Home Featured Rupert Murdoch retires: How succession drama unfolded

Rupert Murdoch retires: How succession drama unfolded

Rupert Murdoch retires: How succession drama unfolded


Spoiler alert: The withering patriarch of Succession, Logan Roy, never stepped down as CEO of a media conglomerate before passing away, nor did he nail down a succession plan. But the real-life Logan Roy just did. Business magnate and media mogul Rupert Murdoch, 92, announced on Thursday that he’s retiring as chairman at Fox Corporation and News Corp. in mid-November after a seven-decade career.

Despite the HBO drama creator Jesse Armstrong’s reminders that the characters are fictional and “no one family unlocks” them, the Roys have an uncanny resemblance to the Murdochs—a powerful, aging media executive who watches his children vie for control of the empire. Sound familiar? The similarities are apparent enough that Rupert Murdoch barred his ex-wife Jerry Hall from giving story ideas to Succession writers in their divorce settlement.

Logan Roy, played by Brian Cox, is widely thought to be a composite of Murdoch and another media baron, the deceased Sumner Redstone, whose real-life story is even more dramatic than any HBO show, as captured in the recent book Unscripted (on which a new TV series may soon be based). But it’s the laundry list of similarities between Murdoch and the Waystar Royco CEO that makes them the closest analogues—from their foreign origins and numerous health scares, speeches atop printer paper podiums, multiple marriages and divorces, and, of course, pitting their children against each other while encouraging them to compete to be anointed as successor.

The rivalry between Roman and Kendall Roy bears a striking resemblance to Lachlan and James Murdoch. Here’s a look at the Fox News succession—and who came out on top.

Lachlan and James 

Although it’s been clear for a while, now it’s official: Murdoch said on Thursday that he’s handing the reins to his 52-year-old son Lachlan, who will become the sole chair of News Corp. and continue as executive chair and CEO of Fox Corporation. 

Lachlan, his older sister Elisabeth, and younger brother James have long been contenders for the top job. But Lachlan has seemingly always been Rupert’s “number-one boy” and the preferred choice to succeed him, Vanity Fair reported in May. Murdoch has suggested as much:

“Currently it is their consensus that Lachlan will take over,” Murdoch said in a 1997 interview, as reported by The Guardian. “He will be the first among equals, but they will all have to prove themselves.”

At first glance, Lachlan draws obvious comparisons to Kendall. Both are eldest sons who have been groomed to take over the family business one day. But in terms of personality, Lachlan more closely resembles Roman, the snarky, impulsive younger brother portrayed by Kieran Culkin.

In 2005, Lachlan had a dispute with then-boss of Fox News, Roger Ailes—the same Ailes who was later sued by Fox host Gretchen Carlson for sexual harassment, which the movie Bombshell (featuring Margot Robbie and Nicole Kidman) was based. Lachlan quit his role as deputy COO of News Corp. and moved to Australia. He returned to the states nearly 10 years later at his father’s behest, agreeing to be his heir. 

But during Lachlan’s decade overseas, his younger brother, the now 50-year-old James, became the heir apparent. James spent those years climbing through the ranks, ensuring the longevity and respect of his father’s media empire by making deals with the likes of Hulu and National Geographic Channel and promising that News Corp. would go carbon neutral. His father bringing Lachlan back was like a “big slap in the face” to the younger brother, a source told Vanity Fair

James resembles Kendall in that he was known as “the smart one” and has been baited by his father for the top job for decades. James has served in high-ranking roles in News Corp. and even did a stint in Hong Kong, reminiscent of Kendall’s time in Shanghai. Jeremy Strong, the actor who portrays Kendall, told The New Yorker that he used details about James to prepare for the role.  

Disney and Dominion

In August 2017, Murdoch and Disney CEO Bob Iger discussed selling 21st Century Fox’s assets to Disney. Lachlan and James clashed over the deal—Lachlan felt that his father and brother were rushing to sell his future empire out from underneath him, while James thought it was a good business opportunity, according to Vanity Fair. Not to mention, James was in talks with Iger to take a high-level position at Disney post-acquisition, the outlet reported.

The deal went through. Disney acquired the 21st Century Fox movie and television studios for more than $52 billion in March 2019. Lachlan was left to run what remained—Fox News and the remaining assets—and James took his money and left to start a media fund called Lupa Systems. (The word lupa is Italian for “she-wolf,” like the one that raised the founding brothers of Rome—Romulus and Remus—before Romulus murdered Remus, Vanity Fair noted.)

Then Fox News got involved with Trump. In 2020, Murdoch’s right-wing news network became the town crier of theories that the presidential election was stolen, asserting that voting machines owned by Dominion Voting Systems switched Americans’ votes to Biden after they’d voted for Trump. In response, Dominion brought a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit in March 2021 against Fox News, claiming that Murdoch protected Fox’s ratings by allowing hosts and guests to perpetuate the conspiracy. Two years later, Fox agreed to pay Dominion a $787 million settlement, and Fox host Tucker Carlson was fired

Elisabeth and Prudence

The Succession inspirations go beyond Lachlan and James. Elisabeth is comparable to Siobhan (better known as Shiv), the sharp and poised daughter who originally pursued a career outside of her father’s empire and could run the company just as well if only she weren’t a woman in an ultra-conservative, male-dominated industry. Meanwhile, Prudence Murdoch resembles Connor Roy as she is the only child from the patriarch’s first marriage and is often considered the forgotten sibling. 

Lachlan and James don’t talk anymore. James has distanced himself from Fox News for its climate denialism, white nationalism, and election conspiracies. And now that Lachlan holds the keys to the kingdom, James is biding his time to oust his brother with the help of their sisters, Elisabeth and Prudence, once their father is gone, sources told Vanity Fair

People close to the Murdochs weren’t sure what James would do with Fox if he managed to win it back, but they assumed that he’d completely overhaul the organization or sell it off to the highest bidder. 

“James sees destroying Fox News as his mission in life,” a senior Fox staffer told Vanity Fair


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