Aired: HBO, 1997-2003
Before The Sopranos, or The Wire, there was Oz, the first dramatic series produced by HBO (HBO had produced comedies, including The Larry Sanders Show, but not a drama). As Tom Fontana told The New York Times in 2001, then-HBO president Chris Albrecht liberated him to make a show without over-regard for audience sympathy. Coming from writing for honest network drama (St. Elsewhere and Homicide: Life on the Street), HBO's dramatic license gave him the freedom to break from the expectation of false uplift or redemption crucial, given that Fontana's series was set inside the brutal world of a maximum-security penitentiary, and inside the minds of some disturbed individuals. "It's like Shakespeare or Greek tragedy," Fontana said. "All the characters are bold in their action. It's all rooted in my Latin and Greek from the Jesuits. I loved Edith Hamilton, Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus and Shakespeare. They were my boys."