HBO’s ‘Succession’ Tries to Get the Merger-Mad Media Industry Right


“Succession” has taken liberties here and there that some experts might quibble over. Unlike what happened with National Amusements, for example, the Roy family hides the debt on the public company’s books without shareholders finding out about it, which is unlikely to happen in the real world.

Mr. Cohan, a consultant for the show’s first season whose many business-centric books include “Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World,” said that while the debt arrangement felt like a “bit of a stretch,” the scenario is not impossible.

“Sometimes, loan documents are hidden,” he said.

Mr. Cohan said he suggested to the show’s writers that they include a private equity player, a “barbarian-at-the-gate type,” who could become a potential business rival, someone like a Stephen A. Schwarzman, the pugnacious billionaire behind the Blackstone Group.

“Succession” ultimately takes a different tack, creating a younger character for that role, but later an older media lion does appear in Sandy Furness (played by the veteran character actor Larry Pine). As the nemesis to Logan Roy, and the real power behind the takeover attempt, he is reminiscent of Mr. Malone, the fearsome cable magnate who, in 2004, pulled off one of the most deft merger maneuvers in corporate history when he quietly bought up enough shares in Mr. Murdoch’s News Corp. to threaten the family’s control of the business.

Mr. Malone’s aim wasn’t to buy out Mr. Murdoch’s family legacy. Instead, he wanted to grab DirecTV, the satellite TV service partly owned by Mr. Murdoch. With the leverage he had gained through his amassing of those News Corp. shares, Mr. Malone cut a deal, gaining control of DirecTV in exchange for his stake in News Corp.

After falling victim to Mr. Malone’s gamesmanship, Mr. Murdoch created provisions that would keep any outside shareholder from owning so much stock in his company.

While taking a broad swipe at corporate America, “Succession” narrows its focus now and then to consider the rapacious appetites and craven impulses that often guide the deal makers whose multibillion-dollar machinations have dominated the finance pages in recent years. And while the media industry makes for an ideal setting for this kind of thing to play out, Mr. Armstrong said he had not limited himself to media barons as he builds the world of his show.



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