Meet the Billionaire Media Families Who Inspired the Hit TV Series 'Succession'

Succession HBO

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As HBO’s award-winning drama series Succession returns for its fourth and final season on Sunday, you may not realize that the show was inspired by families behind some of the biggest media empires.

The series follows aging patriarch Logan Roy, a mogul at the helm of the world’s largest media and entertainment conglomerate, and his four adult children, who are fighting for control over his empire as his health declines. 

In an interview with HBO, Succession showrunner Jesse Armstrong said he and the writers thought of media moguls and their families such as Rupert Murdoch, William Hearst, and Robert and Rebekah Mercer of Breitbart, among others while working on the show.

Here's a look at the billionaire media families who were the inspiration behind this Emmy Award-winning series. 

Key Takeaways

  • HBO’s hit show Succession is back for its fourth and final season. 
  • Succession showrunner Jesse Armstrong said he and the writers thought of media moguls and families, including the Murdochs and Hearsts, while working on the show.
  • The series follows aging media mogul Logan Roy and his four adult children, who are fighting for control over his empire as his health declines. 

Rupert Murdoch 

Rupert Murdoch is co-chairman of Fox Corporation and executive chairman of News Corp, parent of The Wall Street Journal, HarperCollins, and the New York Post. As of 2023, Rupert Murdoch has a net worth of $17.3 billion, according to Forbes.

Originally from Australia, Murdoch inherited a chain of newspapers at the age of 22 after his father died. Murdoch eventually expanded into the UK and the United States, acquiring newspapers including the San Antonio News, New York Magazine, and the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2007, Murdoch bought the Wall Street Journal’s parent company, Dow Jones for $6 billion from the Bancroft family, which had owned the company for a century.  

Like Succession patriarch Roy, Murdoch, 92, still runs his empire, where he has helmed News Corp. since 2013. In March 2019, Murdoch sold most of 21st Century Fox’s TV and movie assets to Disney for $71.3 billion. 

Succession’s Waystar Royco owns a conservative-leaning television network, ATN, similar to Fox News, as well as various tabloids. The show’s fictional media conglomerate also owns a website called Vaulter, similar to Vice. One of Murdoch’s sons, James Murdoch, is a board member of Vice Media and has owned a minority stake in the company since 2019.

Murdoch’s eldest son, Lachlan Murdoch, is the executive chair and CEO of Fox, running the company’s news, sports, and entertainment divisions. Murdoch has six children and has been married four times (and recently got engaged), while Succession’s Logan Roy has four children and has been married three times. 

The Hearst Family 

Named one of America’s richest families by Forbes in 2020, legacy media’s Hearst family has a net worth of $21 billion. Hearst Corp., founded by William Randolph Hearst in 1887, owns magazines and newspapers such as Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, and the San Francisco Chronicle. 

Hearst also owns 33 television stations, stakes in several major networks such as Lifetime, ESPN, and A&E, and almost 260 magazines around the world. William Hearst’s five sons followed in their father’s footsteps. Hearst’s grandson, William R. Hearst III, is now chair of Hearst. 

The Sulzbergers

Much like the Roys in Succession, the Sulzbergers also kept their publishing legacy in the family. Arther G. Sulzberger, chairman of the New York Times Co., is the sixth member of the Ochs-Sulzberger family to serve as the publisher of the New York Times. In season two of Succession, patriarch Logan Roy wanted to acquire a media company controlled by the Pierce family, which Vanity Fair said was inspired by the Sulzbergers.

The Mercer Family

Millionaire hedge-fund manager and political donor Robert Mercer has an estimated net worth of $125 million, according to Forbes. He and his daughter, Rebekah Mercer, have invested millions of dollars into the conservative site Breitbart News. The Mercer family is known for their influence in media and politics—Robert Mercer spent $25 million on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. 

The Redstones

Sumner Redstone—another legacy media family like the Roys of Succession—controlled ViacomCBS, which he acquired in 1987. The late media mogul had a net worth of $2.6 billion as of April 2020 before his death in August of that year, according to Forbes.

He also owned a private theater chain, National Amusements, which he inherited from his father. Sumner’s Viacom bought CBS in 1999 for $37.3 billion—one of the largest media deals at the time—and it became ViacomCBS in December 2019. Redstone’s daughter, Shari, is the non-executive chair of ViacomCBS. 

Article Sources
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  1.  HBO. “Succession.”

  2. HBO. “Jesse Armstrong Shares the Inspiration For the Roy Family.”

  3. Forbes. “Rupert Murdoch.”

  4. Fox Corporation. “Rupert Murdoch.”

  5. The New York Times. “James Murdoch Buys a Stake in Vice Media.”

  6. Fox Corporation. “Lachlan Murdoch.”

  7. Forbes. “Hearst Family.”

  8. Hearst. “About.”

  9. The New York Times Company. “A. G. Sulzberger.”

  10. Vanity Fair. “‘Succession’: The Real Rich Media Family That Inspired Logan Roy’s New Nemesis.”

  11. Forbes. “Robert Mercer.”

  12. NPR. “Inside The Wealthy Family That Has Been Funding Steve Bannon’s Plan for Years.”

  13. Forbes. “Sumner Redstone.”

  14. New York Times. “Making a Media Giant: The Overview; Viacom To Buy CBS, Forming 2nd Largest Media Company.”

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