10 of the Most Expensive TV Shows Ever Made

Doona Bae stars in in Sense8
Doona Bae stars in in Sense8
Murray Close, Netflix

Since the inception of the medium, television has always been seen as a cheaper yet more marketable alternative to film. But that doesn't mean it’s cheap to produce—not by a long shot. Some of the most beloved series in television history have had massive budgets (and, surprisingly, so have some of the worst).

It was recently announced that Jon Favreau's live-action Star Wars show would have a budget of $100 million for the first season alone. While this certainly demonstrates Disney's faith in the project, it also makes the show, which is still in the early stages of pre-production, one of the most expensive series ever produced for television. Here are 10 other series that share that descriptor.

1. GAME OF THRONES

Budget: $15 million per episode


HBO

Come on, you knew HBO's smash fantasy epic was going to top this list. Virtually everything is shot in exotic locations, it costs a lot to make those dragons look realistic, and actors who weren't household names in the show's beginning certainly are now (and command a higher salary because of it). For the series' upcoming final season, each episode is scheduled to cost around a whopping $15 million.

2. THE CROWN

Budget: $13 million per episode

In an effort to keep growing its original programming catalog, Netflix is currently planning to take on an additional $2 billion in debt. But the company isn't likely to fold anytime in the near future, in no small part because of shows like The Crown. The series' dedication to getting history just right (producers paid $35,000 to recreate Queen Elizabeth II's wedding dress for the first episode) doesn't come cheap: all those elaborate period costumes and lavish locations cost about $13 million per episode.

3. ER

Budget: $13 million per episode


Getty Images

There was a time when ER—the NBC medical drama that turned George Clooney into a household name—was an absolute cultural force. (Quentin Tarantino even directed an episode.) The series hit its peak between 1998 and 2003, when NBC seemed happy to essentially hand producers a blank check. Between its massive cast of up-and-coming stars and slightly-above-average production costs, each episode was budgeted at around $13 million.

4. BAND OF BROTHERS

Budget: $12.5 million per episode

It’s probably not surprising to anyone who has ever seen Band of Brothers, HBO’s 2001 miniseries about “Easy Company” of the 101st Airborne Division during World War II, that it was insanely expensive to make. With Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks among its producers, the miniseries was shot on location, had a massive cast, featured period-accurate costumes and sets, and had explosive action sequences—all of which added up to a cost of a cool $12.5 million per episode.

5. THE GET DOWN

Budget: $11 million per episode

Justice Smith in The Get Down
Netflix

Netflix's whole business model is based on its appeal to niche audiences, which can be remarkably successful or an unmitigated disaster. Unfortunately, Baz Luhrmann's passion project The Get Down was the latter. Costing Netflix a reported $120 million for a single season, the show was built on elaborate sets and had to pay out exorbitant fees for the rights to classic R&B and funk songs. It was intended to have a second part, but Netflix canceled it after no immediate return was seen.

6. FRIENDS

Budget: $10 million per episode

By the end of its run, Friends had become a generation-defining show—and its cast knew it. All six of the series’ main stars were making north of $1 million per episode in the final seasons, and while NBC tried to keep shooting costs to a minimum, it still added up to about $10 million per episode.

7. THE BIG BANG THEORY

Budget: $9 million per episode

A still from the CBS series 'The Big Bang Theory.'
CBS Entertainment

While it was once a run-of-the-mill, vaguely-offensive-to-nerds sitcom, The Big Bang Theory has become a record-breaking hit for CBS—so much so that the seven main cast members renegotiated their contracts a few years back and are now making between $750,000 and $1 million per episode. Add that to shooting costs, the show's numerous celebrity cameos, and the royalty fee they pay to Barenaked Ladies for the theme song, and the show ends up costing around $9 million for 25 minutes of airtime.

8. MARCO POLO

Budget: $9 million per episode

Netflix had high hopes for Marco Polo, an epic historical drama that traced the early years of its titular merchant/explorer. The show debuted in December 2014 with a $90 million budget for its first 10 episodes. Just a few weeks later, Netflix happily renewed the series for a second season with the same basic budget, which ultimately ended up being its last. The series is best known for leaving the streaming giant $200 million in debt.

