Credits + Pics

Buyer's Guide

Lee Links

Ask Lee

Site Info



Oz Beats Odds

By Claire Bickley
Toronto Sun
Aug. 21, 1998

Actor Lee Tergesen keeps scoring television firsts.

But seeing as how they're happening on the hardcore prison series Oz, they're not the kind that list easily on a resume.

Let's review.

In the first season of the uncensored drama, Tergesen's Tobias Beecher, a lawyer jailed for drunken vehicular manslaughter, struck back against the white supremacist who'd made him his sex slave by almost putting out the man's eye. As the cherry on the cake of his enraged revenge, Beecher defecated on his persecutor's face.

When the series begins a fresh eight-week run tonight at 10 on Showcase Television with the episode The Tip, Beecher takes a page out of the Lorena Bobbitt self-defence manual.

Between seasons, Oz creator/executive producer Tom Fontana phoned with a warning.

"He called me and he was like, 'I think I've topped everything we did last year.' Once he said that, I knew that it was going to be big," Tergesen told me a few days ago on the phone from his L.A. home.

The actor and the producer met when Tergesen had a recurring role as a cop blinded in the line of duty on Homicide: Life On The Street, TV's other Fontana-produced drama. Connecticut-born and theatrically-trained, Tergesen made his film debut in the 1991 Keanu Reeves thriller Point Break, spent three years in a supporting role on the U.S. sitcom Weird Science, played a transvestite in the TV movie Cast A Deadly Spell and was Terry, the cable access cameraman, in both Wayne's World movies.

When Fontana said he was planning a prison show with explicit nudity, violence, language and themes, Tergesen didn't hesitate.

It was only after filming, while they waited for it to debut -- it airs in the U.S. on pay-cable HBO -- that the second-guessing started.

"Everybody was a little bit nervous about how it was going to be received because we were literally standing there with our dicks hanging out. And then everybody really loved it. So the second time around you go at it with a little less of that nervousness."

Perhaps not everybody really loved it.

Along with critical acclaim and four CableACE awards -- cable's Emmy equivalent -- including best drama, came complaints about the show's brutality. One major U.S. publication even accused Oz of mocking God.

"How that critic knows what God is thinking, I don't know," Tergesen says now.

"But I think that's the kind of show we're on. Some people are going to love it and say, 'Wow, man, this is so amazing that I'm watching this on television.' And then there are people who are going to say, 'You know, there's no reason to do that. That's disgusting.'

"I think either of those is better than people going, 'Oh. Yeah. It's an all right show.' Art is supposed to cause large reactions."

Cast and crew had a large reaction when they learned that Oz is actually shown in some U.S. prisons. Which seems sort of provocative, seeing as how last season climaxed with a riot that killed six prisoners and two guards.

"We were surprised. We were like, 'What are they thinking?' "


Oz main page