I was director of photography for Star Trek Phase 2 for 3 episodes, and worked there on a total of six episodes, mostly in the camera department, but also in visual effects.
I also directed photography on Cawley Entertainments Buck Rogers pilot.
I worked on Starship Farragut, and Starship Polaris, which is an independent indie pilot.
TV requires an immense budget.
Phase 2, and any other show that claims "no budget" is really depending on donations of time, equipment and money from dozens if not hundreds of participants. Looking at Phase 2, the typical crew member not only gives two weeks of volunteer work, of 12+ hour days. During that time they also pay for their food, lodging and travel. Even after every effort has been made the typical crew member spends over $1000 just to be on set.
Some crew members, like myself, offer equipment. I usually provided $10-20000 of equipment per shoot. On one occasion I was able to bring a RED camera, on that shoot I had $65000 of gear on set.
I have all that to offer because I am a professional film/video maker.
I would NOT offer any of that to most productions. Phase 2 got special treatment because its "Star Trek."
Looking at Polaris, I shot that with a Canon 7D DSLR. The total camera rig was over $6000, and would have rented for $2500 for our shoot to date. Add to that lighting rentals. We spent $5000 for our week of studio shooting for grip and electric. (including a low end dolly.) We've shot about 12 days so far, and we have to shoot another 4 days or so.
I want to point out that these are camera, grip and electric department EQUIPMENT costs only. That's all money heading OUT. Not a single soul involved in the film profits one cent from any of that. It also doesn't account for set construction materials, studio rental, electricity, food, wardrobe, props, permits, insurance or anything else.
This is very low budget film making, but it still costs a huge amount.
Coming back to labor, let me talk about a point a producer brought up here. I worked on a series of visual effects shots for Star Trek Phase 2. I had to rotoscope an actor from a series of shots, and then reconstruct the set (Enterprise bridge) behind him. Naturally the reconstructed set had to match the actual standing set where it was shot. If I was working on a "real" show that shot would have been finished in 2-3 days. A week at the absolute max. In fact the shot took 3 months of me working on it whenever I happened to have a bit of time.
If you need the work done faster, you need to be paying professionals to do it. You also can't honestly expect to pay minimum wage. On average I'd expect to have to pay out $6000 per day for a crew of 30. That only works out to an average salary of $50000 per year, which is low given the skill sets required. It comes to $90000 per episode with a 3 week shooting schedule per episode.
This depends on keeping the unions OUT of the production, which is hard.
For comparison, the union minimum rate for my job, director of photography, on a film is $1200 per day. Using minimum staffing, each camera requires a DP/Operator, a 1st assistant. Each unit requires a second assistant camera and digital imaging technician. That minimum staffing requires 4 people, with a union minimum salary of $2600 per day- and that does not include any equipment.
This doesn't count post production crew, or allow for pre-production on an episode. It also doesn't include all the actors that go in front of the camera.
In order to produce a show the caliber of Phase 2 caliber on a timely basis (i.e. one episode every three weeks) we would need a minimum of $200000 per episode. I expect it to run $350000 per episode.
So... if you want independently produced TV you must come up with that kind of money. $3.6 million per year. Nobody is going to get rich on those sort of numbers.
Realistically, if you want to attract good qualified people and give them all the gear they need, then you should double that figure for a 13 episode series. If you want a 20 episode season, there are more economies to be had so figure 10 million or so.