With the final season of Game of Thrones on hold until 2019, HBO is looking to its other dramas to keep audiences entertained in the interim. Westworld will return for its sophomore season this spring, and then pass the baton to new drama Succession, which will premiere in June.
Succession revolves around four children battling for power as their father, billionaire media and entertainment mogul Brian Cox, prepares to step back from his empire. While the plot sounds like a thinly-veiled version of Rupert Murdoch and his own company, 21st Century Fox, the show’s producers spent their time at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour trying to distance Succession from the Australian patriarch.
Creator Jesse Armstrong, who has been unsuccessfully trying to get a separate Rupert Murdoch script made for several years, insisted that Murdoch is just “in the background” of Succession.
“This is a fictional family,” said Armstrong, who said that he and the writers talked discussed everyone from the Hearst family to British mogul Robert Maxwell to the British royal family, as Charles has been waiting to become King. “There are loads of succession stories to draw [from].”
Executive producer Adam McKay, who directed the first episode, also tried to downplay the Murdoch parallels. “It’s more about the question of what happens when this kind of power is handed down through bloodlines,” said McKay. The Murdoch connections are “deep in the background,” he insisted.
“I was surprised by how much at the end of the day, it really played as a family drama,” said McKay. “It’s the question of, what would happen to any of us if we were brought up as the child of a multi-billionaire?”
Despite the producer’s denials, the show seems have to obvious parallels to the Murdoch family. Just last week, The New York Times reported that Murdoch’s decision to sell his company to Disney for $52.4 billion was a result of tension between sons Lachlan and James over the company’s future. Jeremy Strong, who plays apparent heir Kendall Roy, admitted that he read Michael Wolff’s 2008 Murdoch biography, The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch, as part of his research for the role.
Succession is this year’s second new drama exploring a prosperous mogul and his family, following FX’s Trust, which will premiere on March 25. Entertainment programs has always been fascinated with wealth, but ’80s shows like Dynasty of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous were more about “worship and aspiration,” said McKay, while modern shows like Succession and Trust explore the fallout from those levels of affluence.
“I think power and wealth are fascinating and are a ripe territory for comedy and drama,” said Armstrong, who didn’t want to make “a tub-thumping denunciation at every turn.”
Cox, who plays Succession mogul Logan Roy, said he didn’t base his performance on a single figure, like Rupert Murdoch or Sumner Redstone. “I didn’t channel anybody, really,” he said. “It’s a great subject. It’s about the nature of how greed and acquisitiveness desensitizes people. He’s created this dynasty, but he himself is desensitized by his position.”
In Cox’s own life, “I’ve met a few people like that,” he said. “It’s the danger of success. People believing their own myth. Certain actors get knighted … and they believe that gives them a special position.”
McKay called the media world “the perfect choice” for the family’s empire, because it’s “very in flux” at the moment, but also “very powerful.” Throughout history, he added, “the media families tended to be the most interesting and the most chaotic.”