HBO Succession True Story – Similiarities Between the Murdochs and the Roys

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HBO Succession True Story – Similiarities Between the Murdochs and the Roys

Since Succession premiered on HBO in 2018, viewers have speculated about which media empire the Roy family is based on. Some have guessed it was inspired by the Redstones, the Trumps, and the Hearsts. But this week’s New York Times Magazine expose on the Murdoch family proves the similarities between the Roys and the Murdochs are uncanny.

Rupert Murdoch runs the News Corp. empire, which includes Fox News, the New York Post, and a slew of influential news entities in Europe and Australia. The fictional Logan Roy runs Waystar-Royco, a telecommunications conglomerate which includes everything from cable news networks to theme parks.

Rupert Murdoch with his sons James (right) and Lachlan at his 2016 wedding to Jerry Hall.

Getty Images

Both the HBO series and the Murdoch expose are about wealth, power, and the family tension that comes when a tycoon is choosing a successor among relatives. Here are the biggest similarities:

Media magnate facing a health scare

The premiere of Succession begins with patriarch Logan Roy reconsidering his plans to retire as the CEO of his company after he suffers a stroke. The New York Times Magazine cover story begins with Rupert Murdoch falling on his son’s yacht which caused a broken vertebrae and a spinal hematoma.

Both Logan’s scare and Rupert’s fall bring together their heirs to their hospital bedsides to battle it out over the future of the companies.

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Rupert Murdoch and Logan Roy (played by Brian Cox).

Getty Images, HBO

Siblings competing for power

Rupert Murdoch has six children: Prudence, his daughter from his first marriage to Patricia Booker; Lachlan, James, and Elisabeth, from his second marriage to Anna Murdoch Mann; and Chloe and Grace from his third marriage to Wendi Deng.

Logan Roy has four children: Connor from his first marriage; Kendall, Roman, and Siobhan from his second marriage.

Both Logan and Rupert’s first children are largely out of the conversation about who will take over the company. According to the Times, Prudence “kept some distance from the family business;” in Succession, Connor spends his time tending to his ranch in the middle of New Mexico and recording a podcast about Napoleon Bonaparte.

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Lachlan Murdoch and Kendall Roy (played by Jeremy Strong).

Getty Images, HBO

It is the oldest sons from the second marriages who are the heir apparents for Logan and Rupert: Kendall and Lachlan, respectively.

The Times piece describes the relationship between Rupert and his two sons this way:

Over the years, Lachlan and James had traded roles, more than once, as heir apparent and jilted son. It was no secret to those close to the family that Murdoch had always favored Lachlan. (“But I love all of my children,” Murdoch would say when people close to him pointed out his clear preference for Lachlan.)

In Succession, Kendall has a tense and competitive relationship with his father, but it’s obvious he’s the one groomed to take over the company. In the show, Kendall leaves the family business only to come back, desperately wanting his father’s approval. It seems his desire to run Waystar is more about proving to himself that his father thinks he can do it‚ rather than a drive to run the empire.

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James Murdoch and Roman Roy (played by Kieran Culkin).

Getty Images, HBO

Like Kendall, Lachlan also left the family business when, in 2005, he took a $100 million payout from the family trust. A decade later, Lachlan returned after Rupert reportedly deemed him his successor.

But the makers of Succession also seem to blend some of the biography and characteristics of the two Murdoch sons with those of the Roys. For instance, the Times says of Lachlan, “As James saw it, his brother was mainly interested in the unique fringe benefits and trappings of power that came with the job.” In Succession, Roman’s character is more interested in having a powerful job than actually doing it. Lachlan was named deputy chief operating officer of News Corp. at age 33; Roman is named chief operating officer of Waystar, while Kendall is acting CEO during his dad’s recovery. Lachlan left News Corp. in 2005 after he reportedly “clashed repeatedly with seasoned executives who viewed him as an entitled princeling.” Prior to the events portrayed in Succession, Roman left Waystar after sparring with at least one seasoned executive, Frank Vernon, his father’s top deputy.

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Roman (from left), Kendall, Connor, and Siobhan Roy from “Succession.”

HBO

In a more pronounced deviation, Logan’s daughter Siobhan is in many ways the Roy who may end up wielding the most power. Siobhan, who works in politics, is working her influence from outside the company, though.

The push to digital

While Lachlan most closely mirrors Kendall in terms of family dynamics, when it comes to business strategies, James and Kendall have a lot in common.

In Succession, Kendall tries to convince his dad to drop the local TV deal and to, instead, focus on a push into digital properties. (When that doesn’t work, he stages a coup, which fails spectacularly.)

James “spent the first decades of the 21st century helping reposition the company for the digital future—exploiting new markets around the world, expanding online offerings, embracing broadband and streaming technology,” according to The Times.

Family therapy sessions

After tensions reach a breaking point for the Roys, the family has a group therapy session at Connor’s New Mexico ranch in episode seven.

Rupert Murdoch Portraits

Rupert Murdoch with his children James (from left), Elisabeth, and Lachlan.

Tom StoddartGetty Images

Rupert Murdoch tried a similar tactic with his own family. From the Times:

Murdoch tried to manage the tensions, arranging for group therapy with his children and their spouses with a counselor in London who specialized in working with dynastic families. There was even a therapeutic retreat to the Murdoch ranch in Australia. But these sessions provided just another forum for power games and manipulation.

Playing to conservative audiences

It’s been clear that Fox News is seen as the most powerful messaging tool of the Trump White House, but the Times story spells out how Rupert has built brands in the U.S., Europe, and Australia which have, more than any other media company, “enabled it, promoted it and profited from” the current right-wing populist movement.

In Succession, Logan tries to get around antitrust laws to purchase local TV stations to further push conservative messaging (a strategy that more closely mirrors the Sinclair family, which owns a number of local TV channels and pushes it’s own version of conservative politics and values on viewers).

In terms of the sons’ politics, Kendall Roy seems more in line with James Murdoch, while Roman Roy would likely get along with Lachlan Murdoch. According to the Times, James wants the family media business to be “sensible to any attendee of Davos or reader of The Economist,” which suggests his politics are right of center. Lachlan, on the other hand, wants to steer the company towards “an unabashedly nationalist, far-right and hugely profitable political propaganda machine,” the Times reports.

In Succession, the politics of Kendall and Roman are less clear. (Siobhan, on the other hand, is a Democrat, or at least works for Democratic politicians; Connor seems to be a Libertarian, because he advocates doing away with all federal aid.) Still, Kendall would feel more comfortable rubbing elbows with the Davos crowd, while Roman, who is often cruel to those he deems beneath him, would likely espouse the politics of the far right—if he wasn’t preoccupied with his hedonism.

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