9. ROME

Budget: $9 million per episode

A still from 'Rome'
HBO

In a way, one can almost blame Rome—John Milius, William J. MacDonald, and Bruno Heller’s historical drama about two Roman soldiers who regularly become entangled in real-life historical events—for Netflix’s big gamble on Marco Polo. But its initial success is also regularly cited as the reason we have shows like Game of Thrones. Though Rome's first season was popular enough to justify its $9 million per episode budget, ratings took a dive in season two, which ended up being its last.

10. SENSE8

Budget: $9 million per episode

It might be the most successful thing the Wachowskis have made since The Matrix, but Netflix still had to cancel this sci-fi sleeper hit because it was costing them a healthy $9 million per episode. Apparently, the Wachowskis insisted on filming everything on location, meaning they had to pay for long-term filming permits in nine different metropolitan areas around the world.

Wayfair’s Fourth of July Clearance Sale Takes Up to 60 Percent Off Grills and Outdoor Furniture

Wayfair/Weber
Wayfair/Weber

This Fourth of July, Wayfair is making sure you can turn your backyard into an oasis while keeping your bank account intact with a clearance sale that features savings of up to 60 percent on essentials like chairs, hammocks, games, and grills. Take a look at some of the highlights below.

Outdoor Furniture

Brisbane bench from Wayfair
Brisbane/Wayfair

- Jericho 9-Foot Market Umbrella $92 (Save 15 percent)
- Woodstock Patio Chairs (Set of Two) $310 (Save 54 percent)
- Brisbane Wooden Storage Bench $243 (Save 62 percent)
- Kordell Nine-Piece Rattan Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $1800 (Save 27 percent)
- Nelsonville 12-Piece Multiple Chairs Seating Group $1860 (Save 56 percent)
- Collingswood Three-Piece Seating Group with Cushions $410 (Save 33 percent)

Grills and Accessories

Dyna-Glo electric smoker.
Dyna-Glo/Wayfair

- Spirit® II E-310 Gas Grill $479 (Save 17 percent)
- Portable Three-Burner Propane Gas Grill $104 (Save 20 percent)
- Digital Bluetooth Electric Smoker $224 (Save 25 percent)
- Cuisinart Grilling Tool Set $38 (Save 5 percent)

Outdoor games

American flag cornhole game.
GoSports

- American Flag Cornhole Board $57 (Save 19 percent)
- Giant Four in a Row Game $30 (Save 6 percent)
- Giant Jenga Game $119 (Save 30 percent)

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

17 Facts About Airplane! On Its 40th Anniversary

Julie Hagerty and Robert Hays (with Otto) in Airplane! (1980).
Julie Hagerty and Robert Hays (with Otto) in Airplane! (1980).
Paramount Home Entertainment

Shot on a budget of $3.5 million, David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker wrote and directed Airplane!, a movie intended to parody the onslaught of disaster movies that graced movie theater screens in the 1970s. The comedy classic, which arrived in theaters on July 2, 1980, ended up making more than $83.4 million in theaters in the United States alone, and resurrecting a few acting careers in the process. Here are some things you might not have known about the comedy classic on its 40th anniversary.

1. Airplane! was almost a direct parody of the 1957 movie Zero Hour!

Shorewood, Wisconsin childhood friends Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker grew up and moved to Los Angeles, where they were responsible for the sketch comedy troupe Kentucky Fried Theater. The trio made a habit of recording late-night television, looking for commercials to make fun of for their video and film parodies, which is how they discovered Zero Hour!, which also featured a protagonist named Ted Stryker (in Airplane! it's Ted Striker). In order to make sure the camera angles and lighting on Airplane! were matching those of Zero Hour!, the trio always had the movie queued up on set. Yes, the three filmmakers did buy the rights to their semi source material.

2. Universal thought Airplane! was too similar to their Airport franchise.

Universal released four plane disaster movies in the seventies: Airport in 1970; Airport 1975 (confusingly in 1974); Airport ‘77; and The Concorde ... Airport ‘79. Helen Reddy portrayed Sister Ruth in Airport 1975 and was game to play Sister Angelina in Airplane! before Universal stepped in and threatened to sue. Instead, the role went to Maureen McGovern, who sang the Oscar-winning theme songs to The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno—two movies that were also “disaster” movies, albeit ones not involving a plane.

