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Different World

A Different World (TV series) Format: Sitcom

Created by: William Cosby Jr., Ed.D.

Starring: Lisa Bonet (1987-88), Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison Marisa Tomei (1987-88), Darryl M. Bell (1988-93), Cree Summer (1988-93), Charnele Brown (1988-93), Glynn Turman (1988-93) Dawnn Lewis (1987-92), Michelle Smith (1987-1991) Sinbad (1988-91), Mary Alice (1988-89), Lou Myers (1989-93) Karen Malina White (1992-93), Jada Pinkett (1992-93) Ajai Sanders (1992-93), Loretta Devine (1987-88)

Opening theme performed by: Phoebe Snow (Season 1), Aretha Franklin (Seasons 2-5), Boyz II Men (Season 6) Country of origin: United States

No. of seasons: 6 No. of episodes: 144 (List of episodes)


Executive producer(s): Marcy Carsey, Tom Werner, Debbie Allen (Seasons 2+), Caryn Mandabach, (seasons 5+), Susan Fales (Season 6)

Running time: 30 minutes


Original channel: NBC

Original run: September 24, 1987 – July 9, 1993

A Different World is an American television sitcom which aired for six seasons on NBC (from September 24, 1987 until July 9, 1993). It was a spin-off series from The Cosby Show, originally centered around Denise Huxtable (portrayed by actress Lisa Bonet) and the life of students at Hillman College, a fictional historically Black college in Virginia. Later seasons of the show focused on other characters including Dwayne Wayne (portrayed by actor Kadeem Hardison) and Whitley Gilbert (portrayed by actress Jasmine Guy).

While it was a spin-off from the Cosby Show, A Different World typically addressed issues that were avoided by the Cosby Show writers (race and class relations, the Equal Rights Amendment). One episode that aired in 1990 was one of the first American network television episodes to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Reruns can be seen weekdays on BET as well as in syndication in select cities.

The success and popularity of A Different World is credited with an increase in enrollment at historically Black colleges and universities during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

A Different World


Mary Alice - Leticia "Lettie" Bostic (Episodes 13-20, 23-44)

Darryl M. Bell - Ronald "Ron" Johnson, Jr. (Seasons 2-6, recurring in Season 1)

Lisa Bonet - Denise Huxtable (Season 1, guest-starring in Episode 49)

Charnele Brown - Kimberly Reese (Seasons 2-6)

Loretta Devine - Stevie Rallen (Episodes 1-9, 21)

Jasmine Guy - Whitley Gilbert (except Episode 22)

Kadeem Hardison - Dwayne Wayne (except Episode 22)

Michelle Smith - Brenda Jackson (Seasons 1-4)

Dawnn Lewis - Jaleesa Vinson (Seasons 1-5)

Patrick Malone - Terrell Walker (recurring in Season 6)

Lou Myers - Vernon Gaines (Seasons 3-6, recurring in Season 2)

Jada Pinkett - Lena James (Season 6, recurring in Season 5)

Marie-Alise Recasner - Millie (recurring in Season 1)

Bumper Robinson - Dorian Heywood (recurring in Season 6)

Ajai Sanders - Gina Deveaux (Season 6, recurring in Seasons 4 and 5)

Sinbad - Walter Oakes (Seasons 2-4, recurring in Season 1)

Cree Summer - Winifred "Freddie" Brooks (Seasons 2-6)

Marisa Tomei - Maggie Lauten (Season 1)

Glynn Turman - Col. Bradford Taylor (Seasons 2-6)

Cory Tyler - Terrence Taylor (recurring in Seasons 4 and 5)

Karen Malina White - Charmaine Tyesha Brown (Season 6, guest-starring in Episode 113)

Hillman College Reunion

In August 2006, Nick At Nite aired a weeklong marathon of A Different World episodes. Lisa Bonet, Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison, Darryl M. Bell, Cree Summer, and Sinbad reunited for short vignettes that provide a glimpse of the current state of their characters. Nick at Nite's Hillman College Reunion[2] website added details beyond those shown on television.

A Different World

Season 2 changes

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 Charnele Brown and Cree Summer. Darryl M. Bell and Sinbad were promoted to the principal cast, which (coupled with the addition of Glynn Turman and Lou Myers) allowed the show to provide a more equitable balance of male and female perspectives.

Dwayne's status as the campus nerd was gradually phased out, and Ron was transformed from devoted boyfriend to notorious womanizer. The replacement of the passive Millie with the more confident Kim as Whitley's roommate and confidante helped to make Whitley a more sympathetic character.[citation needed] The addition of Freddie preserved other elements of Season 1, as the character represented both the Bohemian aspects of Denise and the studious nature of Maggie.

The Hollywood Reporter is quoted as stating that when Debbie Allen became the producer-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."

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 two of the nation's leading black colleges, Morehouse and Spelman. During these visits, ideas for several of the episodes emerged from meetings with students and faculty."

A Different World

Notable episodes

In Season 2, the episodes "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 rape of the other woman.

In January 1991 (seven days before the beginning of Operation Desert Storm), Blair Underwood guest-starred in "War and Peace," an episode written by Jasmine Guy and Dominic Hoffman about the impending Persian Gulf War. It was one of the only television series to address this topic in the days leading up to the war. In the fourth-season episode "Ms. Understanding", Hillman student Shazza Zulu, 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. Though most Black women found the book highly offensive and intellectually deficient[citation needed], 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 beliefs stem from her fervent belief in Faradian Islam and her membership in the Nation of Islam.

