Oz (TV series)

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Oz was the first one-hour dramatic television series to be produced by HBO. The show, which aired for six seasons (1997-2003), is set in a maximum-security prison in an unspecified locale in the U.S. Northern states. The series was created by Tom Fontana and produced by Barry Levinson.

Oz is the nickname for the Oswald State Correctional Facility. Many of the plot arcs are set in Emerald City ("Em City"), an experimental unit of the prison, where the unit manager tries to emphasize rehabilitation and learning responsibility during incarceration. Emerald City is a controlled environment. There is a limited number of members of each racial and social group (Muslims, Italian Americans, Latinos, Homosexuals, Neo-Nazis, Blacks, Irish Americans and others). The microcosm of Emerald City is a metaphor for racial and economic struggles.

Oz avoids any easy answers as to the origin of violence and criminality. Even the worst offenders are shown to have moments of humanity, while the supposedly "normal" characters come to commit their own atrocities.

The ensemble cast included many famous actors including Rita Moreno, Ernie Hudson, as well as Law and Order stars Kathrine Erbe, Christopher Meloni and B.D. Wong. Many of the actors from Oz have gone on to guest star in various Law and Order series.

Oz is narrated by wheelchair-bound Augustus Hill (played by Harold Perrineau Jr.) in surreal segments that usually relate to an overall theme of the episode. Hill, a former drug dealer and ex-junkie, appeared as a recurring character in the show's storylines until the end of the 5th season, when he was killed (although he still narrated the show until the final episode). The narrations by Hill are thus a form of breaking the fourth wall, although he did not address the camera during scenes where he was interacting with the other characters in the story.

The major plotlines in Oz typically involved rivalries between the different prison gangs, which often resulted in murder and retaliation. There are some long-standing individual rivalries including the ongoing struggle between Vernon Schillinger (played by J.K. Simmons), Aryan Brotherhood leader, and Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen), a family man jailed for killing a child while driving drunk.

Oz took advantage of the freedoms of cable television to show material that would be too extreme for traditional broadcast networks: coarse language, drug use, violence, male frontal nudity, homosexuality, rape, and ethnic and religious conflict. Interestingly, in Australia, Oz was screened on the relatively liberal-minded free-to-air channel SBS. This was also the case in Israel, where Oz was displayed on the free-to-air, commercial Channel 2 and the United Kingdom where Channel 4 aired the show late night.




  • Augustus Hill played by Harold Perrineau Jr. Physically disabled, but socially astute. Narrator of the series, Hill represents reason and logic.
  • Miguel Alvarez played by Kirk Acevedo. Alvarez goes through a process of losing masculine credibility within the latino gang.
  • Kareem Said played by Eamonn Walker. A Muslim leader with a lust for power and a conviction that other people's racism will absolve him.
  • Ryan O'Reily played by Dean Winters. An Irish hoodlum, who does what it takes to survive. He is the only Irish inmate for most of the series and survives because he is an astute political player.
  • Tobias Beecher played by Lee Tergesen. Beecher was a middleclass lawyer in denial until landing in prison forced him to confront himself and become self-sufficient.
  • Vernon Schillinger played by J.K. Simmons. Leader of the Aryan Brotherhood (Nazis), Schillinger commits atrocities against other inmates because of race or sexual orientation. His behaviour demonstrates the prison system's indifference to humanity.
  • Simon Adebisi played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Adebisi is a strong anchoring character. His flirtations with insanity and religion are transient.
  • Christopher Keller played by Christopher Meloni. Perhaps the most amoral figure in the entire milieu, he is a master of emotional manipulation and only seems to really enjoy himself when those who care about him are made to suffer.
  • Cyril O'Reilly played by Scott William Winters. Mentally incapacitated in a gang fight, the treatment of Cyril reflects a monstrous aspect of the prison system.
  • Robert Rebadow played by George Morfogen. An elderly inmate serving life for murder. He is fantastically intuitive, which in the first couple of seasons he explains by nonchalantly saying "God told me"; later he begins to doubt the source and the veracity of his insights.
  • Agamemnon Busmalis played by Tom Mardirosian. Known as "the Mole", he is an expert tunneller and escape artist.
  • Chucky Pancamo played by Chuck Zito. Takes over as leader of the Italian inmates after the deaths of Nino Schibetta and Antonio Nappa. A pragmatist, he forms alliances with other gang leaders...subject, of course, to revision as the circumstances warrant.
  • Jaz Hoyt played by Evan Seinfeld. Leader of the bikers in Em City.
  • James Robson played by R.E. Rodgers. An Aryan. Does little of consequence early in the series (aside from making an ill-advised advance on Beecher) but in later seasons becomes Schillinger's boon companion.

Prison staff


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