The Media Ecology of ‘Succession’
“You’re not your dad. No no no no. You cannot win against the money. The money is going to wash you away. Your dad knew: Tech is coming. We are over. Make your accommodations.”
So explains Gerri Kellman, sometimes CEO of Waystar Royco on HBO’s satirical black-comedy billionaire soap opera Succession. While fans have spent the past four seasons debating which of his heirs, acolytes, or adversaries will finally “succeed” patriarch Logan Roy (a stand-in for Rupert Murdoch) as CEO of the family’s media empire (a thinly veiled News Corp), I think the last few episodes have revealed the bigger succession at play: the way that the television media environment is being subsumed by its digital successor.
This is what makes Succession a more developed and relevant show than most so-called prestige television, where characters are conniving for a throne or mob territory. It’s not just the figures who are changing, but the ground. The way the rather static characters struggle with the how the world changes around them reminds me of the way the aristocrats in a Chekhov play contend with the rising power of the bourgeois. A businessman buys the family cherry orchard! The spoiled “three sisters” consider a world with…work?
In Succession, it appears that commoner Tom Wambsgans will represent the usurping underclass and like his namesake, World Series legend Bill Wambsganss —carry off an unassisted triple play and eliminate Logan Roy’s three children for the win. But Tom is of the television generation, and instead becomes head of FoxNews or, er, ATN, crown jewel of the RoyStar corporation.
Before his sudden death, Logan Roy recognizes it is Lukas Matsson, the Elon Musk-like founder of fictional tech streaming behemoth “GoJo”, who must take over the company — by acquisition. Roy’s one stipulation? He wants to hang onto ATN and spend the rest of his career shoring up his legacy, right-wing news channel. He even makes a visit to the old newsroom and — between complaining about the pizza and air conditioning budgets — gets up on some boxes of printer paper (the medium he replaced with TV) and makes a rousing if anachronistic speech about having the guts to say dangerous things on…