Oz (TV series)

Oz (TV series)
Oz titlecard.png
Created by Tom Fontana
Written by Tom Fontana
Bradford Winters
Sunil Nayar
Sean Jablonski
Sean Whitesell
Directed by Adam Bernstein
and others
Starring Kirk Acevedo
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Ernie Hudson
Terry Kinney
Rita Moreno
Harold Perrineau
J.K. Simmons
Lee Tergesen
Eamonn Walker
Dean Winters
Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 6
No. of episodes 56 (List of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Tom Fontana
Barry Levinson
Jim Finnerty
Producer(s) Debbie Sarjeant
Mark A. Baker
Irene Burns
Bridget Potter
Jorge Zamacona
Greer Yeaton
Editor(s) Deborah Moran
Running time 55 minutes
Production company(s) The Levinson/Fontana Company
Rysher Entertainment
HBO Original Programming
Original channel HBO
Original run July 12, 1997 (1997-07-12) – February 23, 2003 (2003-02-23)

Oz is an American television drama series created by Tom Fontana, who also wrote or co-wrote all of the series' 56 episodes[1] (and received the actual OZ tattoo that was filmed for the credits).[2] It was the first one-hour dramatic television series to be produced by premium cable network HBO.[3] Oz premiered on July 12, 1997 and ran for six seasons. The series finale aired February 23, 2003.[1][2] The show was filmed in New York City, New York and later Bayonne, New Jersey.



"Oz" is the nickname for the Oswald State Correctional Facility, formerly Oswald State Penitentiary, a fictional maximum-security prison (level 4). The nickname is a reference to the classic film Wizard of Oz, which is notable for popularizing the phrase: "There's no place like home". In contrast, the series has used the tagline: "It's no place like home".

Many of the plot arcs are set in "Emerald City" ("Em City"), also a concept from The Wizard of Oz. In this experimental unit of the prison, unit manager Tim McManus attempts to emphasize rehabilitation and learning responsibility during incarceration, as opposed to pure punishment. Emerald City is an extremely controlled environment in which there is a carefully managed number of members of each racial and social group, with the hope of easing tensions among these various groups.

Under McManus and Warden Leo Glynn, the inmates in Em City all struggle to fulfill their own needs. Some fight for power; either power over the drug trade or power over the other inmate factions. Others, corrections officers and inmates alike, simply want to survive long enough. In particular the prisoners want to make parole or even to see tomorrow. The show gives a no-holds-barred account of prison life with all the plots, subplots and conflicts given context and explanation by the show's wheelchair-using narrator, Augustus Hill.

Oz chronicles the attempts of McManus to keep control over the inmates of Em City. There are many groups of inmates during the run of the show and not everybody within each group makes it out alive. There are the African American Homeboys (Adebisi, Wangler, Redding, Poet, Keene, Supreme Allah) and Muslims (Said, Arif, Hamid Khan), the Wiseguys (Pancamo, Nappa, Schibetta), the Aryans (Schillinger, Robson, Mark Mack), the Latinos (Alvarez, Morales, Guerra, Hernandez), the Irish (the O'Reily brothers), the gays (Hanlon, Cramer), the bikers (Hoyt), and a number of others (Rebadow, Keller, Stanislofsky). In contrast to the dangerous criminals, regular character Tobias Beecher gives a look at a normal man who made one fatal drunk-driving mistake. The episodes are narrated and held together by inmate Augustus Hill, who provides the show with some context, some sense of humor, etc.

The ensemble cast included Christopher Meloni, Ernie Hudson, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Harold Perrineau Jr., Eamonn Walker, Rita Moreno, John Lurie, Terry Kinney, Betty Buckley, Kathryn Erbe, Lee Tergesen, B. D. Wong, J. K. Simmons, Dean Winters, Scott William Winters, Kirk Acevedo, Erik King, Evan Seinfeld, David Zayas, Lauren Vélez, and Edie Falco.

