As the era of prestige TV overlaps with the ascent of the podcast format, things in the media world are getting kind of meta. To wit: Succession, the blockbuster hit from HBO about narcissistic media mogul Logan Roy and his hyper-privileged, graspy kids battling to inherit his company. And, in the grand tradition of media about media, rocketing up the Irish podcast charts we have the podcast about the show, aptly titled HBO’s Succession Podcast.
This is the HBO-produced podcast about the HBO show, so don’t expect a critical takedown. Perhaps to mitigate this, they’ve tapped a high-profile, respected journalist to host – Kara Swisher is not known for the soft pedal in her interview style, and she’s certainly no sycophant. If anything, she’s kind of a blowhard about all the rooms she’s been in and the people she’s interviewed. (“I just interviewed Elon Musk about Jeff Bezos’s rocket,” she drops casually into one episode, while in another telling us of her personal advice to Hillary Clinton.) That said, she’s a big Succession fan, a fairly obvious prerequisite for hosting a podcast about the show, and she’s equipped – remember Musk and Bezos? – to talk about the real-life mirrors to the show’s cast of egomaniacs.
Swisher took over from British-American journalist Roger Bennett, who hosted the first series of the podcast in 2020, inviting one of the show’s principal actors on each episode to talk character and plot development. But Swisher, now in the third series of the podcast (which is, confusingly, about series four of the show), expands beyond that, her roster of guests including director Mark Mylod and the show’s acclaimed writer Jesse Armstrong. These two are at their most engaging when we hear about some of the motivations for particular decisions – why does series four, episode three take place on a boat, and what’s with all the Roy family transport in general – and the technicalities of shooting the 27 minutes at the centre of this episode on film in one take.
If you’re not already entranced by the travails of the wealth-addled, jet-saddled class, particularly as skewered in Succession, this is probably not the podcast for you
And sure, this all makes me as a viewer re-examine what I’ve seen in a new light and appreciate the artistry that got lost in a big plot twist. But the guests who add the most value are those such as Ben Smith, founder of media company Semafor, who has plenty to say about the mucky news business within which the Roys are operating as well as the prospects for The Hundred, the new venture they’re cooking up as series four kicks off. (Kendall Roy’s pitch: “Substack meets Masterclass meets the Economist meets the New Yorker,” though he left out “proof for dad we’re not the losers he thinks we are”.) Likewise, writers Rachel Abrams and James B Stewart are invited to discuss Sumner Redstone, the subject of their book, Unscripted. Redstone, a self-made media baron who built his empire (CBS, Viacom, Paramount) through ruthless deal-making, was a combative narcissist who berated and humiliated his offspring. Turns out that’s a thing.
If you’re not already entranced by the travails of the wealth-addled, jet-saddled class, particularly as skewered in Succession, this is probably not the podcast for you. But if you’re in this cultural moment till its soon-to-be-reached conclusion, then this second-level analysis is worth your time. As you’d expect from HBO, it’s top shelf product, with some big names attached. Plus, who knows how many more layers this can go? Here’s hoping this newspaper review of a podcast about a television show gets covered by The Hundred.