Succession isn't based on a true story, at least not directly. But it's no secret that there are many parallels between the fictional Roy family and the real-life Murdochs. Indeed, creator Jesse Armstrong and his writers have sometimes drawn inspiration from Rupert Murdoch and his family, in certain cases by directly incorporating actual events into the show. So for those curious just how much the HBO series has echoed real life during its run, we here for you.
The characters' real-life counterparts
The Roys aren't directly based on any individual people, though the Murdoch family seems to have inspired some of their dynamics. 92-year-old Rupert Murdoch, the closest counterpart to Logan Roy (Brian Cox), has six children, whereas Logan has four. But the same way the drama in Succession centers on three of Logan's kids, Murdoch "long wanted one of his three children from his second wife," Anna, to take over his company, according to Vanity Fair: 50-year-old James, 51-year-old Lachlan, and 54-year-old Elisabeth.
Rupert "pitted his kids against each other their entire lives" in true Logan Roy fashion, a source told Vanity Fair, though Lachlan is said to be his "favorite son." In her book Confidence Man, Maggie Haberman also reported that Rupert once told Donald Trump "it's going to be Lachlan" who succeeds him. Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) appears to be the closest analogue of Lachlan, while Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) would roughly be equivalent to James, though there are ways Kendall is more like James and Roman is more like Lachlan. Jeremy Strong, for example, told The New Yorker he drew on aspects of James in his portrayal of Kendall, namely the way he reportedly "ties his shoes extremely tightly."
Elisabeth Murdoch, who The New York Times writer Jim Rutenberg described to CNN as "very savvy, very cunning" and "perhaps the most like Rupert," would roughly be the counterpart to Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook). She founded Shine Group, a television production company, in 2001. Connor Roy (Alan Ruck), meanwhile, can be seen as the show's version of Prudence Murdoch, Rupert's eldest child and the "only one of his children not directly competing for his business affections," as Vanity Fair once described. Rupert Murdoch once famously seemed to forget about Prudence in a press conference when he mentioned "my three children."
Logan Roy and Rupert Murdoch were both born outside of the United States, as the former is from Scotland and the latter is from Australia. They have also each had several wives: four for Rupert (who recently called off another engagement) vs. three for Logan. Murdoch and his fourth wife, Jerry Hall, divorced in 2022, and Vanity Fair reported "one of the terms of the settlement was that Hall couldn't give story ideas to the writers on Succession."
ATN vs. Fox News and Vaulter vs. Vice
Waystar Royco is the show's version of News Corp (while also drawing on other companies like Viacom), with ATN being an obvious stand-in for Fox News. Like Fox, ATN is said to be a conservative channel targeting older viewers that has sparked criticism for its right-wing coverage. Waystar Royco owns the tabloid The NY Globe, which is surely meant to be the New York Post, a paper owned by News Corp.
Waystar Royco also has a film production company, Waystar Studios, the equivalent of 20th Century Fox. Plus, the company owned a website called Vaulter until it was shut down in season 2. Vaulter is generally viewed as an analogue of Vice, which Fox invested $70 million into in 2013, though it also echoes BuzzFeed and Gawker. When the episode "Vaulter" aired, Vice broke down the parallels between itself and the fictional site, including that both had their "logo made into a giant, expensive-looking neon sign and hung it in the lobby" and had the "exact same" photo of a weed farmer hanging outside the boardroom. Vice is now reportedly preparing to file for bankruptcy.
The season 1 episode "Austerlitz" features the Roys taking part in family therapy at Connor's New Mexico ranch. This seems to have been inspired by the fact that Rupert Murdoch once arranged for "group therapy with his children and their spouses with a counselor in London who specialized in working with dynastic families" in order to manage "tensions" within the family, according to The New York Times.
The Pierces vs. the Bancrofts
Logan Roy attempts to purchase Pierce Global Media, a rival of Waystar Royco owned by the Pierce family, before his kids later make a successful offer to buy it. The Pierce family seems to be inspired by the real-life Bancroft family, who owned Dow Jones & Company. In real life, Murdoch purchased Dow Jones & Company, which owned the Wall Street Journal, from the Bancrofts in 2007.
Logan Roy and Rupert Murdoch's health issues
Succession began with a health scare for Logan Roy after he suffered a hemorrhagic stroke, though he ultimately recovered. Rupert Murdoch has also had his fair share of health issues, having suffered a "broken back, seizures, two bouts of pneumonia, atrial fibrillation, and a torn Achilles tendon" in recent years, according to Vanity Fair, which adds that he once almost died after falling on his son Lachlan's yacht and being diagnosed with arrhythmia. He also battled prostate cancer.
The cruise ship scandal vs. the phone hacking scandal
The Murdoch family was never embroiled in a scandal involving the cover-up of misconduct on cruise ships like the Roys. But this Succession storyline brings to mind the Murdoch family's infamous phone hacking scandal where employees of newspapers owned by News Corp were revealed to have hacked into the phones of prominent people. It sparked a public inquiry in the U.K., during which Rupert Murdoch provided testimony like how Logan Roy testified in the cruise ships scandal. The scandal also led James Murdoch to resign as executive chair of News International.
Logan Roy's speech on paper boxes echoed Rupert Murdoch
During the season 4 episode "Rehearsal," Logan delivers a passionate speech to ATN staff while standing on paper boxes. This was similar to a real moment when Rupert Murdoch stood on boxes of paper and delivered a speech to staff in 2007, though it was at the Wall Street Journal, not Fox News. "WSJ's Bob Christie scrambled to push the boxes together so Rupert would have something to stand on," former Wall Street Journal reporter Sarah Ellison recalled on Twitter. "His speech was not, however, Logan's rousing 'f--king pirates' primal scream."
The GoJo deal parallels Disney buying Fox
Logan Roy's attempt to sell Waystar RoyCo to GoJo echoes a number of recent media mergers, particularly Murdoch selling 21st Century Fox to Disney for $71.3 billion in 2019. Logan's plan was to retain ATN, just like how Murdoch retained Fox News after the Disney sale. Creator Jesse Armstrong told Variety that "Murdoch and Disney was in our minds" while writing, though it's not a one-to-one parallel, especially because GoJo CEO Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) is more similar to an Elon Musk type of figure.
In real life, James Murdoch served as CEO of 21st Century Fox until the completion of the Disney deal, after which he didn't move to Disney but founded the private investment company Lupa Systems. Lachlan, meanwhile, became CEO of the Fox Corporation, which oversees the assets that Murdoch still owns after the Disney deal, such as Fox News. Rupert serves as chair. James resigned from the board of directors at News Corp in 2020, citing "disagreements over certain editorial content published by the Company's news outlets and certain other strategic decisions." This somewhat echoed Kendall Roy publicly throwing his father under the bus in the season 2 finale of Succession, though that episode predated James' resignation. Sometimes, life imitates HBO.