Your TV series will eat up big budgets while you’re filming on location, licensing classic rock albums, and integrating costly land and seascapes into scripts. In eight years, The Sopranos (1999-2007) invested more on HBO than anybody else.
But it wasn’t the first classic mafia series to indulge in this luxury.
Miami Vice started in the pilot episode in the 1980s with songs by the Rolling Stones and Phil Collins (among others) – and never looked back.
It was obvious after a couple of episodes that the series, set in Miami, would not be stingy with pop music (nor with guest stars).
The large budgets led to some squabbling between the studio and Miami vice star Don Johnson as time went on.
Two decades later, it was something Sopranos fans would read about in the magazine. The classic shows, in retrospect, had budgets that could have pushed their respective networks to the brink.
In their first seasons, “Miami Vice” budgets were $1 million to $2 million per episode.
The “Sopranos” author thinks that if it was for Furio, Carmela may have burnt Tony out even more.
In September 1984, Miami Vice was released in a huge way. The pilot cost 5 million dollars to make, and you could see where it was going on the screen.
The plot leads directly to a break dancer on the Miami streets after the opening sequences in New York’s Chelsea and Lower Manhattan.
In between, the original theme of Jan Hammer sets out the cut that Miami Vice sought to hold over its five seasons. The producers were costing “more than $1 million” to get an episode on the air when Rolling Stone stopped by the show set in ’85.
It became more costly, after two seasons, to keep the machine going. Filming locations in Miami’s previously empty streets became more costly, and to keep going, the stars needed higher salaries. The AP claimed in the summer of ’86 that Johnson held out until his new pay offer satisfied him.
At the time, the AP estimated that budgets for Miami Vice could be as high as $2 million (inflation adjusted, $4.7 million in 2020 dollars).
As you can see, the boat races and fires were not in vain.
Budgets for “Sopranos” varied from $2 million to $6 million and up in the final season.
No one believed he would get the green light to film in New Jersey when “Sopranos” producer David Chase shopped his series to the networks.
Chase remembered that when he thought a production could be shot on location, they literally laughed in his face.
However, Chase was not deterred, and had his New Jersey places. His output also earned a large music licensing budget, and Chase spread the money in that department as far as it could go.
The series cost around $2 million per episode initially.
For many of the same reasons that pushed up Miami Vice’s budget, that changed later.
Lead actor James Gandolfini was receiving $1 million per episode by the end of The Sopranos’ run. Meanwhile, his co-stars were not so far behind him.
Episodes could end up costing in excess of $6 million ($7.7 million in 2020, inflation-adjusted).
But these reality shows may be deemed cheap eats, compared to series such as “Game of Thrones,” which had budgets of up to $15 million.