Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Most Expensive TV Flops In History

Who knows how many shows have been created since the television became a household staple after World War II? Not us. What we do know is that these days, upwards of 450 to 500 shows are broadcast every year. Competition is fierce, and it always has been.

Because of that competition, networks are often willing to go the extra couple of miles and spend big money on projects they think will lure in the biggest audience. They place their bets ... and sometimes lose their shirts. Here are some of the most expensive flops to have their plugs pulled.

Battlestar Galactica (1978-79)

Most people today know "Battlestar Galactica" as the binge-worthy (and potentially life-ruining) sci-fi television series which ran from 2003 to 2009. However, not so many people remember that the series originated in 1978 and was quite an expensive flop.

Setting out to be a small-screen "Star Wars" of sorts, "Battlestar Galactica" cost roughly $1 million per episode – more than double that of a typical prime-time show at the time. At first, it was worth the price tag. The series' early episodes attracted positive reviews and healthy ratings, but those ratings eventually began to slip, and some behind-the-scenes issues plagued the production. Censorship also made it hard to take "Battlestar Galactica" seriously. Supervising producer Don Bellisario once claimed that censorship "took the balls out of the Cylons."

Ultimately, "Battlestar Galactica" couldn't pull its weight as compared to other less-expensive network hits such as ABC's own "Mork & Mindy" or CBS' "All in the Family." ABC soon axed the series. The network did give it another go with "Galactica 1980," but that show was quickly decommissioned after nearly non-existent viewership.

Supertrain (1979)

When it comes to expensive flops, you'd be hard-pressed to find a bigger trainwreck than NBC's dramatic "Supertrain."

The show's titular super train — a nuclear-powered locomotive featuring swimming pools and shopping malls — didn't actually exist, so the series' creators used expensive model trains while filming the on-screen journey from New York to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the model trains weren't particularly durable, and one of them crashed before the first episode was even filmed. 

After the show debuted to downright terrible ratings, famous celebrities were brought on to keep "Supertrain" on track. Tony Danza, Rue McClanahan, and Dick van Dyke all made guest appearances, but to little avail. According to MeTV, the show was canceled after nine episodes and remains one of NBC's costliest flops to date at a reported $4 million an episode.

Father of the Pride (2004)

Focusing on the behind-the-scenes lives of the white lions belonging to famed Vegas magicians Siegfried and Roy, "Father of the Pride" was an ambitious and expensive gamble.

After fellow DreamWorks production "Shrek" raked it in at the box office, NBC was willing to fork over big bucks to fund the computer animation and voice-work required to bring the show to life — costing the network between $2 million and $2.5 million an episode to produce. ”It's a big roll of the dice,” DreamWorks founder Jeffrey Katzenberg told The New York Times. "There's no question that when you do something like this, there's a big risk.” Unfortunately for everyone involved, there wasn't any reward.

Unlike "Shrek," "Father of the Pride" failed to capture the hearts and minds of those who watched it. It did, however, capture plenty of unwanted attention. The Parents Television Council flooded the Federal Communications Commission with allegations that "Father of the Pride" was indecent. Making matters worse, the show came in hot on the heels of Roy's famous near-death mauling – a first in more than 5,000 shows — from his 7-year-old tiger who horrifically (but perhaps deservedly) dragged the magician off the stage by his neck.

Viewership was kept to a minimum, and it didn't take long for NBC to cancel "Father of the Pride" — adding yet another failure to the list of DreamWorks' bad bets.

Bionic Woman (2007)

Competing with other big-money pilots at the start of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, NBC's re-imagining of the popular 1970s series "The Bionic Woman" — a show about a superhuman (and expensive) government agent — was one massive (and expensive) flop. The show, like some of its rivals, cost somewhere in the vicinity of $7-8 million for the pilot alone ... since bionic appendages and "anthrocytes" don't make themselves. Still, the high price tag wouldn't have been so bad if the show had legs — but not even superhuman speed could keep "Bionic Woman" in the race.

You may remember that fall 2007 was a dark time for fans of network television. (But a great time for fans of "Cops.") When the Writers Guild of America went on strike, the cast of "Bionic Woman" had its contracts suspended while the series' production was put on hold. The show never recovered, experienced a dramatic drop in ratings, and was kicked to the curb — making the costly re-creation's price tag tough to swallow.

Actress Michelle Ryan may have suffered the most from the series' cancellation. Instead of "Bionic Woman" being her breakout role, it's but a footnote on a resume which could've been so much better.

Viva Laughlin (2007)

Coming in as undoubtedly the worst show on this list, "Viva Laughlin" not only stinks to high heaven, but it's also an expensive catastrophe.

