HBO News Blog

Orange Is the New Oz?

By Jason Godfrey on Jul 8, 2014 to HBO Classics

OZ-show-Meloni_JK_400A new prison drama worth mentioning comes every few years. In 1997, it was Oz, a show about a prison with a cell block built under idealistic views of rehabilitation. They called it Emerald City. Oz ended with six seasons after wrapping up most of story lines that kept their viewers tuning in. Since then, there wasn’t a show that brought its audience into the world of prison life quite the way that HBO did.

Netflix has quickly gone from being a subscription-based streaming service to producing an arsenal of original content. Among its shows, Orange Is the New Black is getting a lot of attention. You may have even seen a commercial for their second season recently. While this Netflix original is a show about life in prison, one of its characters makes it clear when she says “this is not Oz”.

The differences between these two shows may be obvious, but there are a lot of similarities that motivate its viewers to continue to the next episode and even binge-watch an entire season. It’s plain to see that the shows take place in two different settings. The maximum security prison of Oswald Correctional Facility is much darker and grittier than the minimum security women’s jail that is Litchfield. Don’t expect a character to die every episode or two like you would expect from Oz.


From the start of each show, we are introduced to a fish-out-of-water character that is incarcerated and tries to adapt to life as a prisoner. In Oz, we meet Tobias Beecher, a lawyer who is disbarred after being convicted for killing a child while driving under the influence of his alcohol addiction. Piper Chapman, Orange’s protagonist, finds that her past has caught up with her when she is named as a member of a drug ring when she only helped carry drug money one time. Both characters are convicted for one mistake in an otherwise law-abiding life.

They quickly learn of the tribes that form in prison and each are offered a spot in one of them. It doesn’t take long, however, for either to end up on the wrong side of someone in a position of power. This is the first step in a process that changes them from person they came in as. Tobias and Piper are both forever changed because of who they had to become to survive.

Orange and Oz are both stories about a host of people as opposed to a single star. We are introduced to a variety of characters, each with a distinct personalities and a past that led them to where they are now. A deeper look into the characters is illustrated through flashbacks in both shows and serves well to show not only how a character ended up behind bars, but helps explain some of their motivations. In Orange, it can be a bit confusing for some of the flashbacks because they are not accompanied by the words of Augustus Hill. When you are taken back to a character’s childhood, you can struggle to find subtle hints to answer the question: “Who is this person, really?”


Among the cast of characters are members of the prison administration, who have their own power struggles within the prison and outside. The correctional officers can be as interesting as the prisoners in both shows and there’s a fine line between them and the inmates.

While Orange Is the New Black is not a replacement for Oz, it does use a lot of what worked for the HBO series while adding some of its own style. Some episodes may have you forgetting that you’re watching this on Netflix and not a premium entertainment channel.

  • Nick L Lopez

    I enjoy this show a lot. So far it’s one of my top 3 shows of the year. I don’t know where it stands with the early seasons of Oz, but it is miles above last few dreadful seasons of Oz.

  • Ryo Shenmue

    No, it isn’t. Comparing OITNB to Oz is like comparing Lady Gaga to Tool.

  • I’m so in love with Orange is the New Black, I can’t even stand it. I was a big Oz fan too, and while this is surely a different animal, it certainly stirs up memories of what HBO used to be. I find myself wondering every time I watch a new show now, “Why can’t HBO get shows like this?????” Orange, House of Cards, Ray Donovan, Penny Dreadful, Black Sails, even History’s Vikings are all blowing HBO out of the water.

    Yes, Game of Thrones is visually impressive and has some good actors on cast, however there are just as many weak actors and the writing is atrocious. So far the Leftovers is sadly lacking, Silicon Valley, Hello Ladies, Looking are practically unwatchable, and Boardwalk, True Blood and Game of Thrones have really jumped the shark in their latest seasons.

    Lately, I feel more and more disappointed with HBO’s new offerings and more impressed with the new shows I’m finding on other premium channels, PBS and now, even on Netflix. Even Cinemax’s The Knick looks like it will give the mother network some competition. HBO needs to step up it’s game!

    • Ryo Shenmue

      Black sails is one of the worst cable series ever. Vikings is pure mainstream television. Ray Donovan is just bad and has been seen a thousand times, it copied so many things from The Black Donnellys that i’ve lost count. House of Cards is just overrated, one decent season and then nothing. Penny Dreadful is…well, dreadful. And Silicon Valley, which currently is the only decent series on HBO, is FAR from unwatchable.

      • Ed Marquis

        I have to agree with the OP, Vikings, Ray Donovan, Penny Dreadful and House of Cards have been far more enjoyable to me, than most of what HBO has had to offer in the past two to three years. Ryo Shenmue, you and I must have extremely different taste, as Silicone Valley was so unenjoyable to me, that I stopped watching after four episodes. I don’t agree that Vikings is mainstream television at all, and the writing on Penny Dreadful and Ray Donovan both, are far better than anything HBO is offering at the moment.

        I was a big fan of Oz and I didn’t expect to enjoy Orange very much, but my wife convinced me to watch and I found myself hooked. While it isn’t an Oz substitute, I do see the similarities and I would greatly enjoy more articles comparing shows on other networks to HBO shows, but past and present.

        • Jason Godfrey

          Yes, there may never be a show that can suitably substitute Oz. I didn’t expect to like OITNB either. I decided to give it a shot and expected far worse than I got. With a title like it has, I expected the lead character to be a ditzy fashionista trying to turn a prison into her personal catwalk. I’m glad that, while I find Piper Chapman to be overly naive, she’s barable enough.

          The lines between a show you would only see on HBO, Showtime, AMC, Starz, etc are fading. Don’t be surprised if you see more shows compared like this. I would love to see how a show like Breaking Bad would look on HBO ;)

  • I haven’t seen Oz, but everything I’ve seen of Orange Is the New Black (which, admittedly, isn’t much) has been terrible. Just my two cents!

    • As a big Oz fan i disagree. Orange is The New Black is a good show with good characters and writing. It`s diffrent of course from Oz, but both shows are good. I like Oz more, but Orange is not terrible at all.

  • Nahojism

    Oz was such an awesome show. I loved every minute of it.

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