Television shows aired in the United States during the broadcast network pre-cable area often had huge audiences, by today's standards. Throughout the 1970's, one ratings point in prime time often was the equivalent of one million households.
Since the top-rated prime time shows had ratings of 25 to 30, that means that many shows routinely were viewed by 30 million people a week. And most shows produced many more episodes per season than are currently produced.
In the modern era, cable and streaming services have fragmented the audience to such a degree that shows are supported by much smaller audiences, often in the middle single digits in millions of viewers. Although our society is wealthier now and disposable income directed to entertainment has grown, I'm trying to understand the economics here. If the audience every week for Here's Lucy or Ironside was nearly as large as the audience the Super Bowl or World Series get today, wouldn't the advertising dollars generated by those shows be similar, at least in real dollars? Why would a show like Game of Thrones today have budgets of $6 million to $10 million an episode, making shows made in the 1970's look like they were shot in someone's basement by comparison?
Were the networks simply realizing profits that no one hopes to equal today? Was TV just a license to print money, by shooting cheap shows with comically bad production values and getting 30 million viewers anyway? Or were these huge audiences much less valuable (somehow) than today's tiny audiences, and thus the production values of the time were the most the industry could afford?