3. David Letterman, Sigourney Weaver, and other future stars auditioned for Airplane!

In early conversations regarding Airplane!, Paramount Studios suggested Dom DeLuise for what would eventually become Leslie Nielsen’s role, and Barry Manilow for the role of Ted Striker, but they were never asked to audition.

4. Chevy Chase was mistakenly announced as the star of Airplane!.

Chevy Chase was erroneously announced as the star of Airplane! in a 1979 news item in The Hollywood Reporter.

5. The role of Roger Murdock was written with Pete Rose in mind.

Pete Rose was busy playing baseball when Airplane! was shot in August, so they cast Kareem Abdul-Jabbar instead.

6. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar got a pretty swanky carpet out of his Airplane! gig.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Peter Graves, and Rossie Harris in Airplane! (1980)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Rossie Harris, and Peter Graves in Airplane! (1980).
Paramount Home Entertainment

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s agent insisted on an extra $5000 to the original offer of a $30,000 salary so that the basketball legend could purchase an oriental rug he'd had his eye on.

7. Peter Graves thought the Airplane! script was "tasteless trash."

Peter Graves eventually found the humor in the film, including the pedophilia jokes, and agreed to play Captain Oveur. Graves's wife was glad he took the role; she laughed throughout the premiere screening.

8. No, the child actor playing young Joey didn't know what Peter Graves was actually saying.

Rossie Harris was only 9 years old when he played the role of Joey, so did not understand the humor in Turkish prisons, gladiator movies, or any of Oveur’s other comments. But by the time he turned 10 and saw the movie, Harris had apparently figured it out.

9. Airplane! marked Ethel Merman's final film appearance.

"The undisputed First Lady of the musical comedy stage” played a disturbed soldier who believed he was Ethel Merman. Merman passed away in 1984.

10. Michael Ehrmantraut from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul was in Airplane!.

Jonathan Banks plays air traffic controller Gunderson.

11. Airplane!'s three-director setup caused legal problems.

The Directors Guild of America ruled that Abrahams and the two Zuckers couldn’t all be credited for directing a movie, nor be credited under the single “fictitious name of Abrahams N. Zuckers.” A DGA rep was on set to make sure that only Jerry Zucker spoke to the actors. What he saw was Jerry Zucker next to the camera, who would then go to a nearby trailer where the other two were watching the takes on a video feed, and come back to give notes to the actors after conferring with his partners. A DGA executive board eventually gave the three one-time rights to all share the credit.

12. A BIT ABOUT BLIND POLISH AIRLINE PILOTS WAS WRITTEN AND FILMED.

Blind singer José Feliciano, and lookalikes of blind singers Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder, played Polish airline co-pilots. The Polish-American League protested, and it was determined by the writer-directors that the idea wasn’t funny enough to stay in the movie.

13. Robert Hays was starring in a TV show at the same time he was filming Airplane!

Robert Hays, the actor who played Ted Striker, had to race back and forth between the sets of Angie and Airplane! for two very busy weeks. The theme song to Angie was performed by the one and only Maureen McGovern.

14. Robert Hays was—and is—a licensed pilot.

He can even fly the ones with four engines.

15. Leslie Nielsen had a lot of fun with his fart machine.

Leslie Nielsen sold portable fart machines for $7 apiece on set, causing a brief epidemic of fart noises emanating from most of the cast and crew and delaying production. When they were shooting Hays’s close-up, Nielsen used the machine after every other word of his line, “Mr. Striker, can you land this plane?”

16. Stephen Stucker came up with all of Johnny's lines.

Lloyd Bridges and Stephen Stucker in Airplane! (1980)
Stephen Stucker and Lloyd Bridges in Airplane! (1980).
Paramount Home Entertainment

Stephen Stucker was a member of the Kentucky Fried Theater. His line “Me John, Big Tree” was part of an old riff he used to do, which continued with him going down on his knees and putting an ear to the ground to hear when a wagon train was arriving.

17. The original rough cut of Airplane! was 115 minutes long.

After screenings at three college campuses and two theaters, the film was cut down to 88 minutes.