NEWS THAT 92-YEAR-OLD media baron Rupert Murdoch is stepping down as chair of Fox and News Corp and installing his eldest son, Lachlan, in his place, would be an intriguing news story in its own right, bristling with all the ingredients that normally accompany changes at the very top of a global media conglomerate: rivalry, drama, greed, power and, potentially betrayal. In this case, though, there’s another fascinating dynamic at play, for there is, of course, a wildly popular, prestige TV template that might offer clues as to how the Murdoch family drama plays out: Succession, the HBO dramedy.
This is not your usual case of life imitating art, at least not yet. Succession, in case you were living under a rock (or just didn’t give a shit) the last few years, is the story of the Roy family, whose media empire, Waystar Royco, is led by grizzly bear-mannered patriarch Logan Roy. The at times petty, at other times bloodthirsty battle among his tragically flawed kids, Kendall, Shiv, Roman and Connor, to succeed their father was famously inspired by the Murdochs.
How much the series drew on the real-world power plays of the Murdochs and other famous media families is a Reddit deep dive in itself, but there are reports that Lachlan told Rupert that James was leaking stories to Succession’s writers, though a person close to Lachlan denies this is true. Moreover, one of the reported terms of Jerry Hall’s divorce settlement from Rupert was that she couldn’t give story ideas to the series’ writers—which is possibly an enormous shame.
In any event, Succession is certainly art inspired by a very privileged, extremely unrelatable life, but in the wake of Rupert’s resignation, you do have to wonder if the tables might be turned and the future of News Corp and Fox finds echoes in the final season of the HBO drama… if this seems too on the nose, you might also ponder if we’re all just characters in some poorly rated cosmic satire that should have got canned after the fall of the Roman Empire.
Ever wily, Rupert is certainly not following the script, handing over the keys to the corporate kingdom before the universe’s screenwriters (who never go on strike!) can write him out with a mile-high heart attack, though he apparently came close to death back in 2018, after suffering a bad fall on a yacht.
He survived and word on the street is that he’s choosing to bail now after the costly $787.5 million Dominion defamation lawsuit back in April, with more costly lawsuits pending, including a $2.7bn damages claim from Smartmatic, another voting machine manufacturer that Fox went to town on in similar fashion to Dominion.
So, of course, the fun to be had here is to speculate on who in the Murdoch clan is best represented by which Roy sibling in this particular ‘drama’—so far this has lacked the leavening comic plot points of sons jerking off on skyscraper windows, accidently sending dick pics to dad, or performing cringy hip-hop verses at birthday parties, though we live in hope.
According to Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman, “Although he is a nonagenarian intent on living forever, Murdoch… long wanted one of his three children from his second wife, Anna—Elisabeth, 54, Lachlan, 51, and James, 50—to take over the company one day. Murdoch believed a Darwinian struggle would produce the most capable heir”. That certainly sounds familiar.
By virtue of quitting the family business way back in 2000, Elisabeth shapes as the most likely Connor Roy comp, though that is perhaps doing her a disservice. She started her own successful TV production company and doesn’t appear to suffer the delusions of grandeur that elevated Connor’s character to a minor comic masterpiece—the eldest son from Logan’s first marriage ran for President, before hoping to land plum roles as an ambassador to “one of the Slos”, Slovenia or Slovakia, after throwing his support (that would be his hard-won 1 per cent of the popular vote, known as Conheads), behind the neo-con, Trump-with-brains candidate, Jeryd Mencken.
Lachlan, who has got the gig for now, looks to be Kendall minus the hang-dog countenance and propensity to drop bars, with shades of Roman. He reportedly shares his father’s right-wing politics and love of newspapers and has been described as “the golden child”—he’s certainly the most likely of the siblings to have had his name underlined in a will. His problem is many wonder if he actually wants the job or is just suiting up to keep dad happy—maybe not Kendall then. Apparently, Lachlan prefers boulders to boardrooms and is more at home in climbing gyms than he is negotiating the overhangs and crags of rocky corporate terrain. Lachlan, who was News Corp’s deputy chief operating officer, famously quit the company and moved back to Sydney in 2005, before Rupert lured him back in 2015.
Then there’s James, who as a liberal is said to detest Fox News and apparently would destroy it given the chance, making him the best stand-in for Shiv Roy. After Lachlan bailed to Australia, James climbed the ranks at News Corp, investing in prestige media brands like Hulu and the National Geographic Channel. But James’ liberal politics and pesky desire to make News Corp a reputable news source, reportedly didn’t sit well with Rupert, who as mentioned, convinced Lachlan to return to the fold as his heir. James and Lachlan are said to no longer be on speaking terms and James didn’t show up to Rupert’s 90th birthday party. Seriously, you can’t make this shit up, or can you? Hard to tell anymore.
As you might recall, Succession ended with a final boardroom vote in which Shiv betrayed Kendall, who needed his siblings’ votes to assume power, a move that ultimately led to her husband, Tom, taking the reins and also to some very limp hand-holding in the back of a luxury vehicle.
Lachlan now faces a similar fate. His future will be decided by his siblings, all of whom sit on the board of the trust that controls the company. After Rupert’s death, his votes will be distributed among the four eldest children, Lachlan, James, Elisabeth, and Prudence, his daughter from his first marriage—she’s also a comp for Connor—a News Corp source told Vanity Fair.
In The Successor: The High-Stakes Life of Lachlan Murdoch, Murdoch watcher Paddy Manning claims shareholders are not keen on Rupert’s succession plans.
“A Wall Street analyst who has covered the Murdoch business for decades and is completely au fait with the breakdown in the relationship between the brothers [Lachlan and James Murdoch], volunteers off the record that it would be ‘fair to assume Lachlan gets fired the day Rupert dies’,” writes Manning.
Does that mean, Lachlan ends up glumly staring out at the Hudson River, or some other body of water in hollowed-out disappointment? Do he and James engage in fisticuffs while horrified staff look on. Or does Elisabeth have a role to play here, betraying one brother at the expense of the other, in echoes of Shiv’s betrayal of Kendall. Perhaps you could write this stuff.