A few weeks ago I watched the beloved ’90s sitcom A Different World for the third time from start to finish and fell in love with it all over again.
A Different World is an American sitcom (and a spin-off of The Cosby Show) that aired for six seasons on NBC from September 24, 1987 to July 9, 1993. The series originally centered on Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) and the life of students at Hillman College, a fictional historically black college in Virginia. It was inspired by student life at historically black colleges and universities. After Bonet’s departure in the first season, the remainder of the series primarily focused more on Southern belle Whitley Gilbert (Jasmine Guy) and math whiz Dwayne Wayne (Kadeem Hardison).
This show has been inspiring generations for over 30 years and no matter how many times you watch it still holds up even today. The issues they dealt with back then were issues that are still going on to this day and unfortunately I don’t think there is a platform like A Different World today that we can talk about these issues outside of social media. This show was also hilarious and made you relate to all the characters and crazy situations they ended up in.
Concept of the Show:
At first I had only watched The Cosby Show and related to that show a lot. My dad was a doctor like Cliff and my mom was all about women’s empowerment like Clair with 5 kids. I was the youngest of 5 like little Rudy who had to watch her older siblings growing up, going to college and having kids and lives on their own. Having way too many people in the house and never really having a space of your own. That was all a very relatable situation for me. Then you had A Different World which I couldn’t fully relate to at the time just due to not being at that age yet. I always knew Denise left the show for a little to be on A Different World but had never checked out that show and just kept watching The Cosby Show. But once I did finally watch A Different World it changed my life and gave me these very incredible characters and actors to look up to even 30 years later.
So as much as I could relate to Rudy because she was youngest of the bunch I also feel like I could relate a lot to Denise as well just personality wise. On The Cosby Show Denise was the best character on the show. She was the character with the cool hairstyles and the crazy outfits (in the best way) and really brought that earthy-hippie weird black girl vibes to the show. Her taste in guys was no different as the guys she dated where super diverse from the guy who loved Reggae to the guy who was a non-conformist to the guys her dad would set her up with. Lisa Bonet really embodied Denise on that show and we grew to love this character. So when they announced they were going to spin-off her character people where generally happy. Sadly Lisa wouldn’t bring that same passion to Denise on A Different World as she did on 3 seasons of The Cosby Show.
Now at the time Lisa and Cosby were beefin about a lot and due to Lisa dating then marring and divorcing neo-hippie rock and roller the ever talented and sexy Lenny Kravitz at the time she was showing out and kind of not living up to Cosby’s expectations for her character or her as person. She was posing nude for magazines and getting violent with the paparazzi and just being a recluse as if she didn’t really wanna be playing this role anymore. Lisa was even in the movie called Angel Heart where she had an explicit sex scene with Mickey Rourke, and then in 1988 she and Lenny had their first and only child together Zoe. With all of this going on Cosby was not happy with the direction she was taking and due to being pregnant during the first season of A Different World he cut her character from the show and made Denise leave both shows for a while until she had the baby and then had her return to her roots on The Cosby Show (which she only lasted on for two more seasons).
In an interview with Debbie Allen though it is said she wanted to take the news of Lisa being pregnant and make Denise pregnant as well to show teen pregnancy in college but Cosby gave her the axe on the storyline because he said Lisa is pregnant but Denise can’t be because she is too much of a “good girl” and that would mess up her good girl image from The Cosby Show.
Due to all of this it felt like Lisa was not feeling Denise anymore and it defiantly showed that first season. Now I think it also had a lot to do with the fact that on The Cosby Show Lisa didn’t have to be the lead role on the show and was just a supporting cast member with the other Cosby kids. But once she had to be front and center on her own show she became dull and lifeless and wasn’t the fun, colorful Denise we watched grow up. During that first season she decorated her dorm room with all her weird treasures and was all about her feminist principals (course with Claire Huxtable as your mom how couldn’t she). She got Dwayne Wayne to run for Gilbert Halls President, hated his sexist advances, despised Whitley’s stupid remarks on marriage and women’s rolls in life and ran track.
She was roommates with Jaleesa Vinson the 24-year-old undergrad who came to college after being married and divorced. Then they got a white roommate Maggie Lauten who was just this spunky character who was a military child and wanna be journalist. You also had Millie as Whitley Gilbert’s best friend and Ron Johnson’s girlfriend. After the first season both Maggie and Millie where cut from the show and it continued on focusing the rest of the show on the love of Whitley and Dwayne Wayne.
Debbie Allen also said she wanted to have Maggie become the man focus of the show after Denise left as she being an alum of Howard had a white girl in her school and wanted to tell that story of the white girl being the minority of the show. She was even going to have Dwayne take Maggie home with him for Thanksgiving dinner for his mom to disapprove of her and show the other side of the race issue. Sadly that story never got told and Maggie was cut.
