Succession creator Jesse Armstrong would not change anything about his hit HBO drama’s ending, admitting that he had “constant anxiety of screwing the show up” and “infecting” the rest of the series as it reached its climax.
The drama wrapped its fourth and final season in May following a stellar run that tracked the life of media mogul Logan Roy and his attempts to find a worthy successor to his media empire, Waystar RoyCo.
Produced by HBO Entertainment, Gary Sanchez Productions and Hyperobject Industries, Succession became an award-winning tentpole for HBO and sold around the world, but speaking to TBI at the Copenhagen TV Festival in Denmark, Armstrong said that the show’s central storyline added further pressure as it reached its finale.
“No, [I wouldn’t change anything], and that’s not in an arrogant way but I was so worried. The state of showrunning is constant anxiety of screwing it up, that what you’ve done so far is OK but the next episode might fail and won’t be coherent, or true, or real. It will in some way retrospectively infect everything you’ve done before and make it seem shit.
“So, the anxiety was constant through every season and and that the next hurdle could be where we would fail, which is why there were so many drafts and attempts to make sure we got there, to make it good. And that anxiety is particularly acute towards the end.
“All shows have an outsized reaction regarding their endings but particularly ours, because of what it was about. I was really nervous, and when I say I wouldn’t change anything, I feel that we pulled it off to roughly my satisfaction and I am so grateful for that.
“I wouldn’t want to fuck with any of the component parts because the whole cake seemed to be edible so I don’t want to start throwing an extra egg in now.”
Armstrong, who has been behind shows incuding Channel 4 comedies Peep Show and Fresh Meat, as well as writing on movie Four Lions and political satire The Thick Of It, added that shows such as Succession would continue to be commissioned, despite the streamer pull-back on spending and a focus on broader offerings.
“I’m not a good industry analyst type so I don’t know, but the enthusiasm is there for quality shows. Succession probably had an outsized reaction because it was set in the media world and in the context of the US population, it had a smaller number of viewers on nights it went out, but on catch up and so on you’re looking more like 8-10 million watching it.
“Peep Show also had small numbers at the time but now they would be considered very good numbers for a UK sitcom. And I do think that Succession – and this was not a consideration at all for us – will continue to make money for people because it is a good show – it is solid, the plots for each episode were thought out and people can continue to watch it.
The next move for Armstrong remains to be seen. He is not working due to the US writers strike and says he is “purposefully taking a break”, reflecting on Succession following sustained media hype in the run-up to its final season.
“It’s great to be talking here at the Copenhagen TV Festival because I haven’t had the time or, to be honest, the inclination to chat about the show too much. But now, I feel happier discussing it because it is in the rear view mirror, rather than picking apart the body of an athlete while it’s still trying to run a race.”
But are the characters that populated Succession still in his head when he wakes up each morning?
“Very occasionally, sometimes I see a news story and I think that’s a great bit of stuff that we could have used as the kernel of a story.
“But that is massively outweighed by the relief that I don’t have to go and break that story, to think about how it works and keep on at it for months before realising that it won’t fit into an episode and discard it.”
And in a battle of the one-liners between Succession‘s Logan Roy and The Thick Of It‘s Malcolm Tucker, who would come out on top?
“Malcolm would win, he’s more verbal – Logan uses the thing that powerful people do, which is lots of silence. Malcolm would definitely win verbally but I suspect you might feel that as Logan walks out of the room, he is actually the victor.”
To read the full interview with Jesse Armstrong, check out TBI’s MIPCOM edition in October.