Eric Roberts, Joyce Van Patten, Method Man, Luke Perry, Master P, Treach, LL Cool J, Rick Fox, Dana Ivey and Peter Criss have made appearances on the show.


Oz is primarily narrated by inmate Augustus Hill (Harold Perrineau, Jr.), former drug dealer, convicted murderer, and former drug addict. Now paralyzed from the waist down and in a wheelchair, he appears in surreal segments and introductions that usually relate to an overall theme of the episode, as well as set up scenes, introduce characters, or add epilogues. When necessary — usually when a character is introduced — Hill appears as an omniscient narrator. Used as a literary device of the writers, he narrates the details of characters' crimes, their inmate identification numbers, and their sentences. Hill appears as a recurring character within the show's story lines until his death at the end of the fifth season; he and other deceased characters then share narration duties throughout the final sixth season.

Hill's narrations break the fourth wall, in that Hill addresses the camera (and thus the audience) directly, out of the fictional context of the scene. Hill also appears in scenes wherein he interacts with other characters in the story (in these he does not address the camera). Only once in the series did Hill appear to directly address another character with one of his narrations; in the Season 3 episode "Unnatural Disasters," the character Simon Adebisi turns on a computer and sees Hill, dressed as a pharaoh and speaking to him. Adebisi was troubled by this event, but wrote it off as a drug-induced hallucination.

Cast and characters

From left to right: Ryan O'Reily, Vernon Schillinger, Miguel Alvarez, Tobias Beecher, Kareem Saïd. In the front, Augustus Hill.

In the first two seasons, the cast billed in the opening credits are divided into three categories: Starring, Also Starring and Guest Starring. Cast members in each tier are billed in alphabetical order. In the third season, the "Guest Starring" is removed and this tier is tacked onto the end of Also Starring. It is still recognizably a distinct tier, as in all three the cast are billed in alphabetical order by actor's surname, with some rare exceptions.

Tier 1: Starring

Tier 2: Also starring

Episodes and broadcast history

Oz took advantage of the freedoms of premium cable to show material that would have been too excessive for traditional American broadcast television, including such elements as coarse language, drug use, violence, male frontal nudity, homosexuality, and male rape, as well as ethnic and religious conflicts.[3]

In Australia, Oz was screened uncensored on the free-to-air channel, SBS. This was also the case in Israel, where Oz was displayed on the free-to-air commercial Channel 2; in Italy, where it was aired on the free-to-air Italia 1; in the United Kingdom, where Channel 4 aired the show late at night; in Ireland, where the series aired on free-to-air channel TG4 at 11 p.m.; and in Brazil, where it was aired by the SBT Network Corporation, also late at night.

In the Netherlands, Oz aired on the commercial channel RTL 5. In Sweden and Norway, it aired on the commercial channels TV3 and ZTV late at night, and in Finland, on the free-to-air channel Nelonen (TV4). In Canada, Oz aired on the Showcase Channel at 10 p.m. EST. In Denmark, it appeared late at night on the non-commercial public service channel DR1. In Spain, the show aired on premium channel Canal+. In Estonia, as well as Croatia and Slovenia, the show was aired late at night on public, non-commercial, state-owned channels ETV, HRT and RTV SLO. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, it was aired on the federal TV station called FTV. In Portugal, Oz aired late at night on SIC Radical, one of the SIC channels in the cable network. In France, the show aired on commercial cable channel 'Serie Club,' also late at night. In Turkey, Oz was aired on Cine5; DiziMax also aired the re-runs. In Serbia, Oz aired on RTV BK Telecom. In Panama, Oz aired on RPCTV Channel 4 in a late-night hour. In Malaysia, full episodes of Oz aired late at night on ntv7, while the censored version aired during the day. In New Zealand Oz aired on The Box at 9.30pm on Wednesdays in the early 2000s.

