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What Succession's Logan Roy tells us about real-life media moguls

BY Banseka Kayembe

24th May 2023 Film & TV

What Succession's Logan Roy tells us about real-life media moguls

Succession writer and executive producer Lucy Prebble talks Rupert Murdoch, Robert Maxwell and crafting the iconic fictional media mogul Logan Roy

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Succession!

If Succession, with all its delicious Machiavellian scheming, Shakespearean power plays, and Greek tragedy arcs, ever had any one character at the centre of it, it was Logan Roy. The man who seemed unbeatable (until death finally stepped in and snuffed him out in an aeroplane toilet) felt very reminiscent of the old-style legacy media moguls, some of whom are still very much shaping our politics and culture today. 

"Logan cuts an almost mythological figure and is a self-identified 'killer' in business"

As CEO of the fictional Waystar Royco—the company famously summed up by son Roman Roy as, “We do roller coasters and hate speech”—Logan dominates the media landscape with the right wing conservative news station ATN. Like a lot of large scale media owners, Logan cuts an almost mythological figure and is a self-identified “killer” in business. 

So how much is the complex character of Logan shaped by the real-life media moguls who’ve dominated our screens and newspapers for so long? Lucy Prebble, a writer and executive producer on Succession, spoke to me about what they drew on to create the unforgettable Logan Roy.

Making speeches directly to staff

Early in series four, Logan delivers a stirring, war-like speech directly to the staff at ATN in their newsroom to galvanise his workers, and gain a sense of control over a company he is expected to soon sell to the Swedish tech company GoJo. The language is in typical Logan style. It’s violent, calling for ATN to be “killing the opposition” and “cutting their throats”. 

It appears to be partly inspired by Rupert Murdoch, who also famously made a speech in 2007 to employees at The Wall Street Journal standing on stacks of paper, although according to the host of HBO’s Succession Podcast Kara Swisher, who was there at the time, “It wasn’t that great.” Sadly unlike Logan, Murdoch is not reported to have called for “f*****g spicy” editoral news angles.

Robert Maxwell, a media proprietor who owned Mirror Group Newspapers amongst others, was notoriously “bombastic, bullying and with a deep, booming voice” much like Logan.    

Lucy Prebble confirmed, “Both Maxwell and Murdoch had a history of this sort of thing.” The Succession writers “were interested in what Logan might have been like as a boss in his younger days…For us, Logan was a TV guy, a reinventor of news in that medium. And that was his passion rather than papers. Very little has affected public sentiment more than the decades of 24-hour rolling news cycle, particularly the right-wing kind in the US, and we wanted to represent that, and its huge, terrifying impact.”

Being incredibly involved in the small details

Logan spends time prior to his speech peering over staff’s shoulders, and involving himself in a much more granular level in ATN’s outputs than you’d expect for someone so senior.

Lucy says the writing team were “inspired by the weird tales of Murdoch and Maxwell leaning over employees’ shoulders and late-night calls to correct newspaper headlines and grammar. These weren’t people who were totally able to let go, to drift off.” 

Being drawn to youth

We are frequently reminded of Logan’s precarity of health throughout the series. Logan appears to have a heightened awareness of his own mortality, and in the true style of a rich man chooses to begin a sexual relationship with his much younger assistant Kerrie.

Rupert Murdoch is certainly no stranger to large age gap relationships; his third wife Wendi Deng was 38 years younger, and Jerry Hall 26 years his junior. Billionaire media mogul Sumner Redstone dated Sydney Holland who was 48 years younger, for five years. Jeff Bezos' sudden youthful style of leather jackets and tight jeans has been noted as being indicative of a midlife crisis.

"In the true style of a rich man Logan chooses to begin a sexual relationship with his much younger assistant"

Lucy says the draw to youth is “related to a fear of death, but it’s also the behaviour of a man who fears his power is waning.” Seeking a relationship with a younger woman becomes a way to reassert their masculinity.

“It’s not specifically based on one person but we thought it would be disingenuous and, unfortunately, unrealistic, for a man of his wealth and power to settle sweetly with one last, formidable wife, like Marcia.” Lucy added, “Perhaps we also wanted to limit Logan’s admirable qualities. It’s surprisingly difficult to stop people falling in love with TV characters. We forgive fictional people what we would never in real life. Which is sad.” 

Believing they are a “man of the people”

Logan is surrounded by fabulous levels of wealth—but it’s fair to say he’s not a snob. Unlike the old money media family the Pierces who casually quote Shakespeare over the dinner table, Logan is a self-made man. He is straight talking and looks strangely more at home eating in a New York diner than his multi-million-dollar home. He believes ATN exists to tell viewers what others won’t.

Murdoch has been described by his inner circle as having "the sense of purpose to challenge the old world order on behalf of the people". Media moguls often seem to often have grandiose ideas about the positive impact they believe they're having—even though it’s often for the worse.

“Logan likes to think he’s a man of the people because he understands them, but truthfully he cares very little…Logan’s love of ordinary folk is theoretical,” Lucy warns. “He makes his money off offering the least of things to people he doesn’t much care about. It’s just that Logan doesn’t care much for the elite taste-setters either.” 

"Media moguls often seem to often have grandiose ideas about the impact they're having"

Perhaps being slightly delusional about his impact eases whatever conscience Logan has? “Truthfully, maybe Logan just likes to think of himself as a man of the people because it allows him to not think too hard about what he peddles. He can always argue that he’s just straight-talking and serving the common man. But to him, really, deep down, he’s serving slugs salt and if they’ll pay for that, f**k 'em.” 

Believing others are too sentimental   

Logan seems routinely repulsed by his children's choices that are driven by emotion. In the final conversation with them all he says, "You are not serious people." Logan appears to always be driven by how to win, not short term emotions. Unlike new media owners like Elon Musk who seem thinner skinned and easily rattled, Murdoch has withstood significant criticism and scandal and remained powerful enough to still come out on top. 

Succession appears to tell us that giving up emotional ties comes at the expense of gaining and holding power. Lucy says, “I think when you consider other human beings as competitors to triumph over, you are regarding the world in a particular way. It’s a capitalist idea, it’s a very American idea. [Love] can’t really exist within it. So I suspect in life, we are often asked to choose between them.”

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