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The debut date: July 12, 1997
The cast: Ernie Hudson, Harold Perrineau, Terry Kinney, Eamonn Walker, B.D. Wong, Rita Moreno, Tony Musante, Leon, Lee Tergesen, Sean Whitesell, J.K. Simmons, O.L. Duke, Edie Falco, Kirk Acevedo.

Just how vicious and raw is “Oz,” HBO’s first drama series? So much so that the typically bold pay cabler is debuting it in the ungodly timeslot of Saturday at 11:30 p.m., leaving the impression that even HBO is a little squeamish about launching a prison drama in which sadistic white supremacists co-exist alongside cannibalistic parent killers. In depicting what it’s like inside an experimental unit of the fictitious Oswald Maximum Security Prison, executive producer Tom Fontana (“Homicide: Life on the Street”) serves up a bleak, agonizingly downbeat and occasionally over-stylized vision of prison existence.

It’s about as pretty as a decaying corpse, and there is no one to root for. As such, series pushes TV’s content envelope in daring ways. The sharp racial divisions, the predatory homosexuality, the unceasing tension between guard and inmate, the tendency to prey on the weak-willed and the utter lack of trust and security are all dramatized in “Oz” with an uncanny level of believability.