9 Surprising facts you may not know about the show “A Different World”

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different worldIf you’re over the age of 30, you probably have some recollection of “A Different World,” a spinoff of the Cosby Show that hit the airwaves in the last 1980s. If you’re over the age of 35, then the show probably changed your life in some way. If you’re over the age of 40, you’re probably wondering why shows like this aren’t put on TV anymore.

Behind every show, there is a backstory. Here’s part of that story, something that can give you a new chapter to the series that had such an impact on your life. Let’s go through a few things you may not know about “A Different World”:


1)  Even though the show began as a 1987 spinoff of the hit series, “The Cosby Show,” Lisa Bonet left after season one when she and her husband Lenny Kravitz announced they were going to have a baby.   Producers felt that seeing a pregnant Denise Huxtable on the show would be uncomfortable for the audience and send the wrong message, since she was known as a “good girl.”   That’s when they decided that she would drop out of Hillman.

2) After “Denise” left, Debbie Allen took over the show and revamped it entirely. She placed Whitley and Dwayne at the center of the show, and also pushed the show to focus on more relevant social issues in a responsible way.

3) One controversial adjustment that Allen made was to change Hillman into a more authentic HBCU. This basically meant that many of the white cast members were fired, including Maggie, Denise’s roommate, played by Marissa Tomei.  While this made the show more popular among African American audiences and gave it a lot more flavor, white audiences seemed to feel alienated.  They continued to support the show for years, but this change had a greater effect as time went on.

4) The theme song was co-written by Stu Gardner, Bill Cosby, and Dawnn Lewis, who was also a cast member (Denise’s roommate Jaleesa). Dawnn says that she was asked to write the song and then audition within a short period of time, leading her to think that it was some kind of practical joke.   The song was first performed by Phoebe Snow in season one, then Aretha Franklin in seasons 2 – 5. Finally, Boyz II Men performed the song in season six.

5) The show lasted for six seasons, from 1987 – 1993.   Even after Denise “dropped out” of school, Phylicia Rashad continued to make appearances on the show as Claire Huxtable, an alumnus of the school.

6) You may not know that Dwyane Wayne (played by Kadeem Hardison) had also appeared on “The Cosby Show” years earlier. However, he didn’t play the same character. Instead, he appeared as a friend of Theo Huxtable. Sinbad, another character on “A Different World,” also appeared on The Cosby Show as a car salesman in season three.

7) What is Hillman? Hillman was a fictional HBCU in the state of Virginia.The school’s motto is Deus Nondum Te Confecit, which translates from Latin to:God, you have not yet achieved. The visual for Hillman actually came from real HBCUs: Clark Atlanta University and Spelman College.

8) A Different World appeared for years on NBC between “The Cosby Show” and “Cheers.” The show almost always ranked #1 among African American viewers and led to a spike in attendance of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. In its first season, the show was seen in over 22 million households and even ranked #2 among viewers of all ethnic backgrounds. When the show was canceled, it had dropped to #6 among African American viewers and #71 among all viewers.   But even as late as season 5, it was #1 among black viewers, even though whites had started to tune out, making it #17 among all viewers with a total audience of about 14 million.

9) In 2012, when Debbie Allen announced that she wanted to do a reboot of the show, millions of people on Twitter and social media responded with overwhelming approval. Many people cite the show as their reason for wanting to attend an HBCU.  It seems that now, the big question is:  What are we waiting for?  Can the show be brought back as a crowd-funded web series?  Why not?

Social commentator Dr Boyce Watkins says that the lack of shows like “A Different World” has been harmful to the black community.

“There is no denying that this show increased HBCU attendance, did extremely well, made black people feel good about themselves,” says Dr. Watkins.  “We have to ask ourselves why networks are now more interested in showing dastardly images of black men and women on ratchet reality TV shows.  If Different World had a good impact on the psyches of  young black people, then we should not be surprised if shows like “Love & Hip-Hop” have a negative effect.   Perhaps black people should speak up.”


Now, tell us: What did “A Different World “mean to you?”

You can watch below to see the greatest episode of A Different World ever.  This one might have made television history.


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