- Expensive doesn’t always mean successful: Supertrain, Camelot, and Inhumans were all costly shows that flopped in terms of quality and viewership.
- The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is the most expensive TV show ever made, but its high budget doesn’t necessarily reflect its overall quality.
- Shows like Joey, The Get Down, Hemlock Grove, Marco Polo, and Terra Nova had high production costs but failed to make a lasting impact or justify their budgets.
As the decades go on and TV becomes a bigger, more profitable industry, studios invest more in new shows, but bigger investments don’t always make better shows. Making TV shows is never exactly cheap. To produce one show, several teams of people need to be recruited and paid in order to simply pull an idea together, before getting actors involved, cameraman, lighting, wardrobe, make-up, editing, and so on. The costs rack up quickly, but for the most part, shows can reasonably be made for a couple of hundreds of thousands of dollars per episode.
As a show goes on and the audience builds, it’s possible that the production costs will also start to increase, especially as the actors grow in popularity. However, some shows, based on their premise, or ambitious settings alone, can cost a fortune from the start. If a show requires extensive visual effects, like many sci-fi and fantasy shows, it’s likely that the cost will be much higher. But even when a show costs more, it needs to be worth the value, and some of the most expensive shows on TV just weren’t worth the money to make them.
10 Supertrain (1979)
$7 Million For The Pilot
Supertrain was the most expensive show ever made when it initially released in 1979. Reportedly, the first episode alone cost roughly $7 million, which is equal to roughly $31 million in 2024. In addition, each of the nine episodes cost approximately $500,000, and the set was worth another $1.5 to $2 million as well (via THR). Altogether, that brings the total cost for producing the show up to just shy of $50 million on the low end, or $5 million per episode on average. Despite the huge budget, the show was a total flop, taking a premise from The Love Boat and putting it on a poorly conceived train.
9 Camelot (2011)
$7 Million Per Episode
Camelot was a high fantasy series produced for Starz and created by Michael Hirst and Chris Chibnall. The story follows the old Arthurian legends, and features huge ambitious sets and several popular stars, including Joseph Fiennes and Jamie Campbell-Bower. There were only 10 episodes made at about $7 million each (via WSJ), and while the series wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t worth the high price tag. Starz never ordered a second season, and while no specific reason was given, the high cost and the low viewership had to play a part in that decision.
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8 The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power (2022 – Present)
$715 Million To Make Season 1
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is currently the most expensive TV show ever made (via WSJ). The first season of the show went considerably over their original budget of $100-150 million, but part of that monumental figure did come from the $250 million Amazon paid for the rights to the franchise. However, that figure is still the highest ever by some margin. The show itself is a good show, but it has to be included here because the figure doesn’t reflect the overall quality, with many shows that are considerably better, costing hundreds of millions less.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power brings to screens the heroic legends of the fabled Second Age of Middle-earth’s history for the very first time. Set thousands of years before the events of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, The Rings of Power will explore a time in the franchise where kingdoms rose and fell, where The One Ring itself was forged and tells the tale of the rise of the greatest foe in the Lord of the Rings Franchise, the Dark Lord Sauron. Beginning in a time of peace, the series follows an ensemble cast of familiar and new characters as they confront the long-feared reemergence of evil in Middle-earth. From the depths of the Misty Mountains to the forests of the elf-capital of Lindon, to the island kingdom of Númenor, to the farthest reaches of the map, The Rings of Power promises to condense the extended works of Tolkien in a condensed but all-encompassing TV show format. The first season of The Rings of Power began airing exclusively on Prime Video on September 2, 2022
7 Citadel (2023 – Present)
$300 Million For Six Episodes
Amazon Prime may be a mega corporation with deep pockets, but if it keeps spending the way it has on TV shows, that money will burn up quickly. Amazon holds the record for most expensive TV show with Rings of Power, but it also claimed the number 2 spot with Citadel in 2023 (via Collider). The show features a talented cast led by Richard Madden, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Stanley Tucci. Once again, the series has received middling reviews, but unfortunately, the cost just doesn’t elevate this show to be worth it.
