A Look at the Real-Life People and Events That Inspired HBO's Succession

Did the Murdoch family, Ted Kennedy's accident at Chappaquiddick and other events inspire Jesse Armstrong's writing of HBO's Succession? Read here to find out.

By Cydney Contreras Sep 13, 2020 7:00 PMTags
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Succession may be billed as a drama series, but it's so much more than that.

Beginning with season one, the cast and crew created a show that is essentially a study of what it means to grow up in one of the richest and most powerful families in the world. From the clothing they wear, to the celebrations of major life events, it's clear that series creator Jesse Armstrong and the rest of those who make Succession what it is did their homework on the lives of the elite.

And that's part of what makes the show so masterful. Half the fun of watching it is guessing if that Kendall Roy's (Jeremy Strong) drug-induced car accident is based on a real-life event.

And chances are it is.

Based on Armstrong's own admissions about what inspired his creation of the Roy family, it's clear that the screenwriter has a wealth of knowledge on the billionaires of this world. Such expertise has translated into Succession earning 13 nominations, which include Outstanding Drama Series, Writing and Directing, at the upcoming 2020 Emmys.

But finding out the exact people and events that Armstrong took inspiration from is the difficult part, as he keeps those secrets close to his chest.

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Fortunately, a bit of research can reveal who and what inspired Armstrong's writing. To see how Succession mirrors history, check out the gallery below!

The Family

As show creator and writer Jesse Armstrong has previously explained, the Roy family is based on a combination of the Murdoch, Disney, Roberts and Redstone families, in addition to a few others. 

And while many of the plot points draw inspiration from the Kennedy's infamous place in history books, the similarities between the Roys and the Murdochs cannot be ignored.

For instance, Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman's (Kieran Culkin) fight to become successor of their father's media empire too closely resembles that of LachlanAnn and James Murdoch to be a mere coincidence. Additionally, as reported by The New York Times, Rupert has "long avoided naming one of his children as his successor," which is the literal focal point of Succession

If that isn't convincing enough then James and Lachlan's former positions at News Corp. are. In 2015, the two brothers were told, "All the company's divisions would report jointly to them," according to the NYT. This was mirrored in season one, when Roman was named chief operating officer of Waystar and Kendall became acting CEO, forcing the brothers to work together despite their vastly different approach to business.

The Business

Like the rest of America's dynasties, the Roy family's influence is far-reaching. 

Similar to the Disney and Roberts families, who own Disneyland and Universal Studios respectively, the Roys are owners of Brightstar Adventure Park, a part of the Waystar Royco company.

However, this is just a drop in the water for the family's financial empire. The biggest source of income for the Roys are their cable news networks, which are comparable to that of the Fox News Corporation. Similarly, throughout the show Logan Roy (Brian Cox) pushes their news division ATN to attract right-leaning viewers, a move that jeopardized Waystar's acquisition of the Pierce family's media corporation PGM. 

And even that attempted acquisition happened in real life, although it was more successful. In 2007, the Murdochs bought The Wall Street Journal from the Bancroft family, a decision that the Bancrofts publicly said they regret.

The Pierce family, however, more closely resembles that of the Sulzbergers, who have maintained ownership of The New York Times since 1896. 

The Power Struggle

For fans of Succession, this one should be self-explainable.

But if it isn't, then it's good to know that some of the richest and most powerful families are built on a hierarchy of sorts. And more often than not, there is an older white man at the top who is nearing retirement or even death. 

At present, the greatest example of this power struggle comes from the Murdochs, an omnipresent reminder that this show may be fictional, but it certainly isn't fake. 

For years now, Rupert Murdoch's three children from his second marriage have battled it out to see who would follow in their 89-year-old father's footsteps to become the next leader of News Corp. Time and time again, the executive chairman of News Corp. has announced retirement or fallen ill, but he still has yet to officially leave the company. 

Again, the resemblance to Logan Roy (Brian Cox) is uncanny. In season one, Logan was on his death bed for half the season, only to make a miraculous recovery at the ninth hour. 

The Settings

The yachts, penthouses, estates and private jets are not just a mere set location, but a reference to the real-life families that inspired the Roys. 

How do you come to this conclusion, one may ask? Well, it takes a bit of research.

It turns out that the Murdochs were also sequestered to a desolate estate under the guise of family bonding, just like the Roys in season one. Even more interesting is the fact that the home belonged to half-sister Prudence Murdoch, who, according to a 2008 Vanity Fair profile, is the "only one of his children not directly competing for his business." Sounds a lot like Connor, no?

What's more, is the Murdochs are owners of a yacht named Sarissa that is just as luxurious as the one the Roys vacationed on in season two. And yes, Sarissa also has a pool.

According to The New York Times, this boat served as the location where Rupert suffered a near-fatal fall in 2018, thus igniting a fierce battle over who would be his successor.

Of course, this didn't actually happen in Succession. However, from a metaphorical perspective Logan did suffer a near-fatal blow on the yacht when Kendall stabbed him in the back at the press conference. 

Whether it was Armstrong's intention to create these parallels is unclear, but it remains a strong possibility. 

Also, remember the Argestes conference from season two? Yeah, that's an actual thing. Armstrong modeled the event on the Allen & Co. Sun Valley Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho. Like in the show, it's a place for the billionaires of the world to come together and scheme in privacy and luxury. 

The Drama

Seeing as this is a drama series, there's a lot to dissect, but the most obvious real-life event to inspire the show is Senator Ted Kennedy's 1969 car crash in Chappaquiddick, Mass. 

At the end of season one, Kendall is reeling from his involvement in the death of a server following his sister's wedding. Like the late senator, Kendall was behind the wheel of a car when it crashed into the water. Similar to Kennedy's actions, Kendall abandoned the scene of the crime to seek his father's help in covering up the incident.

But if Ted's life is any indication, this event will come back to haunt Kendall.

As for the business side of the Roy family, Kendall's failure to make their digital platform Vaulter a success was all too real for people in the media world.

In season two, Kendall set out to save the hip website, even as his father and Roman actively worked against him. At first, Kendall seemed hopeful for Vaulter, but things took a turn for the worse when Roman discovered the employees were contemplating unionizing. Kendall again seemed to rise to the challenge and dissuaded the Vaulter writers from unionizing by delivering a rousing speech filled with platitudes.

But Logan had already made his mind up and what daddy says goes. In the end, Kendall was forced to "shutter the f--ker," as Roman so crudely called it. 

This episode came out during a time when workers from BuzzFeed, Vice, Barstool Sports and more outlets were going through major layoffs or attempting to unionize

Visit E!'s 2021 Emmy Awards page for a recap of TV's biggest night.