The program's relatively low number of episodes per season (eight each; sixteen in Season 4), is part of the trend in cable network programming, in which shows often feature shorter seasons than programs on American free-to-air channels, which typically feature sixteen to twenty-two episodes per season.

On April 21, 2009, Variety announced that starting May 31, DirecTV will broadcast all 56 episodes in their original form without commercials and in high definition on the 101 network available to all subscribers. The episodes will also be available through DirecTV's On Demand service.[5]

References in other media


  • Rapper Beanie Sigel - "I'm moving out like Adebisi on Oz."
  • Rapper Mannie Fresh references the show in the lyrics to the song "Undisputed", featuring Baby, Lil Wayne, Lac, and Mikkey with the line: "I'm the greasey, Adebesi thats runnin' the tier."
  • Rapper Noreaga references the show on the lyrics to his song, "Nothin", with lines such as: "Only time they seen jail, when they watchin' Oz" and "Adebesi, want a brick you pay double easy."
  • The name of instrumental experimental rock trio Adebisi Shank is a reference to the Oz character.


  • In "30 Rock" episode "Goodbye, My Friend", Kenneth tells Tracey that even prisoners have birthday parties, because he saw one on Oz.
  • The Arrested Development episode "Visiting Ours" featured a young, traumatized George Michael Bluth watching an episode of Oz, mistaking the show for the film The Wizard of Oz; as a result, George Michael spends the entire series petrified of prisons.
  • The episode "Fast Times at Buddy Cianci Jr. High" of Fox's Family Guy featured a story in which Lois believed her son Chris had killed a man, whereas it was actually the man's wife who committed the murder. Lois briefly contemplates calling the police but forgets it, stating "I can't call the police. I have to get rid of this body or Chris will go to prison, and we all know what happens in prison showers! I've seen Oz!"' The scene then cuts to a group of naked inmates scrubbing each others' backs in the shower singing a song to the tune to Merry Old Land of Oz from The Wizard of Oz.
  • In Gilmore Girls episode "Eight O'Clock at the Oasis", Lorelai's odd new neighbor, Dwight, comments about the unpleasantness of his former home. Lorelai later jokes to Rory that Dwight's former home was "Oz, and not as in the Wizard of."
  • MADtv did two Oz parodies: one with Bill Cosby (Aries Spears) in jail in a skit called Coz, and another in which Martha Stewart (Mo Collins) is sent to the Oswald Correctional Facility and uses her recipes and home decorating ideas to kill the other prisoners.
  • In an episode of The O.C., when Seth is picking out a comic to give to Ryan's brother in jail, Ryan suggests a different one and Seth says "The guy's in prison man, have you seen Oz? I'm sure that'll be fine..."
  • On one episode of the American remake of Queer as Folk, Brian's nephew says he hopes Brian is sent to jail and anally raped by a black man. Justin comments that his parents must have HBO.
  • In an episode of the Adult Swim series Robot Chicken, a segment parodies Oz, starring the Scarecrow from "The Wizard of Oz", who gets shanked with a shiv in the cafeteria.
  • An episode of NBC's Saturday Night Live hosted by Jerry Seinfeld featured a skit parodying both Oz and the final episode of Seinfeld, in which Seinfeld's character is sent to prison. It was filmed on the actual Oz sets and featured many of the main actors from the series.
  • The Simpsons episode "Pokey Mom," Chief Wiggum asks a criminal if prison is like what they show in Oz.
  • On another episode of The Simpsons, "The Seven-Beer Snitch", features Homer Simpson becoming a prison snitch and receiving a series of gifts and privileges, one of which being an "adorable little hat" identical to the one worn by Simon Adebisi in Oz.
  • In the HBO series Six Feet Under, characters David Fisher and Keith Charles are seen watching Oz and talking about the show on occasion.
  • The South Park episode "Cartman's Silly Hate Crime 2000", in which Eric Cartman gets sent to prison, features music from Oz in establishing shots of the prison. Trey Parker and Matt Stone state on that episode's DVD commentary that the staff of Oz were fans of South Park.
  • In the Season 3 episode of Stargate SG-1 titled "Jolinar's Memories", which takes place in a hellish prison carved into a moon, Colonel Jack O'Neill says "Well... it's certainly not Emerald City". It can be debated that he references The Wizard of Oz (as he referenced it very often during the course of the series), but the "medieval" prison setting, violently contrasting the "clean and modern" look of this Oswald Penitentiary unit, tilt the balance in favor of the prison show.
  • The Venture Bros. episode "Powerless in the Face of Death" features music similar to the Oz opening theme during a prison scene.
  • On the third season premiere of Will & Grace, Karen tells Rosario that she should be thankful to her for "springing her out of Oz," after Rosario was imprisoned for smuggling Karen's drugs, which was setup by Karen herself.
  • In a Season 3 episode of another HBO series The Wire, Omar Little and Dante are seen watching an intimate scene from a Season 6 episode of Oz between Tobias Beecher and Chris Keller.


