What is 'Succession' based on? Inside the show's IRL inspiration

Here's the answer to those 'what is Succession based on?' questions, and why the Roy family might seem familiar to you

Kieran Culkin, Sarah Snook, Matthew Macfadyen HBO Succession Season 3 - Episode 5
(Image credit: Macall B. Polay/HBO)

Could the Roys possibly be real? Exactly what is Succession based on?

There are many questions surrounding the Roy family and the hit series about them. Is Succession on Netflix? (Nope!) Who plays Shiv on Succession? (You've definitely seen her before.) How many Gregs does it take to make a Tomlette? (Will we ever know?) And, most often, is Succession based on a real family? 

The dramatic rise of media mogul Logan Roy (Brian Cox) and his scheming offspring might seem familiar to anyone who has paid attention to the business section of the newspaper in the last few decades, with the Roys frequently getting compared to several high-profile—and high-salaried—media families in the US and UK. 

With the fourth and final season of the Emmy-winning series hitting HBO Max on Sunday, March 26, the show is back in the spotlight, and its real-life inspo is back under the microscope. Here's everything you need to know about what is Succession based on. 

What is 'Succession' based on? Inside the show's inspo:

Before Succession first premiered back in June 2018, creator and showrunner Jesse Armstrong maintained that the Roys were, in fact, fictional and did not draw from one specific media dynasty but, rather, from a multitude of inspirations, including News Corp mogul Rupert Murdoch, Hearst namesake William Randolph Hearst, former President Donald Trump and even Queen Elizabeth II.

Armstrong told Variety in 2018: "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."

Executive producer Adam McKay added: "You’re looking at this dynastic, sort of congealed wealth. What excited me about Jesse’s script is that it wasn’t about one family. It’s more about the question of what happens when this kind of power is handed down through bloodlines, how does that affect the world around it? How does that affect the family members?"

Of these prominent families, from the royals to the rich and famous of Hollywood, McKay said: "It was interesting that the media families were the most interesting and the most dramatic."

Similarities between the fictional Roys and the real-life Murdochs, in particular, are not much of a surprise: Armstrong was working on a screenplay about the Murdoch patriarch and his four adult children before working on Succession, but the script never got greenlit. 

Like Murdoch, Logan Roy is a billionaire businessman whose Waystar Royco media empire extends from national newspapers to film studios and even amusement parks and cruises. As Roy advances into senior age, his four adult children—Connor (Alan Ruck), Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Siobhan (Sarah Snook)—become increasingly entangled in the family business, and drama frequently ensues.

Despite the similarities, actor Brian Cox clarified that he does not base his Golden Globe-winning performance on any one person.

“I didn’t channel anybody really,” Cox told Variety. “It’s a great role and a great subject. And it’s about the nature of how greed and acquisitiveness desensitizes people.”

In an interview with RadioTimes for season three, Cox said of those Trumpian comparisons: "Yes, he’s in there. But Trump is essentially a man with a bad script and Logan is a man with a good script."

He continued: "[Trump's] irredeemable. But there’s a secret somewhere in Logan, which I’m still toying with. He’s so alone and lonely that there’s something tragic there. There’s nothing tragic about Trump."

Succession season 4 airs on Sunday nights at 9pm ET/PT on HBO and HBO Max in the US, and on Monday nights at 9pm on Sky Atlantic in the UK.

Christina Izzo

Christina Izzo is the Deputy Editor of My Imperfect Life. 

More generally, she is a writer-editor covering food and drink, travel, lifestyle and culture in New York City. She was previously the Features Editor at Rachael Ray In Season and Reveal, as well as the Food & Drink Editor and chief restaurant critic at Time Out New York

When she’s not doing all that, she can probably be found eating cheese somewhere.