After the ending of season 1 there were these crop of characters we had met like Jaleesa, Whitley, Dwayne and Ron and there was conversations about what to do with them now that the lead of the show left. So Debbie Allen after being promoted to writer, director and producer of the show decided to bring in new actors and then redirect the man character of the show to being Whitley Gilbert with Dwayne Wayne as the second main character. This was the best decision that could have happened because sadly this show could have ended after season 1 and not be the iconic show it ended up being.
In season 2 we meet Kim and Freddie two incoming freshman who help to bring that comedic spirit of the show after the first season was a little more serious. Kim was a med student from Columbus, Ohio who was hard-working and an over achiever who worked herself to the bone. She also worked in the Pit for majority of the show and was Whitley Gilbert’s roommate seasons 2 & 3 after Whitley had her own dorm first season. Then you had Freddie who was a free-spirited girl from New Mexico who just rolled in like tumble weed. She was Jaleesa’s roommate seasons 2 & 3 and kind of replacement for the absence Denise left. For season 2 she was more of this off the beat and path kind of character just trying to find her way around Hillman. It wasn’t until season 3 that we started to see her more hippie, socially conscious, fight the power, spiritual Freddie came out and that was who we knew her as until season 6 when she becomes a law student.
Then there was Ron Johnson who was just there season 1 but then started to get a character and personality season 2. Ron was the player of campus who went out with everyone and anyone with legs. He wasn’t the best student as it took him 5 years to graduate and he always had some kind of plan up his sleeve to get rich and get women which usually failed.
And then there where the two love birds Dwayne and Whitley. Dwayne seasons 1-3 was a nerdy kid who got a perfect score on his math SATs and had his infamous flip-up glasses. He had the most tired pick up lines ever and could never get a girl but was a serious engineering student. He was also very much about improving his community by becoming an educated black man. He grows up a lot by the end of the show and makes a big impact on Hillman and the students there. Whitley on the other hand was a handful. She was the original bad and boujee, the prissy princess of Hillman College. That first season Whitley was in sufferable! Nobody wanted to be with Whitley or be her friend. So once season 2 rolled around and they decided to make her the main character of the show they had to soften her a little more so she could be even a little bit likable to base a show around her. Once they did that Whitley became way more of a relatable character who humbled out a lot by the end of the show but was very much still Miss Whitley.
You also had a lot of great supporting cast members on the show as well. Season 1 you had people like Walter Oakes who was a grad student, the dorm advisor of the boys dorm, the sports coach and then by season 3 would become the co-dorm director of Gilbert Hall with Jaleesa once it went co-ed. He was also very involved with the community and helped out at a community center for the little kids. He was dating and engaged to Jaleesa before moving to Philly season 4. Lettie Bostic was the Gilbert Hall dorm advisor while the dorms where only for women. She gave much wisdom and sage advise and was great for the girls during her small amount of time on the show. You also had Mr. Gains who was the wise elder who owned the Pit and feed everyone on campus. He also employed many Hillman students and gave lots of much beloved advice to all the students. And then season 2 Dr. War aka Cornel Taylor was added as the resident calculus teacher. He was seen as one of the toughest teachers on campus and yet gave great advice and was a beloved character. He also had a daughter and a son who went to Hillman for a little and in the end married Jaleesa and had a baby with her.
Later on in the show around season 5 & 6 they even introduced the “new class” with Lena, Gina, Dorian, Tarell and Charmaine. Sadly they didn’t fully get to go into their stories on the show but did have a few episodes around each character. First you had Gina who was recurring cast member for the second half of season 3, 4, & 5 before becoming a main character season 6. Gina didn’t really have a role until season 5 when her boyfriend this rapper named “I’m Down” aka Dion was hitting her and messing her up bad. At first she can’t see what he is doing as bad until her friends get her to press charges on him and he gets a restraining order against him and is sent to an anger management class. Then you have Dorian who is this born again christian who is in love with Lena despite her being a more physical girl. They were a really cute couple. Other that though he was just a “woke” brother always talking about what black people should be doing and being preachy. Tarell was this wanna be gangster who was always getting into trouble and being goofy. He brought a gun to school and got in trouble for calling Charmaine a ho. Charmaine was a character like Denise who we met on The Cosby Show first. She was best friends to Pam Clair’s little cousin and went to high school with her. She dated Lance and was loud and funny. When she came to A Different World we first see her and Lance on their college visit and then she enrolls in Hillman the next year without Lance. Lance and her break up in the middle of season 6 and she is just this overachieving kid who gets good grades and takes a job at the Pit. Then you have the leader of the new class Lena who appeared in season 5 before becoming a main cast member season 6. Lena was from the streets of B-more and was a little rough around the edges at first but over time came to find her self-worth at Hillman. One of the most iconic episodes was when Tupac guest started in an episode where he played Lena’s (Jada Pickett) ex-boyfriend from back home. He gets under some people’s skin at college and leads Lena to remember why she came to college in the first place. Season 5 she wanted to be an engineer but only because it was the only scholarship she could get but by the end of the show had picked English as her major. Now I personally think they should have spun these characters off and made a new show about Hillman but sadly that never happened.
