Is Succession based on a real family?

Cameron Frew
Brian Cox as Logan Roy in Succession

Succession tells the story of a ruthless media patriarch and his power-hungry children — but is HBO’s show based on a real family?

Created by Jesse Armstrong, Succession revolves around Logan Roy (Brian Cox), the curmudgeonly CEO of Waystar Royco, a huge American media conglomerate with its fingers in all sorts of pies, including news, entertainment, theme parks, cruises, and more.

He loves but isn’t terribly fond of any of his children — Kendall (played in the Succession cast by Jeremy Strong), Roman (Kieran Culkin), Shiv (Sarah Snook), and Connor (Alan Ruck) — and despite his constant neglect and abuse, they all hope to be in the running for the Emmy award-winning show’s titular promise: to be the person who succeeds their dad.

Similarities can easily be drawn between the Roys and real-life figures, but is Succession based on a real family? Here’s what you need to know.

Is Succession based on a real family?

The short answer: yes, it’s clearly inspired by a number of rich, powerful families — namely, Rupert Murdoch and his children.

The Murdoch family runs one of the most powerful conservative media outlets in history. Their company, News Corp, is worth $14.96 billion. Rupert Murdoch inherited the company from his father in 1952, which was then a small newspaper publication. Much like Logan Roy and Waystar Royco, Murdoch spent decades developing News Corp into one of the biggest media conglomerates in the world.

In the early 2010s, Armstrong penned a screenplay titled Murdoch. The movie would have taken place at a birthday dinner for the News Corp media mogul, who tries to “convince his elder children to alter the family trust so that his two youngest children by his newest wife will have voting rights in the company,” as per The Guardian.

While considered to be a hot script on the Black List, it was never produced — but it led to Succession.

Armstrong told the Radio Times: “I’d written a screenplay about Rupert Murdoch’s family and it never got made. And it got me interested in the similarities between all these guys — Murdoch, Robert Maxwell and Conrad Black — who are passing from their position of predominance as tech takes over. But, also, how cable news and newspapers are still shaping our political climate.”

His research into the heady, viper-filled worlds of media corporations and their chiefs may have made the show possible, but in a later interview with Variety, he played down any connection to Murdoch or anyone else.

“This is a fictional family,” Armstrong said, also citing inspirations from William Randolph Hearst, disgraced press baron Robert Maxwell, and the Royal Family. “There’s loads of succession stories to draw on. We wanted to draw on all the good, rich stories there are about succession and about media and high politics,” he added.

The cast of Succession

Speaking to Town & Country Magazine, Brian Cox also said: “He’s not Rupert Murdoch. He’s certainly not Donald Trump, and he’s not Conrad Black. He is a self-made man, but there was something in his childhood that made him decide, ‘Fuck it. It doesn’t work. None of it works.'”

In 2021, ahead of the show’s third season, Armstrong said he was inspired by quotes from Rupert Murdoch and the late National Amusements and ViacomCBS tycoon Sumner Redstone. When both were asked about their plans for succession, they joked that they “didn’t plan to die.”

“It just struck me: what’s going on for these men in their 80s and 90s who are still packing the diaries every day?” the showrunner said at the London Film Festival. “It felt like something quite basic about not wanting to give up and feeling that loss of influence at the end of your life. And I started to feel there was a show about what those people are like in general.”

Hilariously, according to a report by Vanity Fair, one of Murdoch’s conditions in his divorce settlement with Jerry Hall was that she couldn’t give story ideas to HBO.

For more feuding families, check out our articles on why Yellowstone is just Succession for cowboys, the Succession finale explained, and find out if there will be a Succession Season 5.