How 'Miami Vice' Budgets Compared to 'The Sopranos'

If you shoot on location, license classic rock songs, and include pricey land and seacraft in scripts, your TV series is going to run up big budgets. In its eight years on HBO, The Sopranos (1999-2007) spent as much as anyone. But the classic mob show wasn’t the first to go all-in on these luxuries.

In the 1980s, Miami Vice started out using songs by the Rolling Stones and Phil Collins (among others) in the pilot episode– and never looked back. After a few episodes, it became clear the Miami-set show would not be skimping on pop music (nor on guest stars).

As time went on, the big budgets led to some wrangling between the studio and Miami Vice star Don Johnson. That’s something Sopranos fans would read about in the paper two decades later. Looking back, the classic shows ran up budgets that could have pushed their respective networks to the brink.

‘Miami Vice’ budgets ran $1-2 million per episode in the early seasons

Miami Vice kicked things off in Sept. ’84 in high style. Its pilot cost $5 million to make, and you could see where it went on the screen. After the opening sequences in New York’s Chelsea and Lower Manhattan, the story heads straight to a breakdancer on the streets of Miami.

In between, Jan Hammer’s original theme set the cutting-edge Miami Vice tried to maintain for its five seasons. When Rolling Stone checked in on the show’s set in ’85, producers were spending “more than $1 million” to get an episode on the air.

After two seasons, it became pricier to keep the machine going. Locations on previously empty Miami streets became more expensive, and the stars needed higher salaries to keep going. In summer ’86, the AP reported on Johnson holding out until he was happy with his new pay package.

At that point, the AP reported Miami Vice budgets could stretch to $2 million (adjusted for inflation, $4.7 million in 2020). The boat races and explosions weren’t free, you see.

‘Sopranos’ budgets ranged from $2 million up to $6 million and above by the final season

When Sopranos creator David Chase was shopping his series around to networks, no one believed he’d get the green light to shoot in New Jersey. Chase recalled them basically laughing in his face at the thought a production could shoot on location.

Chase stuck to his guns, though, and he got his Jersey locations. His production also got a sizable budget for licensing music, and Chase stretched the money as far as it could go in that department. Early on, the show cost in the neighborhood of $2 million per episode to make.

That changed later, for many of the same reasons the budget of Miami Vice ballooned. By the end of the Sopranos‘ run, star James Gandolfini was earning $1 million per episode. Meanwhile, his co-stars weren’t terribly far behind him. Episodes could cost over $6 million ($7.7 million in 2020, adjusted for inflation) by the end.

But compared to shows like Game of Thrones, which featured budgets that could reach $15 million, these reality-based shows could be considered had on the cheap.

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