Issues The Show Tackled:
During the 6 seasons of the show A Different World tackled many different important and timely yet timeless issues that each generation who watches the show has gotten something out of. In season 2 they dealt with Date Rape during an episode when Freddie fell in love with the baseball star who had already raped one girl and was on his way to rapping Freddie before Dwayne stopped him. During this episode we get a very important conversation about consent with Walter and Dwayne.
They had an episode on Desert Storm and black people going into the military, the character of Shazza and his sexist book about men treating women wrong, the mammy dearest episode about colorist and images of dark skin black women during slavery and Jim crow as well the fact that wealthier freedmen owned slaves, the N word episode, the LA riots after the Rodney King verdict episode, the domestic abuse episode, sexual harassment episode, prejudice episode, time capsule episode and of course the most iconic episode the AIDS episode. When Tisha-Campbell & Whoopi Goldburg guest starred they brought this very important episode and message to the forefront during a time where so many people especially black people where dying of AIDS like Eazy-E. At the time they couldn’t even talk about condoms on tv and so when they did this episode they had to point to a purse and allude to it. These episodes where very important and are what separated this show from many others and even the first season of the show. The way Debbie Allen took this show and showed the real in and outs of the youth at a HBCU was commendable because in real life this is what they would be dealing with in and out of the classroom.
This show had many iconic relationships through out it and yet some of them where kind of weird and didn’t fit the characters well. To start off lets start with Denise and Dwayne. Now technically they were never a couple but Dwayne loved Denise so much and at the end of season 1 they go on their one and only date and it great and Dwayne even gets a kiss out of it. Then season 2 rolls around and Freddie comes along has a crush on Dwayne for a while. (fun fact Khadeem & Cree dated during most of the filming of the show) Kim dated this guy named Robert who she had a pregnancy scare with for a while during that season. Dwayne and Whitley pretty much dated around for most of season 2 with Dwayne dating Carnal Taylor’s daughter for a few episodes. Jaleesa and Walter started dating during season 2 as well.
Season 3 & 4 Freddie stopped liking Dwayne, Kim started dating Freddie’s cousin Mathew who was white and Dwayne and Whitley started to show a liking to each other and by mid-way through season 3 Whitley starts to date a guy named Julian who was a student who worked with Pan-African. By the end of season 3 they break up due to Julian basically calling her out of touch with reality. During this season Dwayne starts to fall in love with Whitley and is very jealous of her relationships and tries very hard to get with her. Also during season 3 Jaleesa and Walter start going out and mid-way through the season almost get married but Jaleesa decides not to go through with it and they brake up. Freddie starts to date a guy.
At the start of season 4 Whitley is finally ready to give Dwayne a chance but finds out he started dating this black Japanese girl who goes to the rival school Avery named Kinu. Needless to say Whitley and Kinu don’t get along and if you wanna see some hilarity happen watch the episode where Whitley becomes Dwayne’s maid it is so funny the way she mess up Kinu’s name on perpous is gold. Thanks to that episode Dwayne breaks up with Kinu and gets together with Whitley. By the end of this season Freddie is single again and Kim and Mathew break up before summer. Dwayne and Whitley are going strong until she gets a call from her job that they need her in New York over the summer. Whitley thinks they should just call it quits until Dwayne proposes to her at the train station.
At the beginning of season 5 Dwayne and Whitley are engaged and Colonel Taylor and Jaleesa are married (which is weird and off the beat and path). Freddie is single until she starts dating Shazza mid-way through the season and as Dwayne said once “Damn! they right for each other”. They became the “woke” couple on campus and Freddie became a little too into him. Kim on the other hand is single for most of this season until she starts to form a crush on Ron (which again was weird). They end up together at the end of the season. The rest of the season mostly deals with Dwayne and Whitley’s engagement. Dwayne buys Whitley a ring and she spends so much time planning the engagement party but Dwayne thinks it’s all going too fast. It all comes to a head when Dwayne goes on a date with a teacher from Avery who is a lot more like him. He tells Whitley he went on this date after Kim sees them together. Whitley gets mad and breaks off their engagement at the engagement party after both their parents come to town. Dwayne and Whitley date a few people before Whitley meets Byron. Bryon is running for Virginia State Senate (and wins) and Dwayne introduces him to Whitley and they start a thing. On the day he wins he asks Whitley to marry him and she says yes much to Dwayne’s dismay. On that same day Jaleesa who got pregnant not even a few months into their marriage gives birth to their little baby girl with the help of Freddie, Kim and Ron.