In an effort to diverge from a lineup of standard CBS shows, the network banked big on the Hugh Jackman-produced remake of BBC's popular murder-mystery musical series "Viva Blackpool." However, critics and viewers alike hated the casino-themed musical from the opening number, and its ratings were dismal. The New York Times opened its review of the series by asking, "Viva Laughlin on CBS may well be the worst new show of the season, but is it the worst show in the history of television?" Not even the promotional power of Hugh Jackman could stop the ship from sinking only moments after it left the harbor.

Advertisements were pulled, the show was canceled after airing only two episodes, and the network went on pretending it all never happened. With the pilot purportedly costing $6.8 million, cutting losses on "Viva Laughlin" so early was probably the right call.

Kings (2009)

Betting on the star-power of Ian McShane of "Deadwood," the writing prowess of Michael Green from "American Gods," and some assistance from "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" director Francis Lawrence, NBC seemed poised to hit it big with their ambitious drama series "Kings." The two-hour premiere cost a massive $10 million, with each subsequent episode coming in at $4 million a pop. With that kind of money behind a television series, you better believe the stakes were high. In this case, producers rolled snake eyes — cashing out with a dismal 1.6 rating and a disappointing 6 million viewers overall.

But "Kings" wasn't just costly for NBC. Liberty Mutual invested a $5 million sponsorship into the show, reportedly aiming to subconsciously piggyback on the show's message of personal responsibility to encourage viewers to buy auto and homeowners insurance. With barely anyone watching the show, however, it's safe to assume Liberty Mutual didn't exactly get what it paid for.

"Kings" was first banished to the dog days of summer before NBC officially called it quits. Still, the show isn't as bad as its ratings imply, and it might be worth going back to if you missed it the first time around.

FlashForward (2009-2010)

Based on Robert J. Sawyer's 1999 sci-fi novel of the same name — in which almost everybody on Earth blacks out at the same time for two minutes and 17 seconds –"FlashForward" was one of the most expensive network shows of all time.

Director and executive producer David S. Goyer affirmed that the show wasn't cheap in an interview with The Wrap. According to the famous superhero-movie scribe, "The only way to get more eyeballs back to the screen is to do a big quality show. And if the show involves a lot of spectacle and scope, like 'FlashForward' does, you have to deliver on the promise. ABC has been very good about opening up the piggy bank."

In hindsight, ABC probably wishes it kept that piggy bank stashed away. Despite reasonable critical reactions and solid fan reviews — alongside allegations of shamelessly ripping off "Lost" – the series watched its viewership dwindle rapidly. A three-month hiatus didn't do the show any favors either, and a ranking of 50th among its competitors simply didn't justify the blockbuster price tag.

Camelot (2011)

As the first series ordered under then newly crowned Starz president and CEO Chris Albrecht, hopes were riding high on Arthurian drama "Camelot." "The story of Arthur isn't history," Albrecht explained, "It's mythology, and Camelot isn't a place but an idea of hope that has resonated at different times throughout history." Unfortunately, Starz's take on the famous legend didn't resonate quite as well as they'd hoped.

Critical reviews of "Camelot" were less than stellar — which may have factored into the premium network's decision to pull the plug — but the show still saw more than solid ratings during its final episodes. Nevertheless, Starz canceled the historical fantasy-drama after only one season; scheduling conflicts with lead cast members Joseph Fiennes, Jamie Campbell Bower, and Eva Green made a sophomore effort more trouble than it was worth.

So how expensive was this Thomas Malory-inspired flop? According to The Wall Street Journal, the Ireland-filmed series cost roughly $7 million per episode. That's a lot of green ... even in Ireland.

Terra Nova (2011)

Despite receiving halfway decent ratings and boasting big-name producers Steven Spielberg and Peter Chernin, prehistoric sci-fi drama "Terra Nova" was a bit too rich for Fox's blood. According to Deadline, "Terra Nova" cost a whopping $14 million for the two-hour pilot, and each subsequent episode carried a price tag of $4 million. That's a lot of cheddar, even for a dinosaur-laden prime-time show with a steady 7.2 million viewers.

Some behind-the-scenes trouble didn't do the series any favors, either. Pilot script writer Craig Silverstein ended up moving over to work on series Nikita instead, and numerous changes in staff led to a costly union-induced $660,000 punishment for delaying production. Still, "Terra Nova" was good enough to warrant consideration for a second season, but a lack of high-level writing talent and difficulty securing it couldn't justify such a costly endeavor, making the series one of the most expensive flops in the history of television.

