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Oz is an Americanmarker television drama series created by Tom Fontana, who also wrote or co-wrote all of the series' 56 episodes. It was the first one-hour dramatic television series to be produced by premium cable network HBO. Oz aired for six seasons. Its first episode was broadcast on July 12, 1997, and its final episode aired February 23, 2003.


Oz is the nickname for the Oswald State Correctional Facility, formerly Oswald State Penitentiary, a maximum-security prison (level 4) at an undisclosed location in New York Statemarker. Many of the plot arcs are set in Emerald City ("Em City"), an experimental unit of the prison in which the unit manager attempts to emphasize rehabilitation and learning responsibility during incarceration. Emerald City is an extremely controlled environment where there are a controlled number of members of each racial and social group. The show was taped in Bayonne, New Jersey.

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


Oz is primarily narrated by Augustus Hill (Harold Perrineau Jr.), former drug dealer, convicted murderer and former crack addict. Now in a wheelchair, he appears in surreal segments and introductions that usually relate to an overall theme of the episode, as well as setting up scenes, introducing characters, or adding epilogues. When necessary — usually when a character is introduced — Hill appears as an omniscient narrator. Used as a literary tool of the writers, he narrates the details of characters' crimes, their prison number, and their sentences. Hill appears as a recurring character within the show's story lines until the sixth season, in which narration by various deceased characters was added .

These narrations by Hill 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 where he interacts with other characters in the story (in which he does not address the camera). Only once in the series did Hill appear to address another character with one of his narrations: in the Season 3 episode "Unnatural Disasters," the character Adebisi turns on a computer and sees Hill—dressed as a pharaoh—speaking to him. (This unusual sight is discounted by Adebisi as a drug-induced hallucination, and he never speaks of it again.)

Cast and characters

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

Many of the actors from Oz worked together on other hit shows after the end of the series.

Episodes and broadcast history

Oz took advantage of the freedoms of premium cable to show material that would have been too extreme for traditional American broadcast television, e.g., coarse language, drug use, violence, male frontal nudity, homosexuality, and male rape, as well as ethnic and religious conflicts.

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 the Republic of 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 Netherlandsmarker, Oz aired on the commercial channel RTL 5. In Swedenmarker and Norwaymarker, 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 Denmarkmarker, it appeared late at night on the non-commercial public service channel DR1. In Spainmarker, the show aired on premium channel Canal+. In Estoniamarker, as well as Croatiamarker, the show was aired late at night on public non-commercial state-owned channels ETV and HRTmarker, respectively. In Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker, 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 Turkeymarker, Oz was aired on Cine5; DiziMax also aired the re-runs. In Serbia, Oz aired on RTV BK Telecom. In Panama, Oz aired on RPC Channel 4 in a late-night hour. In Malaysiamarker, full episodes of Oz aired late at night on ntv7, while the censored version aired during the day.

The program's relatively low number of episodes per season (eight each in Seasons 1, 2, 3, 5, 6; sixteen episodes 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.

References in other media

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Simpsons episode "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.
  • On another episode of The Simpsons, "Pokey Mom," Chief Wiggum asks a criminal if prison is like what they show in Oz.
  • The Venture Bros. episode "Powerless in the Face of Death" features music similar to the Oz opening theme during a prison scene.
  • In the HBO series Six Feet Under, characters David Fisher and Keith Charles are seen watching Oz and talking about the show on occasion.
  • 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.
  • On one episode 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 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..."
  • In Tyler Perry's play I Can Do Bad All By Myself, Madea is talking to Vianne about potential names for her child if she and Bobby, an ex-con, have children, and Madea suggested, "This is my newborn, Oz."
  • 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"
  • Rapper El-P references the show on the lyrics to his song with Ill Bill "Simian Drugs" with the line "You can suck tits like Schillinger's kids in isolation"
  • Rapper Mannie Fresh references the show on the lyrics to the song "Undisputed", featuring Baby, Lil Wayne, Lac, and Mikkey with the line "I'm the greasey, Adebesi thats runnin' the tear"
  • Manga author and artist Sadahiro Mika was inspired to write Under Grand Hotel after seeing promotions for Oz in Japan.
  • 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 the 2009 film I Love You, Man Jason Segel's character calls J.K. Simmons character Oswald Klaven "Oz". J.K. Simmons played Aryan Brotherhood leader Vern Schillinger in every season of Oz.
  • 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 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 (the first five seasons have been released outside the US. The sixth and final season was released 22 September 2008 outside of the US).

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.


  • Season 1, Episode 2, DVD Commentary on "Oz: The Complete First Season."

Further reading

External links

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