The biggest thing to happen at the end of the season was Whitley’s wedding. Whitley is set to marry Bryon but after a talk with Dwayne the night before she starts to have second thoughts. Dwayne at first decides not to go to her wedding but then shows up and does one of the most iconic things in TV history and interrupts the wedding begging and pleading her to marry him. In the end she does and they get married on the spot.
Season 6 opens up with a bunch of new relationships forming. Dwayne and Whitley are newly married, Kim and Ron are still together and Freddie and Shazza are still madly in love. This is when Freddie and Ron start to sneak around behind Shazza and Kim’s back until half-way through the season the truth comes out and Kim breaks up with Ron and Shazza breaks up with Freddie. Ron and Freddie date until the end of the series. Kim finds her prince charming in her lab partner Spencer from Jamaica. He falls in love with her and asks her to marry him all the time until the end of the season she finally says yes. In the end everyone is happy and with the one they love.
Forced Pushing of Relationships:
To say this show didn’t put some people together that seemed weird would be a understatement. The first relationship I think was weird but actually grew on me was Dwayne and Whitley. Now if the show had kept going from season one and didn’t change the narrative of the show then I don’t think Dwayne would have ever fallen for Whitley. They were two opposite sides of two different coins. Dwayne was a lower-middle class kid from Brooklyn who loved math and Whitley was a high-class princess from Richmond, VA who loved money and status. They in reality shouldn’t have worked but I think it was Debbie Allen’s writing that made us fall in love with them together.
Then they put Jaleesa and Colonel Taylor together which to me was the weirdest. Jaleesa was just this older college student who went back to school after being married and then started working in a marketing firm. By the end of one season and the beginning of another Jaleesa and Colonel Taylor are married. Now during season 4 they did hang out for one night but nothing came of that. So why did they get married? Then they get pregnant with a baby not even a few months into their relationship and then by season 6 Jaleesa is gone. We never see her again after Whitley’s wedding. The whole thing was weird and I think that she could have ended up with someone different and ended her run of the show better.
The weirdest relationship though was Ron/Kim/Freddie. How in the world did Ron end up with Kim and then Freddie? Both of them disagreed with him on everything and just found him as the slimy Hillman player. But weirdly Kim started to like Ron but Ron started to like Freddie who you could say had a little chemistry after the hurricane episode in the radio room (which they never say what they do in the room but just let us allude to whatever). Anyway Ron kisses Freddie and she likes it and then they sneak around till Kim finds out and then breaks up with Ron and then Freddie and Ron end up together till the end. Ok so why in the world would Freddie and Ron end up together? Her and Shazza were perfect for each other and were relationship goals honestly. Why mess up a good thing? I also don’t think Ron and Kim should have been together and that Ron could have ended up with some no name. I mean I liked Ron as a character but just those two were not meant for him.
This show was the king & queen of guest stars. What was great about this show was that this would have a lot of either up and coming artist/actors who were just starting their career or classic actors/artist to come and give us that history on show.
The Biggest Guest Starts to Be on the Show Were:
- Tisha Campbell-Martin as Josie Webb (2 episodes)
- IMx as Whitley’s students (2 episodes)
- Halle Berry as Jaclyn (Ron’s girlfriend; season 4, episode 15)
- En Vogue as Faith, Hope, Charity, and Henrietta (Mr. Gaines’ nieces; season 6, episode 16)
- Whoopi Goldberg as Dr. Jordan (professor; season 4, episode 24)
- David Alan Grier as Professor Byron Walcott (season 1, episode 9)
- James Avery as bowler (season 3, episode 4)
- Alfonso Ribeiro as Zach Duncan (prospective freshman; season 3, episode 19)
- Heavy D as himself (season 3, episode 6)
- Lena Horne as herself (season 6, episode 25)
- Jesse Jackson as himself (season 2, episode 21)
- Trina McGee as Gennifer (season 5, episode 18)
- Gladys Knight as herself (season 2, episode 5)
- Kris Kross as Dwayne’s juvenile mentees (season 6, episode 11)
- Tupac Shakur as Piccolo (season 6, episode 21)
- Blair Underwood as Zelmer Collier (season 4, episode 14)
- Thomas Mikal Ford as Lamar Vinson (Jaleesa’s ex-husband, season 2, episode 17)
- Kim Wayans as Allison (season 1)
- Jenifer Lewis as Dean Dorothy Dandridge Davenport (9 episodes)
- Patti LaBelle as Adele Wayne (Dwayne’s mother; 7 episodes)
- Robert Guillaume as Dean Winston and Professor Murphy(history professor/Kim’s medical professor; 3 episodes)
- Diahann Carroll as Marion Gilbert (Whitley’s mother; 7 episodes)
Some of the biggest episodes of the show were centered around their guest stars.
