What is 'Succession' based on? Inside the show's real-life inspiration

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

Brian Cox, Sarah Snook in Succession season 1 episode 10. What is Succession based on?
(Image credit: Warner Media)

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, who and what is Succession based on? 

The dramatic rise of media mogul Logan Roy 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 third season of the Emmy-winning series hitting HBO Max on October 17, 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? 

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 become increasingly entangled in the family business—and drama frequently ensues.

Despite the similarities, Brian Cox, who plays Logan Roy, 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 airs 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.