How expensive is it to make one episode of your favourite TV show? (infographic)

13 Jan 2016

TV is the new film, we’re told. The Sopranos is as good as Shakespeare, we’re told. The thing is, if you hear about something enough, you can be damn sure it has some serious revenue running through it.

Awards for TV shows are becoming as sought after as their movie equivalents. Fandom is shifting from film franchises to TV series. Forget Frost/Nixon, All the President’s Men and The Manchurian Candidate. Now we want House of Cards, The West Wing and Scandal.

Watch Willow? No, how about Game of Thrones. Silence of the Lambs? No, Law and Order SVU. We want TV shows, we want episodes, character arcs spread over 12 hours rather than two, jokes that take ages to reach a punchline and the consistent promise of more.

We want Breaking Bad, The Wire and even, for some reason, Zoo.

We want everything serialised

One of the great music evolutions was the shift from buying singles to buying albums. Consider today’s age of the TV show something similar. We want things serialised. We even want our radio documentaries serialised. So much so that the best of the lot is called Serial!

This means that more and more money is being poured into TV shows, and TV networks. Pilot season in the US has never been more cutthroat. But getting onto a network isn’t even the end game – online services like Hulu, Amazon and Netflix means there are more ways to watch, more ways to sell and, ultimately, an industry based on bingeing.

The internet has gotten its fingers into the entertainment industry and it’s highly likely it will never let go. Immediate social media commentary of how long Sean Bean will last in Game of Thrones is only drowned out by a rival discussion on just how many times Dexter can get away with it – or how long that laborious intro credits was.

Viewer polls are used by producers to shape plot lines and kill off characters. Make no noise on Twitter and your TV show isn’t doing it’s job, perhaps.

How much Lannister gold for Game of Thrones?

So it should come as no real surprise that the average cost of an original network TV show last year came in at $3.5m. By way of comparison, major films Whiplash and The Purge cost less to produce.

So when it comes to the silver screen, how much do your favourite shows cost, per episode, to produce? Here’s the top ten from last year:

  • Sense8, $9m
  • Game of Thrones, $8m
  • Once Upon A Time, $4.5m
  • House of Cards, $4.m
  • Gotham, $4m
  • The Big Bang Theory, $4m
  • Orange Is The New Black, $4m
  • Daredevil, $4m
  • Modern Family, $3.5m
  • Transparent, $3.5m

Incredible figures

Sense8, $9m an episode. Incredible figures.

If you want to think back to not too long ago, either, certain shows cost even more. By the time Friends was well into its cash cow stage, each of the six lead actors was reportedly on $1m an episode, meaning NBC actually lost money during the original run of the sitcom’s final season.

By then, though, syndication of the show was so big that it’s hard to put a number on how much the actors would need to get paid to make for a fruitless operation.

Here’s a detailed, if unfortunately shaped, infographic from Onstride to better get your head around the figures. Click on it to view it in full size:

Cost of your favourite TV show

Game of Thrones image via Christian Bertrand on Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic