A Different World

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A Different World
A Different World.jpg
Season six title card
GenreSitcom
Created byBill Cosby
StarringLisa Bonet
Marisa Tomei
Dawnn Lewis
Jasmine Guy
Loretta Devine
Kadeem Hardison
Lou Myers
Darryl M. Bell
Sinbad
Charnele Brown
Cree Summer
Glynn Turman
Ajai Sanders
Jada Pinkett
Karen Malina White
Theme music composerStu Gardner
Bill Cosby
Dawnn Lewis
Opening themePerformed by:
Phoebe Snow (season 1)
Aretha Franklin
(seasons 2–5)
Boyz II Men (season 6)
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons6
No. of episodes138 (including 3 hour-long episodes)
141 (including 3 syndicated episodes) (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s)Marcy Carsey
Tom Werner (entire run)
Caryn Mandabach
(seasons 5–6)
Susan Fales
(season 6)
Camera setupVideotape; Multi-camera
Running time30 minutes
Production company(s)Carsey-Werner Productions
Broadcast
Original channelNBC
Picture format480i (SDTV)
Original runSeptember 24, 1987 – July 9, 1993
Chronology
Related showsThe Cosby Show
 
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A Different World
A Different World.jpg
Season six title card
GenreSitcom
Created byBill Cosby
StarringLisa Bonet
Marisa Tomei
Dawnn Lewis
Jasmine Guy
Loretta Devine
Kadeem Hardison
Lou Myers
Darryl M. Bell
Sinbad
Charnele Brown
Cree Summer
Glynn Turman
Ajai Sanders
Jada Pinkett
Karen Malina White
Theme music composerStu Gardner
Bill Cosby
Dawnn Lewis
Opening themePerformed by:
Phoebe Snow (season 1)
Aretha Franklin
(seasons 2–5)
Boyz II Men (season 6)
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons6
No. of episodes138 (including 3 hour-long episodes)
141 (including 3 syndicated episodes) (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s)Marcy Carsey
Tom Werner (entire run)
Caryn Mandabach
(seasons 5–6)
Susan Fales
(season 6)
Camera setupVideotape; Multi-camera
Running time30 minutes
Production company(s)Carsey-Werner Productions
Broadcast
Original channelNBC
Picture format480i (SDTV)
Original runSeptember 24, 1987 – July 9, 1993
Chronology
Related showsThe Cosby Show

A Different World is an American television sitcom which aired for six seasons on NBC (from September 24, 1987 – July 9, 1993). It is a spin-off series from The Cosby Show and originally centered on Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) and the life of students at Hillman College, a fictional mixed but historically black college in the state of Virginia.[1] After Bonet's departure in the first season, the remainder of the series primarily focused more on Southern belle Whitley Gilbert (Jasmine Guy) and mathematics whiz Dwayne Wayne (Kadeem Hardison). The series frequently depicted members of the major historically black fraternities and sororities (along with the fictional Kappa Lambda Nu fraternity and Alpha Delta Rho sorority).

While it was a spin-off from The Cosby Show, A Different World would typically address issues that were avoided by The Cosby Show writers (race and class relations, or the Equal Rights Amendment). One episode that aired in 1990 was one of the first American network television episodes to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic.[2]

Cast and characters[edit]

Main cast[edit]

ActorCharacterSeasons
123456
Lisa Bonet*Denise HuxtableMain
Marisa TomeiMaggie LautenMain
Dawnn LewisJaleesa Vinson-TaylorMain
Jasmine GuyWhitley Marion GilbertMain
Loretta DevineStevie RallenMain
Kadeem HardisonDwayne Cleophus WayneMain
Darryl M. BellRonald "Ron" JohnsonRecurringMain
SinbadCoach Walter OakesRecurringMain
Mary AliceLeticia "Lettie" BosticMain
Charnele BrownKimberly ReeseMain
Cree SummerWinifred "Freddie" BrooksMain
Glynn TurmanColonel Bradford TaylorMain
Lou MyersVernon GainesRecurringMain
Ajai SandersGina DeveauxRecurringMain
Jada PinkettLena JamesRecurringMain
Karen Malina WhiteCharmaine Tyesha BrownMain
*After leaving the series, Lisa Bonet returned for a guest appearance as Denise in season three (episode: "Forever Hold Your Peace").
Prior to joining the cast as a regular, Karen Malina White appears as Charmaine in season five (episode: "Conflict of Interest").

