“Leave It to Beaver” may look like a cheap sitcom to produce. But one episode was so expensive, it caused the next three to be scaled back.
The sitcom was a quintessential slice of Americana. Unlike other shows of its era, “Leave It to Beaver” focused on a child’s point of view living in a big family. Its influence can be felt in later shows like “The Wonder Years” or the early 2000s sitcom “Malcolm in the Middle.”
For the most part, the show’s concept didn’t require a large budget, especially not the likes of westerns like “Gunsmoke” or “Bonanza.” But one episode during its fourth season had the highest budget of the show.
“’In the Soup’ is the most expensive ‘Leave It To Beaver ‘episode ever made,” Jerry Mather, who played Beaver Cleaver, told Archive of American Television. “In fact, because it was so expensive, for the next probably three or four episodes we could only use the ensemble cast because it was budgeted at, I believe $58,000, which was an incredible amount of money for a show at that time.”
According to Cheatsheet, the show had to scale back the following three episodes to recoup the money. What was so expensive you might ask? The money went to building a giant billboard.
“They not only had to build a billboard outside but a billboard inside, a full-size billboard inside to do close-ups on,” Mathers said.
The Most Expensive Episode of ‘Leave It to Beaver’
According to Mathers, don’t expect explosions or lasers or anything high concept in the sitcom’s most expensive episode. No, that episode was about soup. A giant bowl of soup to be exact.
“The show,” Mathers said, “is about a soup bowl. In Times Square at the time, they had a smoking advertisement, I believe it was for Winstons or Camels.”
The producers of the show wanted to create an episode about marketing and advertising. To make it kid-friendly, they decided to make the giant billboard about soup instead of cigarettes. And of course, as usual for Beaver and the gang, hijinks soon ensued.
“Well, [the show] decided, ‘Wouldn’t that be an interesting thing to do a show about?’” Mathers said. “So they didn’t want to use cigarettes so they thought, ‘Oh we’ll use a thing of soup.’ So Beaver and Whitey are looking up at it and Whitey says, ‘Do you think that’s real steam and real soup in that bowl up on the billboard?’ And Beaver goes, ‘I don’t know.’”
During the episode, Beaver is talked into scaling the billboard by Whitey. The kids wanted to see if the soup was actually real or not. But in the usual fashion, something goes wrong and Beaver gets stuck in the billboard until the fire department can rescue him.
“So Beaver starts to climb the billboard and gets up and the soup is in a saucer. And he puts his hand up on the rim of the bowl that the soup’s on. One of the famous lines is, ‘Just put your foot on the lady’s thumb!’” Mathers said. “It’s just a terrible mess,” Mathers said. “It’s one of the [episodes] that people remember the most.”