Marco Polo (2014-2016)

Netflix is no stranger to dropping big money on big projects. Some work out and some don't. In the case of "Marco Polo," the series never really found its way and lost a lot of money in the process.

At the time of the show's release, no active series was more expensive to produce, except HBO's fantasy-juggernaut "Game of Thrones." The first season of Netflix's Kublai Khan-centered drama cost a staggering $90 million, which weighs in at $10 million per episode. Unfortunately for Netflix, "Marco Polo" never came close to the success of "Game of Thrones."

Despite lackluster critical reviews, Netflix gave "Marco Polo" a second season. The sophomore effort was less popular than the first, prompting the streaming service to give the series the axe. (In this case, a 13th-century Mongol axe.)


Developed by Lana and Lilly Wachowski, the pair behind "The Matrix" franchise and "Cloud Atlas," along with "Babylon 5" creator J. Michael Straczynski, "Sense8" is a 2015 show that was funded by Netflix. Featuring an ensemble cast including Naveen Andrews, Bae Doona, Jamie Clayton, Tina Desai, and Freema Agyeman, the show follows a group of people from around the world who inexplicably gain the ability to psychically link with each other. Before they know it, they're being menaced by a secret organization apparently led by an enigmatic individual known as "Whispers."

"Sense8" received positive reviews from critics and viewers and won a number of awards but that didn't stop Netflix from canceling "Sense8" at the end of Season 2. An outcry from fans led to the streaming giant producing a final two-and-a-half hour-long finale to tie up the story and ensure it didn't end on a cliffhanger.

Variety reported that the chief content officer for Netflix at the time, Ted Sarandos confirmed the show was simply proving to be too expensive considering its small audience. While the company doesn't generally release information about budgets and viewing figures, the fact that it cost around $9 million per episode was seemingly too much for Netflix to justify. Most of this cost came down to the long production time and the fact that it was filmed on location around the world, inflating the price.

The Get Down

Netflix is no stranger to canceling high-profile shows if they don't live up to the company's expectations — which could mean they haven't managed to attract enough viewers. It shouldn't come as a huge surprise that "The Get Down" was axed after just a single season despite rave reviews and numerous award nominations. Created by "Elvis" and "Moulin Rouge!" director Baz Luhrmann and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis, the 2016 musical drama focuses on a group of teenagers living in the South Bronx of New York during the 1970s.

Netflix announced that "The Get Down" would not be returning to the streaming service in 2017, having already cut down the first season from 13 episodes to 11. This was largely a result of costly production delays and the mid-season departure of showrunner Shawn Ryan. According to Variety, research suggested that the show received just a fraction of the viewers as other Netflix originals and interest appeared to drop off quickly. It is little wonder then that Netflix did not want to commit to more episodes considering that the first season apparently cost around $120 million.

The Event

"The Event" is an NBC sci-fi thriller series that first hit television screens in 2010 and ran for a single season before it was unceremoniously shelved after just 22 episodes. The story focuses on a group of extraterrestrials who crash-land on Earth in a remote region of Alaska during World War II. Those onboard the unidentified craft are taken prisoner and held in captivity by the United States, although many survivors evade capture and manage to hide among the human population. When a new president takes office, he plans to free the aliens and reveal their existence to the world but is quickly caught up in an assassination attempt.

Even though "The Event" had a strong start when it was first broadcast, it quickly began to lose viewers. The series also failed to prove a hit with critics or the few audience members that did tune in to watch it, making it a likely contender for cancellation. While an exact budget has never been revealed, The Hollywood Reporter indicated that NBC spent at least $10 million marketing "The Event," suggesting that it was a big-budget undertaking.

The Fugitive

When most people think of "The Fugitive," they likely picture the 1993 film starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. The premise of the movie surrounds Dr. Richard Kimble, who is framed for the murder of his wife and sentenced to death for killing her. However, he is inadvertently freed while being transported to prison and sets out to find the actual culprit while being pursued by U.S. marshals.

However, there have been multiple versions of the story over the years, dating back to the original 1960s television series. In 2000, CBS launched a remake of the earlier show, also titled "The Fugitive," with Tim Daly portraying Kimble and Mykelti Williamson as the U.S. marshal trying to apprehend him. It was canceled following Season 1 and wound up ending on a cliffhanger. Sadly, the show's fanbase — relatively small as it may be — will probably never know the fate of this version of Kimble or the one-armed man.

The Post Gazette reported that the pilot alone cost an estimated $6 million to produce, a rather large figure for 2000. In fact, The Hollywood Reporter claimed that drama pilots cost $5 million on average in the year 2007, suggesting that "The Fugitive" was certainly on the high scale for a television series.