Recurring[edit]

Guest stars[edit]

Season two changes[edit]

During the summer of 1988, Lisa Bonet announced that she and husband Lenny Kravitz were having a baby. It was felt that viewers would not accept Denise Huxtable as an unwed mother, having grown to know her as a "good girl" after four seasons of The Cosby Show and A Different World. Thus it was decided that Denise would drop out of Hillman, return home to her family, and eventually travel to Africa throughout the fifth season of The Cosby Show, ensuring that viewers would not see a pregnant Denise. This led to Debbie Allen becoming the chief creative force behind A Different World, and to the revamp that placed Whitley and Dwayne at the center of a wider ensemble, dealing with more relevant issues of the day. Allen, an alumna of Howard University, made a conscious effort to make Hillman resemble an actual historically black college, as much as possible. The first season of Hillman's student body consisted of both black and white students, but this was changed at the beginning of the second season and was maintained until the series ended.

Marisa Tomei and Marie-Alise Recasner were replaced by Cree Summer and Charnele Brown, respectively. Darryl M. Bell and Sinbad were promoted to the principal cast, and Glynn Turman and Lou Myers were added as supporting cast members.

Notable episodes[edit]

In season one, the episode "Rudy and the Snow Queen" marks the beginning of the softening of Whitley's image as a spoiled troublemaker at Hillman. Denise's kid sister Rudy (Keshia Knight-Pulliam) visits Hillman and becomes smitten with Whitley. Flattered at the attention, Whitley befriends the little girl, but when it becomes clear that she's trumping Denise as a role model, Whitley has a change of heart, steps back and gently persuades Rudy to return to her sister.

In season two, the episode titled "No Means No" deals with date rape. Freddie has a crush on Hillman's new top-notch baseball star Garth Parks (played by Taimak). Dwayne hears Garth discuss a disturbing incident involving another woman. Dwayne goes to Walter (Sinbad) for advice, and Walter tells him about date rape. Dwayne tries to warn Freddie, but she does not believe Garth would do such a thing. Later at a dance, Garth goes off alone with Freddie and attempts to rape her, but Dwayne finds them and fights Garth. At the end of the episode, Walter takes Garth to the police station for his assault on Freddie and the rape of the other woman.

In January 1991 (seven days before the beginning of Operation Desert Storm), Blair Underwood guest-starred in the episode "War and Peace" (written by Jasmine Guy and Dominic Hoffman) about the impending Persian Gulf War. A Different World became the first situation comedy to address this topic, and "War and Peace" was one of the highest-rated episodes of season four.[3]

In the season four episode "Ms. Understanding", Hillman student Shazza Zulu (Gary Dourdan) peddles a book he has written and self-published that is highly critical of African-American men and their allegedly sexist behavior. The episode is based on the controversy surrounding the book The Blackman's Guide to Understanding the Blackwoman [sic]. This book, written by controversial African American author Shahrazad Ali, blamed many of the problems within the black family and the black community on African American women. Although many black women found the book highly offensive and intellectually deficient, African American men purchased hundreds of thousands of copies in 1989 and 1990, leading to a temporary rift between many African American men and women. Ali's book is mentioned specifically in the 1990 episode "Time Keeps On Slippin'" where Ron suggests putting it in the time capsule to represent a female point of view, but is shouted down by the women in the group. It should be noted that Ms. Ali's views stemmed from her fervent belief in Faradian Islam and her membership in the Nation of Islam.

The season five episode "Mammy Dearest" addresses two subjects almost never discussed on prime time television: the "mammy" image and its negative effect upon African Americans' sense of beauty and self-worth, and the little-known fact that some well-to-do African-Americans actually owned slaves themselves. Kim is disheartened with the display of several "mammy" dolls in a cultural exhibit, while Whitley learns that some of her African-American ancestors were slave owners. In some regions of the U.S., blacks owning black slaves (or relatives) would ensure that they would not be sold to leave the town.

