs about $6 million per episode, E reports, with the network spending between $5 million and $10 million on the pilot episode alone. As with the majority of HBO hits, the staggering budget isn’t focused on its cast, but rather the beautiful and massive sets used, in addition to the elaborate shooting locations, according to Liberty Voice.
The unbelievably popular show is based on George R.R. Martin’s best selling series, A Song of Ice and Fire. According to the HBO description, “Summers span decades. Winters can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun. It will stretch from the south, where heat breeds plots, lusts, and intrigues; to the vast and savage eastern lands; all the way to the frozen north, where an 800-foot wall of ice protects the kingdom from the dark forces that lie beyond. Kings and queens, knights and renegades, liars, lords, and honest men … all will play the Game of Thrones.”
4. Boardwalk Empire – $5 Million
HBO has spared no expense on Boardwalk Empire. Each episode costs more than $5 million to make, thanks to the lavish production details, and takes about 15 days to film. USA Today reports that the show’s elaborate boardwalk set, which was built in a Brooklyn parking lot, cost an unbelievable $2 million. Additionally, the Boardwalk Empire pilot reportedly cost $18 million to produce.
The hit show takes place during the Prohibition era and chronicles the life of Nucky Thompson, a bootlegger who is part politician, part gangster, and sole ruler of Atlantic City. The show’s fifth and final season will air on September 7.
5. Deadwood — $4.5 Million
Have you noticed how many times HBO has made this list? Similar to many of its other shows, HBO spared no expense with Deadwood, coughing up $4.5 million per episode, per What Culture. The western series, which ran from 2004 to 2006, combined true events with fictional elements to create an engaging storyline for its viewers.
It was based on the real events that surrounded a gold rush in Deadwood, S.D. The show had a large and unique cast and well-done western sets to match its intriguing storyline. In addition, there were horses, wagons, and livestock coordinators, which all added to the show’s overall cost, according to The New York Times. In 2005, Deadwood took home five Emmys for its design and cinematography, proving the lavish expenses were paying off. However, in the end, its high budget was its downfall.
“I wouldn’t say it was a burden on HBO,” Chris Albrecht, the Chair of HBO at the time, explained to The New York Times. “But if you look at a year, say 2007, and there’s a set production fund and there’s a set amount of scheduling time. And there’s only so much you can fit in.”
6. & 7. Fringe and Lost — $4 Million
Fringe’s pilot cost a whopping $10 million, and its per episode budget was around $4 million, according to E. The sci-fi thriller, which ran on Fox from 2008 to 2013, tells the story of a formerly institutionalized scientist and his son, who team up with the FBI to investigate weird crimes that seem as though they could be part of a larger pattern.
The show started out strong but eventually struggled to hang on to viewers. It had a fairly complicated storyline, which was at times hard to follow and even worse if you happened to miss an episode. In a 2012 interview with TVLine, Kevin Reilly, who was the Fox president at the time, said Fringe is “an expensive show” that is not yielding a profit, “and we’re not in the business of losing money.”
Lost also cost $4 million an episode, mainly due to its large cast, which started out with 70 adults and one dog, in addition to shooting on location in Oahu, Hawaii.