There's no set budget for a TV pilot. In fact, the amount of money spent on a TV pilot isn't even directly correlated with the show's success. For example, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" has enjoyed six seasons of success (with a seventh season set to premiere this September), and yet the pilot was filmed for roughly $85.
And while it's normal for a TV pilot or regular TV episode on a major network to cost upwards of $3 million per episode these days, there are plenty of pilots that cost far more. Here are some of the most expensive TV pilots ever produced.
1. "Game of Thrones"
Cost: $5-10 million
Filming on location is expensive, and with so many extras needed for filming "Game of Thrones" in Malta, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, it's no wonder this lush pilot had high production costs. Add in CGI, costumes, and an A-list salary for Sean Bean, and it makes even more sense.
2. "The Fugitive" (The remake starring Tim Daly)
Cost: $6 million
For most of the shows featured in this article, spending big bucks on a pilot was a sound move; high production values attracted viewers in droves. But in the case of "The Fugitive," the $6 million spent on the pilot was money flushed down the drain. While the 2000 drama made it through a 22-episode season, it failed to gain the momentum it needed to get renewed for a second season.
Cost: $10 million
The pilot for this J. J. Abrams show reportedly cost $10 million, a fact that could be partially attributed to the pilot's two-hour running time. But the true culprit is the high production values of this series, with the pilot featuring a plane crash, intense CGI used to create the effects for a skin disease, and a LSD-induced dream sequence.
"Viewers are a lot more sophisticated now," explained veteran director Harry Winer. "They demand greater production values, more-complex stories, and higher-quality special effects. And now, with HD, there's no room for error."
Cost: $10-14 million
We don't know where J. J. Abrams is getting all this money from, but this is the second time one of his projects has appeared on this list.
With some reports saying the "Lost" pilot clocked in around $11.5 million, it isn't hard to see why ABC wanted the show to stick around for so long: they had to capitalize on their investment. With plane crashes (again!), CGI, and a sprawling cast, "Lost" clearly was worth all the millions it took to bring the pilot to life.
5. "Boardwalk Empire"
With Steve Buscemi starring and Martin Scorsese directing, it isn't hard to understand why the Hollywood rumor mill previously buzzed with claims of a $50 million pilot. The true figure, closer to $18 million, is still staggering, but with high ratings and a stack of 2011 Emmy nominations, the investment was worth every penny.
Do you think expensive pilots lead to memorable TV shows, or can a great show come from a super-cheap pilot? Weigh in with your thoughts below!
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- Game of Thrones