The season five episode "Cat's in the Cradle" deals with racism, from both sides of the proverbial fence. While attending a Hillman football game on a predominantly White campus, Ron and Dwayne are involved in a bias incident with three White students, which culminates with Ron and Dwayne fighting the White students as they attempt to spraypaint the word "Nigger" on Ron's car, stopping them before they could complete the slur. They are all detained by a local county sheriff; in the local jail, the perspectives of the incident are shown from each side, with predictably drastically different takes. The racist act by the White students is not alone, however, as Dwayne is guilty of the same prejudice by assuming the White sheriff that arrests everyone is racist. Poignantly, the ending scene find both parties returning to the parking lot where the altercation started, only to find that some unknown other person or persons finished spray-painting the "Nigger" slur on the car. This episode features one of actor Dean Cain's earliest television appearances.

The season five episode "Love Taps" dealt with domestic violence. Gina has been dating an up-and-coming rapper named Dion, aka "I'm Down" (played by Edafe Blackmon), who many of the students admire, including Terrance. When Lena suspects that Dion has been beating up on Gina (who is sporting a black eye), she confronts her about it, but Gina makes excuses for Dion's rages and tells Lena to back off. Lena confides in Kim about Gina's situation; Kim informs Lena that some things should not be kept secret. Eventually, Dion's reputation is spread all over campus. After having a heart-to-heart talk with Whitley and engaging in a confrontation with Dion (in front of Terrance who has called the police), Gina finally decides to press assault charges against him.

Various episodes in the last two seasons of the series referenced contemporary high-profile cases of sexual harassment, such as the Mitsubishi scandal and the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings. In the episode "Bedroom at the Top," Whitley is sexually harassed at her new job by an executive. The Anita Hill hearings also are mentioned in the episode "The Little Mister," in which Dwayne dreams about the 1992 elections imagining himself as Hillary Clinton, while Whitley is Bill.

The season six premiere includes Whitley and Dwayne's recounting of their honeymoon in Los Angeles, during which four white police officers who were on trial for the videotaped beating of African American motorist Rodney King were acquitted of state criminal charges, sparking the 1992 Los Angeles riots. (Actors Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold, comedian Gilbert Gottfried and rapper Sister Soulja made cameo appearances in this two-part episode.)[4]

In "Homie, Don't You Know Me?" (one of the "lost episodes" from season 6), rapper Tupac Shakur portrays Lena's (Jada Pinkett) old boyfriend from back home. The two bump heads over Lena's new college "attitude", not to mention her new boyfriend Dorian (Bumper Robinson). This is one of the few television sitcom appearances made by Tupac, though his appearance was more serious than the show's tone itself.

The season four episode "If I Should Die Before I Wake" dealt with the AIDS epidemic. It featured actress Tisha Campbell-Martin as Hillman student Josie, who reveals during a class project that she has contracted the disease from a former boyfriend and would probably die shortly after graduating college. Because of the reveal, some of the students (including Gina and Terrance) start to treat Josie as an outcast by either covering their face around her, or refusing to have her serve food at the Pit. Their attitudes towards Josie change after being chastised by Kim and Mr. Gaines. The dialogue also causes Whitley (who was still a virgin) to put off a sexual relationship with Dwayne. Whoopi Goldberg stars as the professor who conducts the class.

Connections to Bill Cosby and The Cosby Show[edit]

As a show developed by Bill Cosby for a character from The Cosby Show, A Different World had many connections to its parent program, even before the latter program was created. The third season finale of The Cosby Show, entitled "Hillman", was essentially a pilot episode for the new show.

The theme song was co-written by Stu Gardner, Bill Cosby, and Dawnn Lewis — who was also cast member. In the online interviews related to the 2006 "Hillman College Reunion," Lewis revealed that her being approached to write the song and to audition were two separate events that occurred within a short time of each other, such that she thought it was a practical joke by her friends. The song was performed by Phoebe Snow in season one, then by Aretha Franklin in seasons two through five, and Boyz II Men in season six.

The spin-off program featured many appearances by characters from the parent program, especially in the initial season, in which Denise's father Cliff (Bill Cosby), mother Clair (Phylicia Rashād), younger sisters Vanessa (Tempestt Bledsoe) and Rudy, brother Theo (Malcolm-Jamal Warner), and grandfather Russell (Earle Hyman) all appeared on the show, either at Hillman or at the other end of a phone call. Denise's departure from Hillman after Season 1 did not stop her mother from reappearing on the show. Three of Phylicia Rashād's four appearances as Hillman alumna Clair Huxtable took place after season one, and in one of these, she brought her younger daughter Vanessa to tour the college.

