Several years ago, Jesse Armstrong wrote a screenplay titled “Murdoch” that imagined mogul Rupert Murdoch’s family gathering for his 78th birthday. The screenplay made the rounds in Hollywood, but was never produced.
Armstrong’s new HBO series, “Succession,” also tells the story of a powerful media executive whose children jockey for control of his empire as he approaches the end of his life. But speaking at the Television Critics Association press tour Thursday, Armstrong said that the two projects share little DNA.
“This is a fictional family,” Armstrong said, adding that he knows “a good deal” about the Murdoch family. In the writers room, he said, the Murdochs were discussed along with William Randolph Hearst, British press baron Robert Maxwell, and even Queen Elizabeth. “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.”
Armstrong’s fellow 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?”
McKay recently tackled issues of money in greed in his film “The Big Short.” He said that it makes sense for filmmakers and television producers to gravitate to stories about wealth right now.
“I think to some degree you can’t ignore the reality of where we’re at,” he said. “Income inequality is at historic high.” He added that the approach many are taking to stories of wealth is different from the wide-eyed fascination of television shows from decades ago such as “Dynasty” and “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” “We’re seeing this unparalleled oligarchical planet that we’re living in.”
McKay also pointed to media families whose stories are particularly intrigue-filled — citing Murdoch and Maxwell, and also Sumner Redstone. “It was interesting that the media families were the most interesting and the most dramatic.”
Brian Cox, who plays Logan Roy, the mogul at the center of the series, said that there is no one real-life person on which his character is based.
“I didn’t channel anybody really,” Cox said. “It’s a great role and a great subject. And it’s about the nature of how greed and acquisitiveness desensitizes people.”
“Succession” is set to debut in June on HBO.