Many an aspiring screenwriter or producer has had his hopes dashed when the TV series he/she proposed was not deemed worth the money required to be invested in it.
And many a TV series have withered and died after their plug was pulled by executives who didn’t see the return on investments being on par with the costs. In spite of some such series being amazing according to the considerable numbers of fans that swear by it (looking at you “Firefly” and wiping away a tear).
But making a TV series, especially an ambitious one is indeed a costly process. So, it’s natural and common sense that the ones that cough out the money have the last word and influence the evolution of such a project.
And, to be fair, there have been many instances as well in which investors agreed to pour a ton of money into series that turned out to be spectacular.
As well as some cases in which the result was… not so great. But at least, the effort was made.
So take a look below at 4 costly TV series HBO produced, despite the humongous sums involved which would make you think any investor would have ran in panic and chosen some other project. They didn’t and the results are these series.
Let’s start with one of the sob stories similar to “Firefly”. Not because of the subject matter, although the intense, brutal and sometimes gory life of ancient Rome as depicted in the series might be too much for some.
But because this masterpiece in the true sense of the word was cancelled after only two seasons. Yeah, that’s one more than “Firefly” but who’s counting?! (Sob).
Point is that “Rome” was so well made and paid such an attention to detail that it was and still is the most immersive and entrancing portrayal of that period of history ever made. There’s nothing that comes to mind that could be considered poorly done with this series: from the character development and dialogue, to the creative and smart mingling of historical characters with fictional ones, costumes, set, pacing, you name it.
And it’s not just my opinion because, wanna know the real kicker? The show was nominated for 2 Golden Globes, won 7 Emmys and was a critical success for the ages. All of this happening after its cancellation. Along with its massive sales on DVD.
So why, oh, why did HBO cancel it? Because it such dedication as described above and the results that come with it are only possibly with a hefty price. 10 million $ per episode, to be exact.
I mean, let’s put it this way, when the set you painstakingly built to be historically accurate develops its own ecosystem complete with rats and bugs (as the producers confirmed happened with “Rome”), you can safely say you’re invested in the project and costs tend to go up.
Another huge success after its cancellation, “Deadwood”‘s story is tied to that of “Rome”, because they overlapped for a while (“Deadwood” 2004-2006; “Rome” 2005-2007). Which serves to explain why HBO was pretty panicky at the time of its decision to cancel “Deadwood” after its third season: they were already stressed about the “Rome”‘s costs and Deadwood’s 4.5 million $/episode were adding to their concerns.
Because at the time, they had two ongoing series that HBO didn’t really know would be successful or not.
Guess what? Just like in Rome’s case, “Deadwood” really DID turn into a success (albeit, granted, not at the same astronomic level as Rome), with many fans disappointed that the plot was left hanging and begging for a final season to wrap things up.
Because unlike Rome, in which the writers admirably managed to increase the pace without breaking the story and still manage to tie things up in a satisfactory manner (hey, history really did go on after Caesar, so they just had to step back and say “That’s all, folks!”), “Deadwood” ends in blatant breaking manner. You know, akin to hanging on the proverbial cliff.
It’s due to this undeserving ending that fans are still hoping that someone will decide to pick up this Western period drama and produce the final season. With the same great actors, of course!
3. Boardwalk Empire
Luckily, HBO learns from its (marketing/financial) mistakes. As exemplified by the fact that another expensive show produced by the network, “Boardwalk Empire”, was allowed to continue to its final 5th seasons, without the writers having to make any major cuts or changes to their plans, allowing them to conclude the show as they wanted.
“Boardwalk Empire” is a drama centered on Atlantic City in the 1920s, from the beginning of the Prohibition Era, which is even depicted in the pilot episode from the viewpoint of both politicians and common people.
And speaking of the pilot episode, it cost 18 million $ to make, because they reconstructed the entire Atlantic City Boardwalk as it was back then.
After the pilot, the cost per episode dropped to a more “modest” 5 million $ per episode.
But without sacrificing anything with regard to historical accuracy, including epoch cars, clothes etc. All the glamour of the Roaring Twenties on screen.
4. Game of Thrones
The popular series (ha! huge understatement) surely needs no description.
So I’ll just mention that, on average, a “Game of Thrones” episode costs around 6 million $, with costs projected to increase in future seasons.
And I say on average, because “special” episodes, like “Blackwater” and “The Dance with Dragons”, featuring battle scenes cost way more.
The pilot itself cost 10 million $, but for the same reasons as that of “Boardwalk Empire” did: the sets. Building each of the impressive locations where the parts of the story take place cost a lot.
Apart from the sets, the usual costs per each episode revolve around the actors’ salaries, costumes (of which everyone has to have one, including extras), unique locations and some special effects now and then.