Producer/director Debbie Allen is the real-life sister of Phylicia Rashād. Allen made one guest appearance on The Cosby Show, playing an aggressive aerobics instructor who helps Clair slim down for a special occasion. Allen appeared in later seasons in a recurring role as Whitley's psychiatrist. Dwayne and Whitley also visited the Huxtable home in an episode featuring the revelation that Denise had married and would not return to Hillman.

A young Kadeem Hardison appeared on The Cosby Show as one of Theo Huxtable's friends in the first-season episode "A Shirt Story", though not playing Dwayne.

A Hillman alumna by the name of "Louise Sujay" was mentioned on both Cosby and A Different World by Clair Huxtable, Whitley Gilbert and her mother Marion.

Like Lisa Bonet, Karen Malina White brought her Cosby Show character to Hillman. Charmaine was the best friend of Clair Huxtable's cousin Pam Tucker. White's Cosby Show costar Allen Payne turned down an offer to bring his role as Charmaine's boyfriend Lance Rodman to A Different World as a regular during Season 6, preferring instead to pursue a movie career; he and Jada Pinkett starred in the 1994 film Jason's Lyric, which is considered to be a milestone in both their careers. Payne did appear in one episode during season five in which Charmaine visits Hillman as a prospective student, bringing Lance along to see if he can gain admission as well. When Charmaine arrives at Hillman, she and Lance are maintaining a long-distance relationship and he is mentioned in multiple episodes. Lance and Charmaine later break up over the phone.

Years later, Tempestt Bledsoe (who played Vanessa on Cosby) and Darryl M. Bell (who played Ron on A Different World) became a real-life couple and co-starred on the 2009 Fox Reality Channel series Househusbands of Hollywood.

Hillman College[edit]

Hillman College is a fictional, historically Black college that is located in the state of Virginia and was founded in 1881. The exact locality of the school is never revealed, but it is alluded to be located in the Richmond area. The school's motto is Deus Nondum Te Confecit, which translates from Latin to: God, you have not yet achieved. Visual shots of the Hillman campus that were used in the series were actually filmed at two real-life Black colleges, Clark Atlanta University and Spelman College, both in Atlanta, Georgia.

The first references to Hillman on The Cosby Show were made during season one, when it is mentioned as the place where Cliff Huxtable and Clair Hanks went to school while they were engaged. Cliff's father Russell is also a Hillman alumnus. The school made its first on-screen appearance in the third-season finale of The Cosby Show, titled "Hillman", when Cliff and Clair and their family attend a Hillman commencement ceremony which also honored a retiring professor.

Hillman College Reunion[edit]

In August 2006, Nick At Nite aired a week-long marathon showing episodes of A Different World. Lisa Bonet, Dawnn Lewis, Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison, Darryl M. Bell, Cree Summer, and Sinbad reunited for short vignettes that provided a glimpse of the current state of their characters. Nick at Nite's "Hillman College Reunion"[5] website added details beyond those shown on television.

Reception[edit]

Ratings[edit]

A Different World benefited from airing between The Cosby Show and Cheers on Thursday night. The show consistently ranked first or second among African American viewers during most of its run.[6]

U.S. television
SeasonTimeslot (EDT)EpisodesSeason premiereSeason finaleRankingHouseholds
(in millions)
Black household
ranking
11987–88Thursday 8:30pm/7:30c22September 24, 1987July 7, 1988#2[6]22.15#2
21988–8922October 6, 1988May 4, 1989#3[6][7]20.79[7]#1
31989–9025September 21, 1989May 5, 1990#4[6][8]19.43[8]#1[9]
41990–91Thursday 8:30pm/7:30c (Sep. 1991-May 1992)
Monday 8:30pm/7:30c (July-Aug. 1991)
25September 20, 1990May 2, 1991#4[10]16.92[10]#1[11]
51991–92Thursday 8:30pm/7:30c (Sep. 1991-June 1992)
Thursday 8pm/7c (July-Sep. 1992)
25September 19, 1991May 14, 1992#17[12]13.99[12]#1[11]
61992–93Thursday 8pm/7c (Sep. 1992-Nov. 1992)
Thursday 8:30pm/7:30c (Nov. 1992-Jan. 1993)
Saturday 8pm/7c (May 1993)
Thursday 8pm/7c (May 1993-June 1993)
Friday 8pm/7c (July 1993)
25September 24, 1992July 9, 1993#71[13]9.0 rating#6[14]