The biggest guest star was Tupac in one of his very few TV appearances before his death 3 years later.
They also had Tisha Campbell play the iconic Josie Webb who had AIDs. Along with her was Whoppi as her communications teacher. She helped Josie to come out with her illness and make an impact on the class.
Jenifer Lewis played Dean Davenport who was of course Jenifer Lewis at her finest which is pretty much every role she does.
Patti LaBelle as Dwayne’s mom aka Chipmunk’s mom with the prune cobbler was hilarious and so loving and it was cute to see her and Kadeem’s chemistry.
Same goes for Whitley’s mom Marion and her relationship with Whitley. The bujee of the bujee. Diahann Carroll was perfect for the role as well.
It was also funny to see Marion and Adele and their back and forth.
Kris Kross were great as the mis-guided youth who were products of their environment. They teach us how much kids in these environment don’t care about their lives or if they died tomorrow which is sad.
Halle Berry played one of Ron’s many girlfriends.
Immature played some of Whitley’s students at the school she taught at. James Avery and Alfonso Riberto both made cameos before signing on to the Fresh Prince.
You also had these guest stars who came on the show as themselves either to sing/perform or just be influential.
Heavy D came and performed on the show.
Gladys Knight performed with Dawnn Lewis and Jasmine Guy and it was amazing.
En Vogue played Mr. Gains nieces really playing En Vogue and sang their iconic song Free Your Mind.
You had Jessie Jackson come on which today might have been controversial.
Then you had the one iconic Lena Horne which they dedicated a whole show to.
My Favorite Characters/Relationships/Episodes:
My favorite character of the whole show is of course is Freddie La aka Winifred aka Freddie Brooks. She is everything I am and I love her for it and that she is so spiritual, wants to protest everything & is so conscious. I love her spirit and her energy and just the way she is such a good friend to everyone even if she disagrees with you ideologically. I appreciate Jaleesa and how she was able to come back to school after being married. I thought it was great to represent those who go to school later in life. Kim was headstrong and steadfast on her dreams. I liked that she was so focused on her goals in becoming a doctor. Plus since my dad was a med student who went to a HBCU I got to see a glimpse into how school was for him. Then there was Whitley and as suck up as she was she grew to become a somewhat likable character towards the end. Oh and we can’t leave out Mr. Gains the lovable Pit owner. I was very sad when I found out his actor died but he will always be Mr. Gains in my heart.
What Did The Actors Do After The Show:
After having Zoe, Lisa Bonet did her last two seasons of the Cosby Show before divorcing Lenny in 1993. She changed her name to Lilakoi Moon than did a few straight to video movies and tv spots like High Fidelity and her cameo in Will Smith’s Enemy of the State. In 2005 she started dating Jason Momoa. On July 23, 2007, Bonet gave birth to her second child, Lola Iolani Momoa, her first with Momoa. On December 15, 2008, the couple had a son named Nakoa-Wolf Manakauapo Namakaeha Momoa and married Momoa in 2017. Other then that Lilakoi has just been livin life and just becoming more and more beautiful with age.
After having minor roles in a few films, she came to international attention in 1992 with the comedy My Cousin Vinny, for which she received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Tomei has appeared in a number of successful movies, including What Women Want (2000), Anger Management (2003), Wild Hogs (2007), and Parental Guidance (2012). Other films, include Untamed Heart (1993), Only You (1994), The Paper (1994), Unhook the Stars (1996), Slums of Beverly Hills(1998), Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007), Cyrus (2010), Love Is Strange (2014) and The Big Short (2015). She received two additional Academy Award nominations for In the Bedroom (2001) and The Wrestler (2008). She has also portrayed Aunt May in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, appearing in the films Captain America: Civil War(2016) and Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017). Tomei has also worked in theater. She was formerly involved with the Naked Angels Theater Company and appeared in plays, such as Daughters (1986), Wait Until Dark (1998), Top Girls (2008), for which she received a nomination for the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play, and The Realistic Joneses (2014), for which she received a special award at the Drama Desk Awards.
