“The Sequel” plunges viewers into the high-stakes world of running a media empire and all the top-secret deals, coup attempts and sensational scandals that come with it.
The cast and creators of the award-winning series, which will compete for more statues at Monday’s Emmy Awards, insist the characters are inspired by a long list of dynastic family businesses, both past and present. Showrunner Jesse Armstrong said in a backstage interview that the writers “from famous media families like the Hearsts, today’s Redstones, John Malone, Robert Fitz of Comcast, Murdoch and Breitbart founder Robert and Rebekah Mercer.”
But of all the influences, the fictional Roys, led by patriarch Logan Roy (Brian Cox), who plays the CEO of media and entertainment conglomerate Waystar Royco, seem to overlap the most with the real-life Murdochs, Australia’s media mogul family. Rupert Murdoch.
(Major spoilers ahead for “Succession” season three.)
The premise of the series that airs on HBO, like CNN Warner Bros. Owned by Discovery, it’s practically ripped from the Murdoch playbook.
Logan Roy, a ruthless dealmaker and friend of presidents, definitely has a Murdoch vibe.
Rupert Murdoch has built the small newspaper company 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 $13.5 billion, is one of the most influential companies on the planet.
He always intended to pass his company on to a child, but the 91-year-old has never named a successor.
Like Roy, Murdoch has several children from two marriages.
Prudence Macleod is Ruper’s eldest child from his first marriage. Prudence has never shown much interest in running the family business, so she has largely stayed out of the succession battle that grips her siblings.
Rupert Murdoch’s eldest son from his second marriage is Lachlan Murdoch, who rose quickly to become Chairman and CEO of News Ltd in 1997.
At the time, his father described Lachlan as his heir, “first among equals”. Then, in 2005, he abruptly quit after a battle with Fox News Channel CEO Roger Ailes over the cable news network’s leadership, putting himself out of the way for a successor. Lachlan returned to the family business in 2014.
The family also includes Rupert Murdoch’s youngest son, James Murdoch, who dropped out of Harvard in 1995 to start his own hip-hop record label.
James Murdoch joined News Corporation and was increasingly seen as the new heir apparent after Lachlan Murdoch left in 2005. But he quit in 2011 amid the phone hacking scandal. After a hiatus of several years, he rejoined the family business before resigning in 2020 due to “disagreements regarding some of the editorial content published by the company’s news outlets and other strategic decisions.”
Elisabeth Murdoch is the only daughter of her father’s second marriage.
“He is very wise, very cunning. Maybe she’s the most like Rupert,” New York Times writer Jim Rutenberg says of Elisabeth in the new CNN original series “The Murdochs: Empire of Influence,” premiering on CNN Sept. 25 at 9 p.m.
Rupert Murdoch has rejected attempts to take over the throne, saying he needs to figure out how many children he wants to have before planning further advances at the company, Sky High author Mathew Horsman has said in the series.
In 2000, he left the family business and founded one of the UK’s largest independent production companies.
In “Succession”, Logan Roy has four children. The eldest Connor Roy (Alan Ruck) is mostly removed from the business, and in the last season, he has set his sights on the presidency. Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) is initially seated as his father’s heir apparent, but after a few knocks, he falls from his father’s grace.
The youngest of the Roy family, the quick-witted Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin), has had a hard time proving himself worthy of the top spot. Sarah Snook’s Siobhan (or Shiv), on the other hand, has the skills and her father’s favor (even when there are bitter disagreements), but she’s been resistant.
“Succession’s” Waystar Royco and Murdoch’s News Corp. have more than a few points of overlap.
In “Legacy,” Waystar Royco’s assets include the conservative cable news network ATN, the show’s version of Fox News.
Throughout the series, Logan talks to President Roy and his advisers about the network’s coverage of the White House and adjusts their access.
Fox News is an instrument of influence for Rupert Murdoch, according to Jonathan Mahler, author of “How Rupert Murdoch’s Empire of Influence Remade the World,” in “The Murdochs: Empire of Influence.”
“Rupert had always fantasized about having a close relationship with the president of the United States,” says Mahler.
In “Succession” Season 2, it is revealed that Waystar’s cruise ship division 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 on Kendall’s power grab.
The debacle has similarities to News Corp.’s 2011 hacking scandal. The company’s British newspaper, News of the World, came under scrutiny as reporters hacked the phones of royalty, celebrities and crime victims to get their stories. In a mirror image of the show, Rupert Murdoch, along with his son James, testified before Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
In the attacks, James relinquished his title as executive chairman of News Corp’s UK publishing unit.
“You would imagine that, in a situation like this, a father’s instinct would 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 made a move that stunned people: selling their self-made empires.
At the end of Season 3, Logan announces his plans to sell Waystar Royco to streaming company GoJo and give control of the company to tech founder Lukas Matsson.
“This is the best time to sell. If I don’t make the best deal at any point, what’s the point? I’m not going out, I’m leaving $5 trillion on the table,” Logan told his children. “Make your pile. This is an opportunity for children to receive an education in real life.’
Rupert also chose to cash out in 2018, selling most of 21st Century Fox to Disney.
“Once the Disney deal closed, Fox was a shell of its former self. Gone was the movie studio, gone were the cable networks like FX. What remained was the Fox Broadcasting Company, Fox Sports and Fox News, the thing Rupert cares about more than anything.” says Matthew Belloni, former editorial director of The Hollywood Reporter and founding partner of Puck News in the Murdoch series.
Rudenberg says this move was seen as a vote of confidence in his children.
“By turning his family into a business, and the business into his family, Rupert left his family as broken as he was when he sold his company to Disney,” Rutenberg said. “This decade-long succession battle broke him apart, and at the same time, it was a seemingly zero-sum battle for his father’s love.”
Today, Lachlan Murdoch is the CEO of Fox Corp and his father is co-chairman. James and Elisabeth have left the family business.
The future of Logan’s children is very uncertain as the series enters its fourth season.
A release date has not been announced.