With an average budget of $6 million per episode, “Game of Thrones” is HBO’s most expensive show. And although there is no data available for “Mad Men,” AMC has been known to pour money into the show. These high budgets allow “Thrones” and “Mad Men” to enjoy critical success and maintain a steady audience. The more popular a show, the more a network is willing to increase that show’s budget.
However, when the budget for one show increases, it negatively affects the budgets of other shows on that same network. With this in mind, one might wonder if shows with such big budgets should even exist.
It is easy to understand why networks favor their highest-rated shows, considering the more viewers they have, the more money they can charge advertising companies to air their products during commercials. Considering the ratings of these shows, surely fans will appreciate an improvement in visual quality for their favorites — a likely outcome of raising a show’s budget.
Ratings, however, don’t always represent the quality of a show, and while both “Thrones” and “Mad Men” have won their fair share of awards, they aren’t the only critically acclaimed shows on their networks.
For instance, many critics and loyal fans will agree that “Breaking Bad” is a strong show. But because it has received about half the ratings “Mad Men” has for most of its run, “Breaking Bad” has suffered significant budget cuts. In 2011, these cuts nearly caused Sony Television, the studio behind “Breaking Bad,” to drop AMC and look for another network.
In a recent interview on Howard Stern’s radio show, actor Bryan Cranston, who plays Walter White on “Breaking Bad,” admitted he is not paid much on the show, and that the only reason he is able to work on it without financial worry is because of past success. It is definitely a bit disturbing to know that an actor who has won three Emmy Awards isn’t being compensated the way he should be.
This summer, “Breaking Bad” will finish its fifth and final season. Although Vince Gilligan, the show’s creator, is more than pleased with his series ending, he does acknowledge that television is a business and needs to make money. Many fans feel that AMC is a little too eager to rush the critically acclaimed — though not particularly highly rated — show off the air.
While it seems unfair that shows suffer setbacks when a more popular program receives a higher budget, competition is the nature of television. Even if their shows do not all have equally high ratings, networks should be more conscientious when distributing their budgets. While television is indeed a business, and it is important to compensate shows with high ratings. Networks also have the responsibility to uphold the integrity of the art of television — giving audiences the quality they deserve, not just making a profit.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, April 24 print edition. Alex Mujica is a staff writer. Email her at [email protected]