After A Different World she joined the cast of Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper for the first season. Lewis has been married once, to former NBA player Johnny Newman from 2004 until 2006. Lewis portrayed Deloris Van Cartier in Peter Schneider’s Sister Act the Musical, which opened at the Pasadena Playhouse on October 24, 2006. Lewis has voiced Stormof the X-Men in three games, most recently Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2. She also voiced Granny Grim on The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, and voiced the female Shokan (Sheeva) in Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm. Lewis has also done voice work as LaBarbara in Futurama, Detective Terri Lee on Spider-Man:The Animated Series, villainess Di Archer on Bruno the Kid, and voiced a number of characters on The Boondocks. Lewis co-starred as Marigold Ballord in the Disney Channel Original Movie The Poof Point and also as Gail DeBarge in the Disney Channel Original Movie Let It Shine. In 2000, Lewis played Blabberwort the Troll in the miniseries The 10th Kingdom. In 2006, Lewis starred as Melba Early in the film adaptation of Dreamgirls. Lewis released her debut CD, entitled Worth Waiting For, in 2006. She most recently played Addaperle in The Wiz with New York City Center’s Encores! In 2009, Lewis played Denise Fields on One Tree Hill. In 2010, Lewis played a minor recurriung role as Lauren’s mother in The Secret Life of the American Teenager. In 2012, she voiced Malora in Strange Frame. She also appeared as Dr. Knapp on Days of Our Lives in 2012–2013. As of 2015, Lewis is playing a recurring role on Major Crimes as Patrice, a love interest for Lt. Provenza, whom he met during a case. In March 2016, Lewis joined the vocal cast of Disney Junior’s hit animated series Doc McStuffins as the voice of Grandma McStuffins. In 2017 she provided the voice of Maybelle Mundy in the film Bunyan and Babe.
Before becoming iconic as Miss Whitley Gilbert she played Dina in the 1988 Spike Lee film School Daze. The following year, Guy appeared as Dominique La Rue in Harlem Nights starring Eddie Murphy (who also directed) alongside Richard Pryor with Redd Foxx. In 1991 she played Will Smith’s college girlfriend Kayla on an episode of the Fresh Prince of Bell-Air. In 1995, Guy appeared as Peter Burns’s love interest, Caitlin Mills, on two episodes of Melrose Place, and in 1996, she appeared on Living Single, playing a psychologist advising Khadijah, who had begun exhibiting symptoms of anxiety. She also played the recurring role of Kathleen, a fallen angel, in the CBS Network drama Touched by an Angel from 1995 to 1997. Guy starred alongside Ellen Muth and Mandy Patinkin in the series Dead Like Me, created by Bryan Fuller. The show ran 29 episodes over two seasons, in 2003 and 2004, on Showtime. Guy played Roxy Harvey, a meter maid turned police officer and one of the core group of grim reapers around which the series was based. Guy was nominated for the 2005 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for the role. She later starred in the feature-length series sequel Dead Like Me: Life After Death, which was released on video in 2009 before being shown on the Syfy channel. In 2009, Guy performed in The People Speak, a documentary that used dramatic and musical performances of the letters, diaries, and speeches of everyday Americans, based on historian Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. A broad look at civil rights issues in America, The People Speak was executive produced by and seen on The History Channel. From 2009 to 2017, Guy had a recurring role in The CW’s series The Vampire Diaries. In that program, Ms. Guy played Sheila “Grams” Bennett, the grandmother of Bonnie (Katerina Graham), who proved to be a descendant of Salem Witches. During the run of A Different World, Guy released her self-titled debut album in 1990. The album peaked at #143 on the US Top 200 Album Chart and spawned three singles: “Try Me” (US R&B #14); “Another Like My Lover” (US #66, US R&B #9); and “Just Want to Hold You” (US #34, US R&B #27), with the last single cracking the main US Top 40 singles chart. Guy married Terrence Duckett in August 1998, and the couple had one child, a daughter named Imani, born in 1999. But on April 8, 2008, People reported that Guy and Duckett were divorcing after ten years of marriage due to irreconcilable differences. Guy and her daughter subsequently took up residence in Guy’s childhood hometown of Atlanta.
Hardison became a regular cast member of K.C. Undercover and the short-lived sitcoms Abby and Between Brothers. His career was managed predominantly by his mother, Bethann Hardison. He has also guest starred on several other sitcoms, including Living Single, Girlfriends, Under One Roof, The Boondocks (as himself), Greek, Parenthood, and on Everybody Hates Chris as the judge. His movies include Rappin’, School Daze, Def by Temptation, Vampire in Brooklyn, 30 Years to Life, Made of Honor, Escapee, The 6th Man, Drive, Renaissance Man, Panther, The Fantasia Barrino Story: Life Is Not a Fairy Tale, Bratz, Biker Boyz, Who’s Your Daddy?, The Crow: Stairway to Heaven, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, Blind Faith, Showtime, White Men Can’t Jump, and “B.C. Butcher”. He also appears as an actor in the 2013 PlayStation 3 exclusive video game Beyond: Two Souls as Cole Freeman. Hardison was married to American singer Chanté Moore from 1997 until 2000; they have a daughter named Sophia (b. 1996). Hardison remains a close friend of actor Darryl Bell, who played his best friend Ron Johnson on A Different World; he makes an appearance alongside Bell on FOX’s Househusbands of Hollywood.