The Star Wars Holiday Special

Although it is not part of the official canon of the "Star Wars" universe, the "The Star Wars Holiday Special" came out not long after the first film and is set between "A New Hope" and "The Empire Strikes Back." It centers on Chewbacca and Han Solo's attempt to visit the planet Kashyyyk while being pursued by Imperial forces and bounty hunter Boba Fett. The $1 million budget, which was around 10% of the total cost of "A New Hope," is equivalent to more than $4.5 million today, so the special was certainly an expensive production.

The show was universally panned by almost everyone who has seen it. Even those who worked on the project, including cast members such as Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford, have been critical of the project and how it turned out. "Star Wars" creator and director George Lucas has even remarked that he wants to destroy every copy of the special that is still available.

The I-Land

"The I-Land" is another Netflix series that faced cancellation very early in its run. Starring Natalie Martinez, Kate Bosworth, Kyle Schmid, and Sibylla Deen, it is a sci-fi thriller that tracks 10 strangers who wake up on a beach without any idea how they got there or knowledge about their own identities. Conflict soon breaks out and it is later revealed that this is a digital simulation meant to test whether violent criminals will return to the way they once behaved under all new circumstances.

After its premiere, "The I-Land" was universally criticized. It holds a Rotten Tomatoes rating of just 8% and a similarly bad audience score, suggesting that very few people enjoyed anything about it. In its review of the series, Paste criticized its absurdity and called it an embarrassment; the writer stated, "I have watched some truly, truly bad series in my day, but few that went off the rails this hard this fast." Considering that "The I-Land" cost approximately $14 million for a limited series of just seven 40-minute episodes, few could argue this was a good investment.

Troy: Fall of a City

"Troy: Fall of a City" is another series that Netflix probably wishes it had spent less money on. However, this 2018 endeavor is unique in that it was a co-production with the BBC. Set during the mythological age of ancient Greece, the show charts the Trojan invasion after Paris, played by Louis Hunter, flees Sparta with Bella Dayne's Helen of Troy. This prompts a war between the two nations as Achilles and the other Greeks attempt to take back Helen.

Despite positive reviews, "Troy: Fall of a City" failed to attract viewers for the most part. It managed just 3.2 million audience members for its opening episode, almost 2 million less than a typical Saturday evening primetime slot, according to Greek Reporter. A few episodes later, this number had dropped to just 1.6 million in total — a dramatic fall for an expensive show. According to The Times, the series cost almost $2.5 million an episode, putting the series at a total cost of $20 million for its eight-episode first season. This made it one of the BBC's most expensive dramas that it had ever made.


An adaptation of Channel 4's 2013 series of the same name, "Utopia" is a 2020 Amazon Prime Video series that was created by "Gone Girl" writer Gillian Flynn. Starring John Cusack, Rainn Wilson, Sasha Lane, and Desmin Borges, the premise of the show is that a group of young adults discover a cult comic book and become aware of its connection to a vast global conspiracy. Armed with this knowledge, they set out to save the world but also become targets for a secretive underground organization. Amazon canceled the series after a single season that was made up of eight episodes.

"Utopia" was originally set to be produced by HBO, but the show was eventually shelved following a dispute over the budget. According to rumors reported by Deadline, director David Fincher wanted more than $100 million to shoot the series but executives at HBO were unwilling to offer more than $95 million. It can reasonably be assumed that the budget was at least in a similar region to what HBO had offered, especially considering some of the big-name actors who were part of the cast. While the expenses certainly didn't help the odds of Amazon's "Utopia" receiving a Season 2, in light of COVID-19's all-encompassing impact on the real world of 2020, it's safe to say the TV-viewing public of the era was uniquely disinterested in an escapist sci-fi fantasy program about a deadly global pandemic.

Cop Rock

The entire premise of "Cop Rock" will likely seem bizarre to anyone who comes across the show. It was created by Steven Bochco, the man responsible for the hit crime drama "Hill Street Blues." But "Cop Rock" takes the concept of a typical police procedural and blends in musical elements. As the various detectives and police officers in the LAPD carry out their work, a number of choreographed musical numbers push the story forward and provide extra context to viewers.

As a highly experimental concept, "Cop Rock" was always likely to face an uphill battle and the show was canceled after just 11 episodes of the planned 13 that were due to make up Season 1. Reports from the time suggest that the series failed to attract a large enough audience and had average reviews. The New York Times revealed that "Cop Rock" also had a large budget — roughly 40% larger than equivalent shows in its time slot and was costing more than $1 million per week.