Media reaction[edit]

The Hollywood Reporter is quoted as stating that when Debbie Allen became the producer (and usually director) of A Different World after the first season, she transformed it "from a bland Cosby spin-off into a lively, socially responsible, ensemble situation comedy."[6]

The Museum of Broadcast Communications states that Debbie Allen:

a graduate of historically black Howard University — drew from her college experiences in an effort to accurately reflect in the show the social and political life on black campuses. Moreover, Allen instituted a yearly spring trip to Atlanta where series writers visited three of the nation's leading black colleges, Clark Atlanta, Morehouse and Spelman. During these visits, ideas for several of the episodes emerged from meetings with students and faculty."[6]

On August 23 & 24, 2012, Debbie Allen, the former chief creative force of A Different World from 1988 to 1993, wrote on Twitter that she wants to reboot A Different World. Over a million people on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs reacted to the tweet and approve the potential reboot.[15]

Impact on African-American culture[edit]

Because of Debbie Allen's influence as the producer (and usually director) of A Different World after the first season, African-American youth who watched the show often cite it as a defining reason why many of them decided to attend a historically Black college or university.[16][17]

DVD releases[edit]

Urban Works released Season 1 of A Different World on DVD in Region 1 on November 8, 2005. Several release dates for Season 2 were announced (May 2006, July 2006 & September 2006) but it was never released. Urban Works was acquired by First Look Studios in early 2006. The distribution rights for the series have since reverted back to the production company, Carsey-Werner Productions.

DVD NameRelease DateEp #Additional Information
Season 1November 8, 200522
  • Cast interviews
  • Out-takes
  • A retrospective overview of the series with cast members
  • An un-aired, "lost" episode featuring Tupac Shakur and Jada Pinkett-Smith

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Haithman, Diane (October 6, 1988). "Different Touch to 'Different World'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 2, 2010. 
  2. ^ La Deane, Alice (January 13, 1992). "'Different World' Goes Beyond Realm of 'Sitcom'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 2, 2010. 
  3. ^ "As 'A Different World' Turns". EW.com. Retrieved 2013-11-11. 
  4. ^ Braxton, Greg (August 13, 1992). "A 'Different' Take on the L.A. Riots : Television: Industry and Civic Leaders are Both Impressed and Nervous as 'A Different World' Opens a New Season by Dealing with the Unrest". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 2, 2010. 
  5. ^ [1][dead link]
  6. ^ a b c d e f "The Museum of Broadcast Communications - Encyclopedia of Television". Museum.tv. Retrieved 2013-11-11. 
  7. ^ a b "TV Ratings: 1988–1989". ClassicTVHits.com. Archived from the original on 15 January 2010. Retrieved 02-12-2010. 
  8. ^ a b "TV Ratings: 1989–1990". ClassicTVHits.com. Archived from the original on 17 January 2010. Retrieved 02-12-2010. 
  9. ^ Earl g. Graves, Ltd (October 1990). "Nielsen To Scope Blacks". Black Enterprise 21 (3): 18. 
  10. ^ a b "TV Ratings: 1990–1991". ClassicTVHits.com. Archived from the original on 6 February 2010. Retrieved 02-12-2010. 
  11. ^ a b Company, Johnson Publishing (April 27, 1992). "Debbie Allen Tells Why 'A Different World' Is Rated Tops Among Black TV Viewers". Jet 82 (1): 58–60. 
  12. ^ a b "TV Ratings: 1991–1992". ClassicTVHits.com. Archived from the original on 15 January 2010. Retrieved 02-12-2010. 
  13. ^ Grahnke, Lon (May 8, 1993). "'A Different World' Canceled After 6 Years". Chicago Sun-Times. p. 21. Retrieved 2010-05-25. 
  14. ^ Company, Johnson Publishing (April 26, 1993). "How Blacks' TV Viewing Habits Differ From Whites'". Jet 83 (26): 38. 
  15. ^ Aziz, Naeesa. "Where Are All the Black TV Shows? | News". BET. Retrieved 2013-11-11. 
  16. ^ "Danielle Moodie-Mills: Lessons From 'A Different World'". Huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2013-11-11. 
  17. ^ "Will The Days of "A Different World" Ever Return? « MadameNoire MadameNoire". Madamenoire.com. 2011-05-24. Retrieved 2013-11-11. 

External links[edit]