SPOILER ALERT: This contains details about the events that occurred in the SUCCESSION episode S4/E3 that premiered last night on HBO and is now available to stream on HBO Max. If you’re among the millions who haven’t seen it yet, booknote this. I’ll take the delayed viewing just as happily as will HBO, and we both make as much from advertisers who care about that.
Media moguls, no matter how successful and ruthless they may be, eventually die. Real ones and fictional ones. So last night’s shocking plot twist that told the saga of the off-screen demise of patriarch and protagonist Logan Roy was executionally shocking but hardly unexpected. By all estimates, Roy was in his mid-eighties, had survived previous health battles that had been chronicled in even the show’s first episodes, and has been under quite a bit of stress lately. He was jetting his way to Sweden for a meeting with someone who was willing to take on his failing media company and about to face a showdown to extract the business he was most passionate about–his conservative-leaning news network–and effectively give up on many of the businesses that he had assigned at various times to his children, at least in part.
It’s no secret that the Roys are based largely upon the family of Rupert Murdoch, a group I am intimately familiar with. I’ve personally known all of them, including a couple of Rupert’s wives, and personally have nothing but praise for all of them. Elisabeth, who I knew best when she and her ex-husband purchased a couple of mid-sized Central California NBC affiliates and where she impressively utilized many of the negotiating tricks she inherited from me when her father placed her in an iteration of the job I had which was eliminated for “structural reasons”, is a successful and dynamic producer and executive who made the decision to forge her own path many years ago, and seems to be the happiest of all of her siblings. James, who I also knew well, also had a strong run with building up STAR TV, Murdoch’s Indian and Asian media empire, at a time when that business’ relevance to the U.S. exploded. Lachlan, who currently runs what is left of FOX, at least on paper, is doing his best with maximizing the profitability of the owned-and-operated stations, is supporting atypical efforts to invest in actual, lower-cost first-run programming, and is helping even the retirement-age audience of FOX News embrace the potential of digital enterprises, utilizing FOX Nation as a way to showcase not only their on-air talent in ways beyond their core responsbilities but also give a chance for cancelled voices to earn a living. Whether you agree with any of them or not, the fact is they have a right to earn a living and be heard. I support that first and foremost.
So I say both as a fan of the show and as someone who has a tad more insight into their supposed real-life inspirations–the Roys are NOT the Murdochs. And this season’s unfoldings underscore that.
Kendall, who is purportedly Lachlan, is a tortured soul who throws around half-cocked ideas about “The Hundred”, effectively writing a mission statement withouit a mission. The worst Lachlan has been guilty of has been to allege that local media measurement in Los Angeles was racially biased against his station, and, to the best of my knowledge, he has never drowned a waiter.
Roman, purportedly James, is a man-child who is perhaps more nuanced than his siblings but simultaneously chose a path of loyalty to his father at a crucial point and cannot find it within himself to acknowledge his father’s death. He literally can’t let go of his father. The real James already has moved on from the business, particularly as it has become more politically oriented and as the events surrounding Dominion crystallized.
And Shiv, who initially was a de facto doppelganger fo Elisabeth, has actually evolved both physically and characteristically into more of a nod to Shari Redstone, especially as the plotline of this year’s episodes cast Logan more as a Sumner type in his sunset years, being manipulated by the likes of Kerry Castellabate to divert his attention, particularly below his waistline, to the extent that has championed someone with blind ambition and virtually zero on-air talent, yet is astute enough to call bullsh-t on a non-existant “focus group” being used as the reason she is not yet the show’s answer to Kimberly Guilfoyle (who actress Zoe Winters is bearing more and more of a resemblance to this season). The daughter always takes Daddy’s dalliances hardest, patticularly when it’s clear that Daddy a) doesn’t fully respect what she believes to be her intelligence and b) isn’t quite as doting as he used to be.
Elisabeth never had those issues. But Shari’s track record is a bit more questionable. She fortunately has some exceptionally talented allies in the likes of BoB Bakish to run the business, but is essentially looking to jettison or marginalize many of the brands that comprise its success. In embracing the Paramount name for the company, effectively relegating CBS to secondary consideration, and supporting the conflating of Showtime to the streaming service’s de facto “plus one”, she has shown a remarkably tone-deaf lack of appreciation for the legacy value and importance those brands have to her viewers. And she’s actively looking to purge the company of anything she has deemed as not one of the core pillars, including BET, which successfully transitioned to a relevant, artist-centric multimedia entity and indeed filled the gap MTV eschewed when it pivoted from largely music to largely reality. Logo has been reduced to essentially a FAST channel and website tab. VH-1 is essentially being sold for parts.
And, frankly, Shiv isn’t looking quite as en flique this season as she did in earlier seasons. Elisabeth, to her credit, has aged as well physically as she has intellectually. Shari, not so much.
(Connor, I’ve never quite embraced. But neither did Logan. At least he finally got the pretty girl to be with him. Alan Ruck’s doing a lot better now than Cameron did in FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF. )
So no, the Roys aren’t quite the Murdochs. The younger Roys have clearly earned the dismissive remark from Logan at the end of S4/E2 where he effectlively sums up their relationship: “I love you, but you aren’t serious people”.
Spot on, sir. And they also couldn’t hold a candle to you in any business aspect. These kids shouldn’t be running a bicycle shop, let alone a media company.
Then again, compared to their dad, the Murdoch kids are nowhere near as accomplished or nuanced as their dad.. It’s a high bar to be sure.
But, at least for now, they don’t have to face their own legacies as immediately as do the Roys. Rupert just celebated his 92nd birthday by calling off his potential fifth marriage; frankly, he’s got bigger things to worry about these days. He’s probably a more attentive father now as a result. And I assume he is back on the prowl–perhaps that Viagra prescription that was recommended to him years ago that I witnessed personally might be apropos again.
One bit of advice, sir. Watch out for overly aspirational brunette Italians. Believe me, I speak from experience.
We still don’t know exactly how and why Logan Roy expired, and the look on Kerry’s face in last night’s episode suggests there could be a lot more to her character’s story before SUCCESSION ends. We sure wouldn’t want the same thing to happen to you.
Until next time…