“Succession” immerses viewers in the high-stakes world of running a media empire and all the top-secret deals, coup attempts and shocking scandals that come with it.
The cast and creators of the award-winning series, who will compete for more statues at Monday’s Emmy Awards, insist the characters are inspired by a long list of dynastic family businesses – past and present. Showrunner Jesse Armstrong said in a behind-the-scenes interview that the writers come from “famous media families like the Hearsts, in modern-day Redstone, John Malone, Robert Fitz of Comcast, Murdoch, and Robert and Rebekah Mercer, who founded Breitbart .”
But of all the influences, the fictional Roys, led by patriarch Logan Roy (Brian Cox), who plays the CEO of media company and entertainment conglomerate Waystar Royco, seem to overlap the most with the real Murdochs, the family of the Australian media magnate. Rupert Murdock.
(Major spoilers ahead for the third season of “Succession”.)
The premise of the series, which airs on HBO, which like CNN is owned by Warner Bros. Discovery, is practically taken from Murdoch’s book.
Logan Roy, a ruthless negotiator and friend of presidents, certainly has a Murdochian vibe.
Rupert Murdoch built the small newspaper business he inherited from his father in 1952 into one of the most powerful conservative media empires in history. News Corp, with a market capitalization of $13.50 billion, is one of the most influential companies on the planet.
He always intended to pass his business on to one of his children, but the 91-year-old never named a successor.
Like Roy, thrice-married Murdoch has several children from two marriages.
Prudence Macleod is Rupert’s eldest child from his first marriage. Prudence has never shown much interest in running the family business, so she has largely stayed away from the succession battle that ensnares her siblings.
Rupert Murdoch’s eldest son from his second marriage is Lachlan Murdoch, who quickly rose through the ranks and became Chairman and Managing Director of News Ltd in 1997.
At the time, his father described Lachlan as his heir apparent, “the first among equals”. Then, in 2005, he abruptly resigned after a battle with Fox News Channel CEO Roger Ailes over the direction of the cable news network – stepping off the heir apparent trail. Lachlan returned to the family business in 2014.
The family also includes Rupert Murdoch’s youngest son, James Murdoch, who left Harvard in 1995 to start his own hip-hop record label.
James Murdoch joined News Corporation and was increasingly seen as the new heir after Lachlan Murdoch left in 2005. But he quit in 2011 after being engulfed in a phone hacking scandal. After several years of hiatus, he joined the family business before finally stepping down in 2020, citing “disagreements over certain editorial content published by the Company’s news outlets and certain other strategic decisions”.
Elisabeth Murdoch is the only daughter from their father’s second marriage.
“She is very shrewd, very cunning. She may be the most like Rupert,” New York Times writer Jim Rutenberg said of Elisabeth in the CNN original series “The Murdochs: Empire of Influence.”
Rupert Murdoch has dismissed her attempts to take the throne, saying she needs to figure out how many children she wants to have before planning any further moves in the business, Sky High author Mathew Horsman says in the series.
In 2000, she left the family business and founded one of the UK’s largest independent production companies.
On “Succession”, Logan Roy has four children. Elder Connor Roy (Alan Ruck) is mostly retired from the company, and in the final season has set his sights on the presidency. Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) initially sits as his father’s heir apparent, but after a series of beatings he falls from his father’s grace.
The youngest of the Roy family, quick-witted Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin), struggled to prove himself worthy of the top spot. Sarah Snook’s Siobhan (or Shiv), meanwhile, has her father’s skill and favor (even when they disagree), but has met with resistance.
Waystar Royco of “Succession” and Murdoch’s News Corp. have more than a few points of overlap.
On “Succession,” Waystar Royco’s assets include conservative cable news network ATN, Fox News’ version of the show.
Throughout the series, Logan Roy talks to the President and his advisers about White House network coverage and tailors their access.
Fox News is an influence tool for Rupert Murdoch, Jonathan Mahler, who co-wrote “How Rupert Murdoch’s Empire of Influence Remade the World,” says in “The Murdochs: Empire of Influence.”
“Rupert always dreamed of having a close relationship with an American president,” says Mahler.
In “Succession” Season 2, leaked information indicates that Waystar’s cruise ship division has buried internal reports of sexual harassment, assault, and possibly murder. The scandal forced Logan Roy and his son Kendall Roy to testify before a US Senate subcommittee – another strike in Kendall’s pursuit of power.
The debacle shares similarities with the News Corp hacking scandal. in 2011. The company’s UK newspaper, News of the World, came under intense scrutiny when journalists were discovered hacking into the phones of royals, celebrities and victims of crimes to get their stories. Mirroring the show, Rupert Murdoch, alongside his son James, gave evidence to Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
In the fallout, James relinquished his title as executive chairman of News Corp’s UK publishing unit.
“You imagine, in a situation like this, a father’s instinct might be to protect his son, but James is really thrown under the bus by his father,” Mahler said. “It’s a humiliating and devastating time for him.”
Rupert and Logan both pulled off a move that left people stunned: selling their self-made empires.
In the Season 3 finale, Logan announces his intention to sell Waystar Royco to streaming company GoJo and give tech founder Lukas Matsson control of the company.
“Now is the best time to sell. If I don’t get the best deal at some point, what’s the point of anything? I’m not going out, I’m leaving $5 billion on the table,” Logan told his kids. “Make your own pile. This is an opportunity for you children to get an education in real life.
Rupert also opted to cash in in 2018, selling most of 21st Century Fox to Disney.
“Once the Disney deal was done, Fox remained a shell of itself. Gone was the movie studio, gone were the cable networks like FX. What was left was the Fox Broadcasting Company, Fox Sports and Fox News – the something Rupert cares about more than anything,” Matthew Belloni, former editorial director of The Hollywood Reporter and founding partner of Puck News, said in the Murdoch series.
Rudenberg says the move was seen as a vote of no confidence in her children.
“By making his family the business and the business his family, Rupert left his family as broken as his business was when he sold to Disney,” Rutenberg said. “He was torn apart by this decades-long succession battle which, at the same time, was an apparent zero-sum battle for the love of their father.”
Today, Lachlan Murdoch is the CEO of Fox Corp and his father is the co-chairman. James and Elisabeth left the family business.
The future of Logan’s children is very uncertain as the series enters its fourth season.
A premiere date has not been announced.
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