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The Most Expensive Animated Series In TV History

There was a time when TV was the low-budget little brother of cinema; the small screen to the silver one. That's no longer the case. With episodes of shows like "Lost" and "Sense8" costing upwards of $10 million, and seasons of "Game of Thrones" costing up to $90 million, prestige television has become expensive. But it's not just quality dramas that have seen an increase in production budgets since the "New Golden Age" of TV began: animated shows have also seen an uptick in production costs over the last 20 years.

Some of the most expensive cartoon TV series of all time had production costs of over $1 million per episode. Whether it be from the cost of cutting-edge animation technology or increasing salary demands of a popular voice cast, the money it takes to make some of your favorite animated shows may surprise you. Here are some of the costliest animated shows ever made. 

DreamWorks' Father of the Pride cost $1.6–$2 million per episode

One of the biggest flops in TV history was an early stab at a big-budget animated program from NBC. 2004's "Father of the Pride" remains mostly lost to the collective consciousness, forgotten by all but those unfortunate enough to be involved in it. And what a cast to behold. John Goodman, Carl Reiner, and Cheryl Hines were nothing to scoff at in 2004, when Hollywood actors rarely did voice work for animated series beyond the high-paying "Simpsons" cameos (although it's worth mentioning Goodman got his start on TV and had done TV voice acting work previously).

Despite this talent, the DreamWorks Animation project was doomed to fail, getting canceled before the first season had finished production. This ambitious project might have seemed reasonable for a studio riding high off of the recent success of "Shrek," but it turned out to be a costly mistake. NBC executives reportedly said one episode of the show cost up to $2 million to make. At a budget between $1.6–$2 million an episode (per IGN), "Father of the Pride" couldn't justify its production cost, especially when combined with a steep decline in ratings. Maybe it was ahead of its time. Maybe it was truly unwatchable. Who can say they have actually seen it?

The Simpsons pays top voice actors at least $400,000 per episode

The longest-running animated series of all time also happens to be one of the most expensive. That's not a coincidence, having everything to do with how many decades "The Simpsons" has been on the air with the same voice cast. That cast is what has been running up the bill over at Fox (and now Disney) for decades now. 

Top voice actors Dan Castellaneta, Hank Azaria, and Harry Shearer make $400,000 each per episode for their work voicing a majority of the characters across Springfield. This is already a budget of $1.2 million per episode, even before Nancy Cartwright (Bart) and Julie Kavner (Marge) get paid their own sizable salaries (the numbers are a bit fuzzy, but are at least in the six figures). This is also before taking into consideration the cost of animation and any guest stars that the episode may have. 

Some back-of-the-napkin math shows that "The Simpsons" is possibly the most expensive animated TV show being made. As an enduring show that has never had a change in major voice actors, these are the lifeblood of the characters. If any of these linchpin voice actors were to leave, it could spell the end for the series. 

Family Guy pays four top cast members $175,000-$225,000 per episode as of 2013

"Family Guy" is another extremely popular animated show that has come to rely on a consistent voice cast to bring the characters to life for each and every episode. In 2013, the top-paid voice cast of the animated sitcom negotiated for new salaries in the range of $175,000-$225,000 per episode. This group includes Seth Green (who voices Chris), Mila Kunis (Meg), Alex Borstein (Lois), and Mike Henry, who provides the voice of Cleveland Brown — who got his own spinoff "The Cleveland Show" from 2009-2013. 

This calculation puts the cost of a single episode at the bare minimum of around $1 million and that's not accounting for whatever deal the creator (and voice of Peter Griffin) Seth McFarlane has struck up with Fox. This data means "Family Guy" is likely nearly as expensive to make as "The Simpsons," if not already on the same level. The series is about to enter its 20th season this fall, making it one of the longest-running cartoons ever. 

South Park used to be cheap. Now it costs up to $1 million per episode

Matt Stone and Trey Parker are being paid an absurd amount of money to keep making "South Park" for Comedy Central — and no wonder, given the success of the show and its cultural impact over the years. Even if we've moved beyond the point where the latest "South Park" joke causes national controversy, it still has a sizable fanbase. When it began, "South Park" was a scrappy, low-budget project. Parker and Stone's second short starring the soon-to-be "South Park" characters, "Jesus vs. Santa," was made with just $2,000 that producer Brian Graden gave to the duo. That is far from the case these days.

Back in 2008, it was said that many half-hour Comedy Central programs that appeared both on the web and cable (like "South Park") cost between $500,000 and $1 million per episode. This was relatively cheap compared to longer network dramas at the time, especially given how lucrative it was becoming to clip sections from shows like "South Park" and put them online. If you look at Comedy Central's YouTube channel today, most of the content still consists of scenes and highlights promoting and repurposing episodes of shows that recently aired. 

Star Wars: The Clone Wars had a budget of $1 million per episode

George Lucas wasn't shy about how much he wanted "The Clone Wars" TV series to succeed. In an interview he gave during the early days of the series' first season, he ballparked that each episode's production cost around $1 million. In 2008, this type of budget per animated episode was probably unprecedented.  

Fans have speculated that over the course of the series, as the creators learned how to make the show more efficiently, the "Clone Wars" budget decreased. Some have gone as far as to say that "The Clone Wars" follow-up "Rebels" had a significantly lower budget due to these improvements, but there is no way to verify this. As the series went on, it found ways to look better and better, but it's unclear if the later seasons cost more or less to produce than the early ones. 

We don't know what the budget looked like for the final season of "The Clone Wars," but we wouldn't be surprised if it surpassed even the early episodes of the series, and the same goes for the stunning first season of "The Bad Batch."

One Piece costs $10.75 million yen ($100,000) per episode to produce

Anime doesn't often rank with the multi-million-dollar-per-episode production cost of major dramas, but it's also worth noting that long-running Shonen anime series like "One Piece" are constantly churning out new content. The pirate action-adventure show is now rapidly approaching its 1,000th episode, set to air in November. Having been on the air for 22 years now (since 1999), this puts "One Piece" at an average of over 40 episodes per year, doubling the output of a show like "Family Guy," which only has 20 or so per season. 

"One Piece" is believed to be one of the most expensive anime shows produced, with a budget of around 10.75 million yen (or $100,000) per episode. The seemingly unending popularity of the program has led to a stable voice cast for both the Japanese originals and the English international dub. Voice actress Mayumi Tanaka gives the voice of protagonist Monkey D. Luffy, who is in nearly every episode. She also lends her voice to all the films and video games based on the property. Keeping the talented Tanaka around for this many years can't be cheap for Toei Animation.

The leads in the Dragon Ball series are some of the highest-paid voice actors in Japan

Created in 1984, the "Dragon Ball" manga, shows, video games, and collectibles constitute one of the prominent anime franchises around the world. While not much is known about the production cost of "Dragon Ball Z," "Dragon Ball Super," or any of the other major entries in the TV format, we do know how much the lead voice actors, who have worked on the show since the '80s, make in a year. Masako Nozawa (Goku) is the second-highest-paid voice actor in Japan, with her combined roles earning her an approximate 40 million yen ($360,000) per year. Ryo Horikawa (Vegeta) is the nation's highest-earning male voice actor, earning 30 million yen ($270,000) per year. 

The difference between how much top Japanese voice actors get paid and the salaries of "The Simpsons" or "Family Guy" voice cast is honestly unbelievable, with American talent paid per episode roughly what their equivalents in the Land of the Rising Sun make per year for multiple roles. However, the fact that shows like "Dragon Ball Z Kai" and "Super" were working with not one but two of the top-paid VO workers in anime means their production costs were likely much higher than their contemporaries.