How HBO's 'Succession' Mirrors the Murdoch Family and Viacom-CBS Feud

Courtesy of HBO
'Succession'

“The story of the family is really a metaphor for what is going on here at the moment," said lead Brian Cox at the pilot premiere on Tuesday night.

As Lachlan Murdoch is preparing to become the successor of 21st Century Fox and Shari Redstone’s feud with CBS intensifies, HBO is set to premiere Succession, a family drama about a media dynasty heavily influenced by the real life counterparts, though producers and the cast say it is not meant to be nonfiction.

On Tuesday night, The Thick of It and Peep Show writer Jesse Armstrong and Veep executive producer Frank Rich debuted the pilot episode of Succession to a group of friends, family and press at New York's Time Warner Center.

HBO’s latest series follows the Roy family as each member strives to gain ultimate power in their billion-dollar media conglomerate. "The Redstones, the Maxwells, the Murdochs, even though they are billionaires, there is something universal about a family that is warring over love, power and loyalties to each other," Rich said about the dynamics of the main characters.

The show, which was filmed in 2016, had its first read-through on Election Day before it was greenlighted in February 2017. It's a big departure for The Big Short’s Adam McKay and Will Ferrell's comedy-centric Gary Sanchez Productions.

The man at the head of the Roy family, Logan Roy (played by Brian Cox), holds no mercy for anyone, including his children. "The story of the family is really a metaphor for what is going on here at the moment, and I think the show works on very different levels," said Cox, referencing the current media climate.

Logan’s only moment of weakness in the first episode appears in the final minutes, when he suffers a brain hemorrhage after his children alert him that they will not give away their voting power as members of the board to their stepmother, Maricia (Hiam Abbass).

But the main storyline plays out through the older son, Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong). Kendall is poised to become the head of the family company on his father’s 80th birthday, before Logan announces he will stay on as chairman for a few more years.

As a son who is looking to take a media empire into a new, progressive direction as we enter the digital age, Kendall’s character mirrors the current Murdoch saga.

In researching the role, Strong read books on the feud over the Disney empire and Michael Wolff’s book on the Murdochs to prepare. "We looked at every [media] family out there and this show is about none of those families, but there are elements of those families and dynamics that exist within those families that are displayed on the show," said the actor. "What I was most interested in is zeroing in on what the struggle of the children of legacy families is."

Another dynamic displayed in the first episode is Kendall’s own estranged relationship with his wife and children. Natalie Gold, who plays his wife, Rava, talks about how the wives of media heads are often portrayed.

“For me, I was trying to think about somebody who marries into a family like that and there’s not a lot out there about Kathryn Murdoch [wife of James Murdoch], but I looked her up a little bit,” Gold said. “She kind of stays out of the press and there is not a lot written about her, and that to me was interesting in how my character, Rava, loves her husband despite the family.”

The 10-episode first season of Succession is set to premiere June 3 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.