Darryl M. Bell:
He is in a 20-year-long committed relationship with actress Tempestt Bledsoe, who co-starred in the NBC TV comedy The Cosby Show. The couple appeared together in the Fox reality TV series Househusbands of Hollywood, that debuted in August 2009. Bell’s father, Travers J. Bell Jr., was the founder of the first black firm on the New York Stock Exchange.
By the early 1990s, his popularity had grown enough for Fox to green light The Sinbad Show, which premiered September 16, 1993. In the self-titled series, Sinbad played 35-year-old David Bryan, a bachelor who decides to become a foster parent to two children after becoming emotionally attached to them. The Sinbad Show was cancelled, with the last episode airing April 21, 1994. The role earned him a nomination in the 1995 Kids’ Choice Awards for “Favorite Television Actor”. During the 1990s, Sinbad guest starred on an episode of Nickelodeon’s All That. In one sketch, he played the father of recurring character Ishboo, dubbed “Sinboo”. He also made a cameo appearance in the comedy movie Good Burger, starring Kenan & Kel, as “Mr. Wheat”, a short-tempered teacher. Sinbad’s film roles also include First Kid, which he starred in, and Jingle All the Way (1996). For Jingle All the Way, Sinbad won a Blockbuster Entertainment Award for “Favorite Supporting Actor – Family”. The NAACP Image Awards recognized his role in Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child (1996), nominating him in the “Outstanding Performance in an Animated/Live-Action/Dramatic Youth or Children’s Series/Special” category. In February 2007, actor Mark Curry credited Sinbad and Bill Cosby for helping convince him not to commit suicide. Sinbad was responsible for discovering R&B trio 702, convincing their parents to let him take them to a music convention/competition under the name “Sweeta than Suga”; the group eventually being heard by music producer Michael Bivins. Sinbad married Meredith Fuller in 1985. They have two children together. The couple divorced in 1992, but remarried in 2002.
Brown made her Broadway debut in 1989 as the first American member of the South African musical “Sarafina!” Other stage performances have included the roles of Polly and Delores in “The Trials and Tribulations of Stagger Lee Brown,” Ruby in “The Lord’s Will,” Marty in “Sisters” and Mable in “My Diary.” After A Different World ended, Brown guest starred on sitcoms such as Living Single, Martin, and Girlfriends. She made a brief appearance in a movie titled How Ya Like Me Now? that starred Darnell Williams and Salli Richardson.
She was cast in the short-lived television series Sweet Justice in 1994 until its cancellation in 1995. Apart from guest appearances on other live-action television shows such as Living Single and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Summer’s professional work since has been limited to voice acting. Summer voiced over 101 animated characters between 1983 and 2006. These have spanned video games, cartoon television series, animated films and commercials. Among her most famous roles was in Inspector Gadget (Season 1) as Penny (a role she reprised in the Robot Chicken episode “Adoption’s an Option”), WB’s Tiny Toon Adventures (1990) as Elmyra Duff (which she reprised for Pinky, Elmyra & the Brain) and Mary Melody, Aka Pella in WB’s Histeria!, Susie Carmichael in Nickelodeon’s Rugrats and its spin-off All Grown Up!, Cleo the Poodle in PBS Kids’ Clifford the Big Red Dog, Miranda from Nickelodeon’s As Told by Ginger, Foxxy Love in Drawn Together, Dulcy the Dragon in Sonic the Hedgehog, Princess ‘Kida’ Kidagakash for the franchise of Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Valerie Gray in Nickelodeon’s Danny Phantom, Numbuh 5 (Abigail Lincoln) and Cree Lincoln in Cartoon Network’s Codename: Kids Next Door, Yzma the Peruvian Villain for the franchise of Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove, Penelope in Barbie As Rapunzel, octogenarian villain Granny May on WordGirl, Tiff from Nickelodeon’s My Life as a Teenage Robot, and Blackarachnia in Transformers: Animated. In the first season DVD commentary of Drawn Together, she stated that she was originally hired to do the voice of Meg Griffin on Fox’s animated series Family Guy, but the producers recast the part as they felt having a black woman voice a white character would be racially insensitive. In December 2016, Summer reprised her role as Penny from Inspector Gadget in an episode of the web-series, Nostalgia Critic.
