A Different World

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 originally centered on Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) and the life of students at Hillman College, a fictional historically black college in the state of Virginia.[1] After Bonet's departure, the series primarily focused on Southern belle Whitley Gilbert (Jasmine Guy) and mathematics whiz Dwayne Wayne (Kadeem Hardison). The series frequently depicted members of the major historically African American 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 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 epidemic.[2]


Main article: A Different World characters*Lisa BonetDenise Huxtable (Season 1, guest-starring in episode 49)[3]

  • Jasmine Guy – Whitley Gilbert (except episode 22)
  • Kadeem Hardison – Dwayne Wayne (except episode 22)
  • Dawnn Lewis – Jaleesa Vinson Taylor (Seasons 1–5)
  • Marisa Tomei – Maggie Lauten (Season 1)
  • Darryl M. Bell – Ronald "Ron" Johnson, Jr. (Seasons 2–6, recurring in season 1)
  • Loretta Devine – Stevie Rallen (Episodes 1–9, 21)
  • Marie-Alise Recasner – Millie (recurring in season 1)
  • Mary Alice – Leticia "Lettie" Bostic (Episodes 13–21, 23–44)
  • Sinbad – Walter Oakes (Seasons 2–4, recurring in season 1)
  • Charnele Brown – Kimberly Reese (Seasons 2–6)
  • Cree Summer – Winifred "Freddie" Brooks (Seasons 2–6)
  • Glynn Turman – Col. Bradford Taylor (Seasons 2–6)
  • Lou Myers – Vernon Gaines (Seasons 3–6, recurring in season 2)
  • Ajai Sanders – Gina Deveaux (Season 6, recurring in seasons 4 and 5)
  • Jada Pinkett – Lena James (Season 6, recurring in season 5)
  • Karen Malina White – Charmaine Tyesha Brown (Season 6, guest-starring in episode 113)
  • Cory Tyler – Terrence Taylor (recurring in Seasons 4 and 5)
  • Gary Dourdan – Shazza Zulu (recurring in seasons 5–6, guest-starring in episode 86)
  • Patrick Malone – Terrell Walker (recurring in season 6)
  • Bumper Robinson – Dorian Heywood (recurring in season 6)
  • Michael Ralph - various characters [Spencer (Kim's fiance'), fire inspector, musician in Ron's band, ROTC classmate]

Guest stars and appearancesEdit


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.[4]

U.S. television ratingsEdit

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 Whitley learns that some of her African-American ancestors were slave owners.
  • The fifth-season 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 spray-paint the word "Nigger" on Ron's car, stopping them before they could complete the slur. They are all detained by a local Sheriff; in the local jail, the perspectives of the incident is 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, when actually he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in the 1960s (the episode airs just prior to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day). 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 fifth-season 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 sixth season 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.)[15]
  • 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.
  • The episode that dealt with the AIDS epidemic 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 ShowEdit

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 also appears in The Cosby Show as one of Theo Huxtable's friends in the Gordon Gartrell shirt episode, though not playing Dwayne, of course.

A Hillman alum by the name of "Louise Sujay" has been mentioned on both "Cosby" and "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 CollegeEdit

Hillman College is a fictional, historically Black college that is located in the state of Virginia. The exact locality of the school is never revealed, but it is alluded to be halfway between Richmond and the Hampton Roads area. 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 alum. 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.

Media reactionEdit

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."[4]

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."[4]

DVD releasesEdit

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 Name Release Date Ep # Additional Information
Season 1 November 8, 2005[16] 22
  • 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 alsoEdit


  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. ^ "Bonet's in `A Different World'". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-10-02.
  4. ^ a b c d e f A Different World, Museum of Broadcast Communications
  5. ^ a b "TV Ratings: 1988–1989". Archived from the original on 15 January 2010. Retrieved 02-12-2010.
  6. ^ a b "TV Ratings: 1989–1990". Archived from the original on 17 January 2010. Retrieved 02-12-2010.
  7. ^ "Nielsen To Scope Blacks". Black Enterprise 21 (3): 18. October 1990.
  8. ^ a b "TV Ratings: 1990–1991". Archived from the original on 6 February 2010. Retrieved 02-12-2010.
  9. ^ a b "Debbie Allen Tells Why 'A Different World' Is Rated Tops Among Black TV Viewers". Jet 82 (1): 58–60. April 27, 1992.
  10. ^ a b "TV Ratings: 1991–1992". Archived from the original on 15 January 2010. Retrieved 02-12-2010.
  11. ^ Grahnke, Lon (May 8, 1993). 9.00 q=Top+5+hit+fell+to+71st+place+in+Nielsen%27s+weekly&scoring=t&hl=en&ned=us&sa=N&sugg=d&as_ldate=1993/05&as_hdate=1993/05&lnav=hist4 "A Different World'Canceled After 6 Yrs.". Chicago Sun-Times: p. 21. Retrieved 2010-05-25.
  12. ^ "How Blacks' TV Viewing Habits Differ From Whites'". Jet 83 (26): 38. April 26, 1993.
  13. ^
  14. ^ As 'A Different World' Turns (Part 2) Entertainment Weekly
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^

External linksEdit

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