Despite plenty of criticism about its final season, "Game of Thrones" was such a hit across the world that HBO was always likely to continue the franchise in some way. Fans eventually got more Westeros content with the popular spin-off series "House of the Dragon" but long before that another project was in the works. Known by its production name "Bloodmoon," this show was set to be written by Jane Goldman of "Kick-Ass" and "Kingsman: The Secret Service" fame and take place thousands of years before the events of "Game of Thrones."

HBO officially greenlit a pilot for the series in 2018 and cast actors such as Naomi Watts in key roles. With a budget of $30 million, the "Bloodmoon" pilot cost more than the $15 million spent on each episode of the final season of "Game of Thrones." Meanwhile, Deadline reported that there were long delays and production issues throughout the filming of the pilot, including a complete re-edit when HBO executives were unconvinced after seeing the first cut. HBO pulled the plug shortly after this and locked the pilot away so that no one would ever get to see it.

The Playboy Club

"The Playboy Club" is a 2011 NBC series that is set during the 1960s and follows the action around the first Playboy Club in Chicago. The series stars Eddie Cibrian as a shady lawyer called Nick Dalton who is connected to organized crime, and Amber Heard as a new employee at the club who is naive and innocent but is also hinted to have a closet full of skeletons, somehow. Typically, characters in fiction are depicted as either innocent or haunted by past misdeeds, but an ill-considered protagonist was the least of this show's problems. 

Controversial from the moment that it first hit television screens, "The Playboy Club" did not prove to be a hit with critics or viewers. Meanwhile, the series also struggled in the ratings, losing millions of viewers between the first and third episodes, prompting NBC to cancel the show mid-season. Showrunner Chad Hodge confirmed that "The Playboy Club" had four completed episodes that remain unaired, despite the series costing NBC at least $2 million an episode.


"Friends" was one of the biggest shows of the 1990s and early 2000s and is still one of the more popular series on television. When it finally came to an end in 2004 after 10 seasons, it made perfect sense that NBC would want to continue its success in some way with a spin-off. This new series, which made its debut near the end of 2004 and was titled simply "Joey" focused entirely on Matt LeBlanc's character, Joey Tribbiani, who moves to Hollywood to try and make it as a movie actor.

The concept made sense, but the execution left a lot to be desired, although Kevin Bright, one of the original "Friends" producers, believed that NBC had disregarded his ideas for the spin-off and made the show less fun that it should have been (via TV Insider). Ratings plummeted from the first episode onward, and NBC chose to cancel the series midway through its Season 2. Although official figures about the cost of making "Joey" have never been detailed, U.K. channel FIVE was paying as much as £500,000 for each episode, a staggering five times more than the usual license fee. Meanwhile, LeBlanc claims that he earned $30 million for his role in the spin-off. Let's make an educated guess that "Joey" wasn't cheap. 

Good Girls Revolt

"Good Girls Revolt" was another expensive flop for a streaming service. Based on the 2013 book "The Good Girls Revolt" by Lynn Povich, it tells the story of a group of female writers at a news magazine who find themselves subjected to absurd amounts of sexism. The likes of Genevieve Angelson, Anna Camp, Erin Darke, and Hunter Parrish were part of the main cast, with the show sometimes compared to the highly acclaimed "Mad Men" by critics and fans alike.

That comparison seemed apt considering the positive response to the show. But the high quality didn't translate into viewers, with Reuters revealing that only 1.6 million tuned in. Even more damning was the fact that as few as 52,000 joined the service to see "Good Girls Revolt" according to the same figures. With a budget in the region of $80 million, it is little wonder that Amazon chose not to renew for Season 2.


A collaboration between Martin Scorsese, Terence Winter, and Mick Jagger, "Vinyl" is a 2016 HBO series that focuses on the music scene in New York during the 1970s. As the tastes of the population shift from rock to disco and hip-hop music, a record company executive does his best to stay relevant in the shifting marketplace. The likes of Bobby Cannavale, Ato Essandoh, Jack Quaid, and Ray Romano had starring roles, while Scorsese himself executive produced and directed the two-hour long pilot.

Before Episode 1 even hit television screens, HBO revealed that it had given the greenlight for Season 2. Yet, this changed when viewing figures for the series became apparent and the network quickly confirmed that "Vinyl" had instead been canceled as it "failed to land" (via Deadline). Costing $100 million for the first season, that accounts to $10 million per episode. It was one of HBO's most expensive projects, but also failed to find an audience and managed less than a million viewers on average (via The Hollywood Reporter). However, Scorsese believes that the series could have been more successful if he had directed all the episodes and devoted more time to it.