The series was co-produced by HBO and Rysher Entertainment, and the underlying US rights lie with HBO, which has released the entire series on DVD in North America. The international rights were owned originally by Rysher, then Paramount Pictures/Television after that company acquired Rysher. CBS Paramount International Television currently owns the international TV rights, and Paramount Home Entertainment/CBS DVD owns the international DVD rights.

DVD releases

HBO Home Video has released all six seasons of Oz on DVD in Region 1 and Region 2. The releases contain numerous special features including commentaries, deleted scenes and featurettes.

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The Complete First Season 8 March 19, 2002
The Complete Second Season 8 January 7, 2003
The Complete Third Season 8 February 24, 2004
The Complete Fourth Season 16 February 1, 2005
The Complete Fifth Season 8 June 21, 2005
The Complete Sixth Season 8 September 5, 2006


A soundtrack containing East Coast, West Coast and Southern hip hop was released on January 9, 2001 by Avatar Records. It peaked at #42 on the Billboard 200 and #8 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.[6]


  • Season 1, Episode 2, DVD Commentary on "Oz: The Complete First Season."
  • Season 2, Episode 5, "Oz: The Complete Second Season."
  1. ^ a b Adam Dunn (21 February 2003). "The end of 'Oz'". CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2003/SHOWBIZ/TV/02/21/oz.end/index.html. Retrieved 2009-10-21. 
  2. ^ a b "Oz Production Notes". http://www.levinson.com/lf/oz/prod.htm. Retrieved 2010-08-05. 
  3. ^ a b Bruce Fretts (11 July 1997). "Nasty As He Wanna Be". Entertainment Weekly. http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,288583,00.html. Retrieved 2009-10-21. 
  4. ^ "Luis Guzmán at imdb.com". imdb.com. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0350079/. Retrieved 2009-01-03. 
  5. ^ MICHAEL SCHNEIDER (20 April 2009). "'Oz,' 'Deadwood' join DirecTV". Variety. Reed Business Information. http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118002639.html?categoryId=14&cs=1. Retrieved 2009-10-21. 
  6. ^ "Oz - Original Soundtrack (2001)". Billboard. http://www.billboard.com/#/album/original-soundtrack/oz/457653. Retrieved 2009-10-21. 

Further reading

  • Stemple, Lara (2007). "HBO's OZ and the Fight against Prisoner Rape: Chronicles from the Front Line". In Merri Lisa Johnson. Third Wave Feminism and Television: Jane Puts it in a Box. London: I.B. Tauris. pp. 166–188. ISBN 1-84511-245-8. OCLC 72151012. 
  • HarperEntertainment (2003). Oz: behind these walls: the journal of Augustus Hill. New York: HarperEntertainment. ISBN 0-06-052133-3. OCLC 51241977. [page needed]

External links

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