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Back in the 1970s I read a book which explored numerous "behind the scenes" aspects of Star Trek. From what I recall, it contained a claim that it was the most expensive hour on TV at the time. I just finished watching a show about Star Trek which described the original series as a "cheap" show i.e. low-budget. Both can't be right.

Obviously the original series, if expensive, would have been under a lot of pressure to save money wherever possible. Sure, a lot of it looks rather cheesy by today's standards, but is that because of decades of rising production standards along with viewer expectations, or because it really was done on a meager budget? When you consider the ambitions of the show - depictions of aliens, other worlds, and spaceships good enough that you can suspend your disbelief and immerse yourself in the story, it would have pushed 1960s filmmaking to the limit, especially for a weekly show.

Also, its 1960s budget numbers would seem small today because of inflation, so in adjusted dollars, was it really a cheap show, or a premium product for its day?

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Just a side note: the per-episode budget decreased with each season. This may explain why by Season 3, transporter scenes almost always showed just Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beaming down to a planet. This helped save money on the transporter special effects by not having additional officers/crew beaming down. I also believe that as a cost-saving measure, there were also no location filming in the third season.

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  • Based on the way the effect was created, not sure number of actors appearing in the shot would impact the cost, unless it required someone to hand-draw matte outlines, and even then, would it really make that much difference? Number of actors required to shoot a given scene, sure... eliminating the visual effect entirely by cutting away to show the transporter operator and simply dub in the sound effect, sure. I think cutting down landing party size would only save the cost of extras costumed, made-up, and paid to appear on-set.
    – Anthony X
    Aug 10 '21 at 21:58
  • Briefly looking at the inventory of season 3 episodes, it does appear that there was no location (outdoor) shooting (all on soundstage), but there was a wide variety of settings, so there would still have been a lot of money expended on sets, props, and costumes for each episode, recycling notwithstanding.
    – Anthony X
    Aug 10 '21 at 22:06
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It appears that this was answered in the Science Fiction and Fantasy SE site. Please read it all because it supplies more info than what is asked here, and the numbers are stated in different places.

Quick recap of what was said there: Average cost per episode was $190,635. And this is about $1.4 million today.

My personal notes: I never thought the effects were cheesy because when I say this, I think of the original series of other shows back then.

I also purchased the pilot episode of the original Start Trek (highly recommended). Gene Roddenberry gave a prolog to it, and in it he said that the network was squeezing him for budget. So he created the Menagerie episodes that re-used much of the original pilot that never aired. That implies that his episodes were not so cheap.

I hope this helps.

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