6 Inhumans (2017)
$6 – 8 Million Per Episode
While Marvel Studios was still laser focused on their film output and left TV to independent smaller groups, Inhumansstruggled to replicate any of the magic of the most profitable and elaborate franchise in existence. As a sci-fi series, the cost was always going to be above average, but the large ensemble cast, dozens of special powers and creating an alien world cost more than Inhumans was worth in the end. The series was quickly canceled after just one season, and most of the characters disappeared, except for Anson Mount, who has since appeared in the MCU for a cameo.
Inhumans is a Superhero television show based on the comic of the same name originally created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The show was crafted by Scott Buck and stars Anson Mount, Ken Leung, and Serinda Swan. The premise follows a group of Marvel Superheroes known as The Inhumans, including heroes like Black Bolt, Karnak, and Medusa as they vie to protect themselves and the world.
5 Joey (2004 – 2006)
Matt LeBlanc Earned $15 Million Per Season
When Friends ended, the hole left by the show was too much to bare, and so the network immediately started a spin-off starring Joey, called Joey. The series didn’t feature anyone else from the original show, and essentially tried to replicate the formula with a new cast, but the magic of Friends came from the chemistry and the cast. Considering the show was simple enough, with no need for special effects, it could have been made quite cheaply, but Matt LeBlanc carried on earning close to what he made for the original show, making Joey unsustainable from the start (via Mirror).
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4 The Get Down (2016 – 2017)
$16 Million Per Episode
An ambitious project by Netflix and Baz Luhrmann, The Get Down set out to be a historical and energetic retelling of how a financially broken 1970s New York gave birth to hip-hop, punk, and disco music. To be authentic, many impressive advisors were hired to improve the show’s authenticity, but the cost to make it ballooned beyond being feasible (via Deadline). After just 11 episodes, which cost approximately $180 million, the show was laid to rest.
3 Hemlock Grove (2013 – 2015)
$4 Million Per Episode
Horror movies are notoriously some of the cheapest and quickest projects to do to a high standard. However, when Netflix set aside a $45 million dollar budget for the first season of Hemlock Grove (via CNET), it anticipated a better overall product at the end. The series struggled to bring in the viewership that Netflix wanted, and after just 3 seasons, the show was canceled. The series had a lot of potential and continues to have a cult following, but without drawing in audiences, it wasn’t worth the budget to the streaming giant.
Set in small-town Pennsylvania, Hemlock Grove explores the lives of the titular town’s residents as they deal with a series of strange, brutal murders. Two young men, Roman Godfrey and Peter Rumancek, set out to uncover what is actually going on while dealing with their respective supernatural secrets. The series stars Bill Skarsgård, Landon Liboiron, Famke Janssen, Penelope Mitchell, Lili Taylor, and Dougray Scott.
2 Marco Polo (2014 – 2016)
$9 Million Per Episode
Just a year later, Netflix had the same problem again with a historical drama set in the Mongol Empire. Marco Polocost over double Hemlock Grove’s budget at $9 million per episode (via Business Insider), and appears to have been even less appealing as it was canceled after the second season. The series had expensive sets and legions of extras, but it didn’t replicate the success of shows like Game of Thrones which it was trying to compete against.
1 Terra Nova (2011)
$4 Million Per Episode
Finally, Terra Nova was an ambitious sci-fi mystery series from Fox which saw a group of pioneers sent back to a new home away from their rapidly dying home planet to establish a new colony. The series appeared to have a promising, mysterious plot with beautiful settings, and dinosaurs roaming free in the land. However, the cost of making each episode soured the studios and when the viewership wasn’t meeting expectations (via LA Times), the series was swiftly canceled after season 1. The series had a solid cast and premise, but the price tag set a target on the show’s back.
After seeing their planet on the brink of destruction, the Shannons family is sent 85 million years in the past to join a colony, Terra Nova, which is attempting to rebuild a new civilization. However, the colonists also have to defend themselves against dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures that threaten their new way of life.