The fifth-season 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 Lena informs Whitley that her ancestors were slave owners.

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.

In Season 6 episode "Homie, Don't You Know Me?" also known as "The Lost Episode", 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.

A Different World

Opening credits

Like its parent series The Cosby Show, A Different World altered its opening credit sequence at least slightly almost every season. Kadeem Hardison is the only person featured in every variation of the opening credits, however Dawnn Lewis appears in all but the last season's.

Season 1 - Joint and individual scenes featuring Lisa Bonet (Denise), Marisa Tomei (Maggie), Dawnn Lewis (Jalessa), and Kadeem Hardison (Dwayne) frolicking on the campus of Hillman College. Jasmine Guy (Whitley) and Loretta Devine (Stevie) are named but not shown, nor is Mary Alice (Lettie) when she replaces Devine. Episode 22 removes the names of Hardison, Guy and Devine/Alice, replacing them with Ted Ross (Dr. Harris) and Vernee Watson-Johnson (Carla). The theme song is sung by Phoebe Snow.

Season 2 - Series of individualized scenes featuring Jasmine Guy, Dawnn Lewis, Kadeem Hardison, Mary Alice, Darryl M. Bell (Ron), Sinbad (Walter), Charnele Brown (Kim), Cree Summer (Freddie), and Glynn Turman (Col. Taylor). Lisa Bonet and Marisa Tomei are not present. The theme song has been slightly altered and is now sung by Aretha Franklin.

Season 3 - Same as Season 2, except Lou Myers (Mr. Gaines) replaces Mary Alice.

Season 4 - Same as Season 3.

Season 5 - Same as Season 4, except Sinbad is removed, and Darryl M. Bell's scene is re-shot to reflect this, Michelle Smith's name was written out of the series but was still shown.

Season 6 - Completely new series of individualized scenes. Dawnn Lewis is removed. Many of Jasmine Guy's and Kadeem Hardison's scenes are together, reflecting Whitley & Dwayne's new marital status. Charnele Brown and Lou Myers share scenes. Ajai Sanders (Gina), Jada Pinkett (Lena), and Karen Malina White (Charmaine) are added. Dominic Hoffman (Julian), Gary Dourdan (Shazza), Patrick Malone (Terrell), Bumper Robinson (Dorian), and Jenifer Lewis (Dean Davenport) are not named but clearly shown. The ending sequence features the cast, directors,including Debbie Allen, and writers coming together in a circle. The theme song has again been slightly altered and is sung by Boyz II Men.

Click here to see a great A Different World video clip.

A Different World

Cosby connections

As a show developed by Bill Cosby for a character from The Cosby Show, A Different World naturally 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 later became a 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 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 1, by Aretha Franklin in Seasons 2 through 5, and Boyz II Men in Season 6.

The spin-off program featured many appearances by characters from the parent program, especially in the initial season, in which Denise's father, mother, younger sisters Vanessa and Rudy, brother Theo, and grandfather Russell all appear 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 Rashad's four appearances as Hillman alumna Clair Huxtable took place after Season 1, and in one of these, she brought her younger daughter Vanessa to tour the college.

Producer/director Debbie Allen is the sister of Phylicia Rashad, Allen made one guest appearance on The Cosby Show, playing an aggressive aerobics instructor who helps Clair Huxtable (Phylicia Rashad) slim down for a special occasion. Allen appeared in later season's of ADW as Whitley's physchiatrist. 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 also appears in the Cosby Show as one of Theo Huxtable's friends in the Gordon Gartrell episode, although Hardison is not playing Dwayne.

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. Her Cosby 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 of their careers. Payne did appear in one episode 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.

A Different World

Connections to "School Daze"

During the first season of A Different World, film director Spike Lee's second theatrical release, School Daze, opened nationwide. The setting of the film was Mission College, which is also a fictional historically Black college in the South.

Regular cast members Jasmine Guy (Whitley), Kadeem Hardison (Dwayne) and Darryl M. Bell (Ron) all had roles in the film, as did recurring cast member Dominic Hoffman (Julian). Over the course of the series, several other actors from School Daze made appearances, including Tisha Campbell, Art Evans, Guy Killum and Roger Guenveur Smith.

Although Joe Seneca did not appear in A Different World, he is featured prominently in the third season finale of The Cosby Show, which served as a pilot for A Different World.

A Different World

DVD releases

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 and it subsequently purchased the rights to the show but has yet to release any further seasons on DVD. It is unknown if the remaining seasons will be released at some point.

DVD Name Release Date Ep # Additional Information Season 1 November 8, 2005 24 Cast interviews, Out-takes, A retrospective overview of the series with cast members, Additional sixth-season "lost" episode guest-starring rapper Tupac Shakur (a childhood friend of Jada Pinkett Smith).

The show's DVD release is rated PG for suggestive dialogue by MPAA.

U.S. television ratings

1987-88: #2

1988-89: #3

1989-90: #4

1990-91: #4

1991-92: #17

1992-93: #86

African-American households

1987-88: #2

1988-89: #1

1989-90: #1

1990-91: #1

1991-92: #1


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