The opening scenes of The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty very nearly pick up from the cliffhanger of Succession S2.
It is 1995 and Rupert Murdoch is on his yacht at Hayman Island. Children James, Lachlan and Elisabeth are all in attendance, as narrator Kate Fleetwood reveals a successor to the empire is up for discussion. But Rupert likes to play all 3 against one another.
ABC has kept the BBC doco under wraps -only the first chapter is available for review. Across this rise / fall / rise miniseries, episode one notes Murdoch’s early success with an Adelaide newspaper before it quickly heads to London for Fleet Street domination.
Murdoch’s backing of the Blair government, at the expense of John Major, represents the close relationship between media and politics. Archival footage of Major at the 2012 Leveson inquiry indicates he refused to bow to Murdoch’s directives on the European Union, while former editors recount Murdoch’s backing of Blair (who, as it happens, was also on that yacht at Hayman Island).
After Blair’s Labor victory, Murdoch reportedly had access to the PM on a daily basis and his newspapers beat a drum for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 (over weapons of mass destruction that were ultimately never found).
There are profiles of the children: Elisabeth, smart, likeable and a natural successor; James, brainy and ambitious; Lachlan charismatic. Yet after Rupert divorces wife Anna and marries Star TV exec Wendi Deng, there are two more children: Grace & Chloe. Private footage is used from an ABC series Dynasties: The Murdochs.
Recalling a performance at Rupert & Wendi’s wedding, singer Charlotte Church -who was 13 at the time- was encouraged by record management to sing as a favour instead of £100,000. She did.
But the other narrative rippling through the first episode surrounds the growing influence of News of the World editor Rebekah Wade (who married to become Rebekah Brooks) and was subsequently at the centre of the now-infamous phone hacking.
There are interviews with former editors and journalists, including Piers Morgan, and another who admits he would not have participated without Rupert’s agreement.
Yet for all its chess players and scope, it’s nowhere near as ripping as a great episode of Succession. It skims over the actual rise of Murdoch in Australia and fast-forwards to the UK ’90s. Other docos such as a 2013 SBS doco were far more thorough in this regard, although this one benefits from more recent turning points.
I’m not so sure ABC’s preference for keeping episodes so under wraps has helped, because I would have liked to have seen some knockout blows. Instead I am left with an acknowledgment of what we already knew: media and politicians make for Shakespearean bedmates.
The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty 7:40pm Sunday on ABC.