HBO’s Succession debuting in June, about the uneasy transition of power in a high-profile media family is not about Rupert Murdoch, series creator EP/Showrunner Jesse Armstrong insisted Thursday at TCA, when asked pointedly. Question was understandable given that his much-praised 2011 screenplay about Murdoch became that year’s most praised screenplay no one would touch.
Succession follows Logan Roy and his four adult children, who control one of the biggest media and entertainment conglomerates in the world. The HBO drama series tracks the fictional American global-media family as the aging patriarch begins to take a step back from the company, but it’s really about the peril to the rest of us, of power in the 21st century.
It’s about “no one family,” Armstrong said, insisting his Murdoch script is only “deeply in the background.”
“This is a fictional family” that also draws on the Maxwell clan and even Queen Elizabeth and her son Charles who has waited to long to be crowned king. “There are a lot of succession stories to draw on. We wanted to draw on all the rich stories…about succession and all the stories about media and politics.”
And, last February when HBO give a 10-episode series order to Succession the Redstone family’s soap opera also still was fresh on all our minds.
Succession EP Adam McKay described it as a look at “dynastic congealed wealth,” adding, “it’s more about question what happens when this kind of power is handed down through bloodlines.”
What’s up with this fascination with the very, very rich, TV critics wondered, also citing new TV and movie dramatizations about the J. Paul Getty family.
“You can’t ignore the reality,” McKay said. “Income inequality is at an all time high – higher than during the 1850’s including slavery, and higher than Roman times including slavery.”
On ’80s TV shows – think Dynasty – there was a certain amount of audience worship and aspiration. “Now, hopefully, we’re starting to ask questions,” McKay said.
But Succession is neither complete celebration of these people, nor it is a “tub thumping denunciation at every turn,” Armstrong cautioned.
Asked at what point the series would chose its media empire successor and he would keep the show pushing forward once that was done, Armstrong said he has a brilliant answer but is not allowed to reveal it in public.
Brian Cox, who plays family patriarch Logan Roy, and who also played Shakespeare’s King Lear in his ‘40s, got asked to discuss similarities. He agreed to the conceit, but thought Roy more closely resembled Orson Welles-created Citizen Kane, based on another media mogul, William Randolph Hearst.
“He is not liked’ his family does not seem to like him though they worry when he gets ill,” Cox said of Roy. “He’s very much alone and that’s interesting…There is a sadness about Logan in the fact he is alone.”