Turman had his first prominent acting role at the age of 13 as Travis Younger in the Broadway play of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic A Raisin in the Sun, opposite Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil, Ivan Dixon, Louis Gossett, Jr., Lonne Elder III, John Fiedler and Diana Sands. He won his first NAACP Image Award for his work in the play Eyes of the American. A stage director as well, he received his second NAACP Image award for his directing of Deadwood Dick at the Inner City Cultural Center. He segued these directing talents to TV where he helmed several episodes of The Parent ‘Hood, Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, and The Wayans Bros, among others. He also directed during his seasons of steady employment on A Different World, in which he played the role of Colonel Taylor for five seasons (1988–93). The show’s theme song was sung by his ex-wife, legendary “Queen of Soul” artist Aretha Franklin, to whom he was married from 1978 to 1984. Turman was almost cast for the role of Han Solo in Star Wars. In a 2007 interview, Turman recalled: “That was in George Lucas’ book. Apparently George Lucas had me in mind for the role, and then thought that there might be too much controversy between a white Princess Leia and a black Han Solo – because those were the times – and he didn’t want to get into that. At the time, I had no idea. I just went to the audition, did it and got out of there.” In 2012, he began starring in House of Lies on Showtime as the father of the characters played by Don Cheadle and Larenz Tate. In 2016, he appeared in the Oprah Winfrey Network tv show Queen Sugar in which he played the father, Ernest Bordelon. The character died in season one, episode one.
He was typically typecast as a grumpy old man, but he appeared in many movies, stage plays television sitcoms, and dramas. He got his first break as an understudy in the Broadway play, The First Breeze of Summer as Reverend Mosley. Myers was also an accomplished pianist. Myers died at the Charleston Area Medical Center in West Virginia after battling pneumonia for several months in 2013.
Sanders has made guest appearances on the sitcoms Martin, Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Parent ‘Hood, The Wayans Brothers, The Jamie Foxx Show, and Moesha. She also guest-starred in a 2001 episode of the Lifetime show, The Division. Sanders had a major role in the independent urban comedy, High Freakquency, in which she was credited as Ajai Richards. She had a smaller role in the Michael Keaton Christmas comedy, Jack Frost, and also appeared in the 2000 urban independent drama, The Playaz Court.
She received guest roles in television shows such as Doogie Howser, M.D. (1991) and 21 Jump Street (1991). She earned a role on comedian Bill Cosby’s NBC television sitcom A Different World in 1991, as college freshman Lena James. In 1994, Pinkett Smith acted with Keenen Ivory Wayans in the action and comedy film A Low Down Dirty Shame. Following a role in Demon Knight (1995), Pinkett Smith co-starred with actor and comedian Eddie Murphy in the 1996 remake of The Nutty Professor. Next, Pinkett Smith had a role in Set It Off (1996), a crime drama about four women who rob banks to escape from poverty. With Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, and Kimberly Elise, her acting in the film was noted in the San Francisco Chronicle, where they said she was “the one to watch”. In 1997, Pinkett Smith had a cameo role in Scream 2 as Maureen Evans, a college student who is brutally murdered in front of hundreds of cinemagoers. In 2000, Pinkett Smith was cast in Spike Lee’s film Bamboozled (2000), as Sloan Hopkins, a personal assistant to the main character portrayed by Damon Wayans. Perhaps her best-known role to date is the part of human rebel Niobe in the films The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix Revolutions(2003), sequels to 1999’s The Matrix, and the related video game Enter The Matrix (2003). In 2008, Pinkett Smith portrayed Alex Fisher, a lesbian author, in The Women. Pinkett Smith’s directorial debut was The Human Contract; she also wrote and acted in the movie. Starring Paz Vega and Idris Elba, it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2008. In January 2009, she started working on the TNT medical drama Hawthorne, in which she was executive producer and a starring cast member. In September 2011, the show was cancelled by TNT, after three seasons. In spring 2012, Pinkett Smith launched a web series entitled Red Table Talks, with the first episode featuring her daughter and her mother, in order to encourage dialogue within families. Beginning in 2014, she starred in the first season of the Fox’s crime drama Gotham as Gotham City gangster Fish Mooney. In 2016, she reprised her role as Mooney in many episodes of Gotham`s second and third seasons.
Under the stage name Jada Koren, Pinkett Smith formed the metal band Wicked Wisdom in 2002. The band consists of Pinkett Smith performing lead vocals, Pocket Honore (guitar, vocals), Cameron “Wirm” Graves (guitar, keyboard, vocals), and Rio (bass, vocals). The band is managed by James Lassiter and Miguel Melendez of Overbrook Entertainment, a company co-founded by Pinkett Smith’s husband Will Smith. The band’s self-titled debut album was released on February 21, 2006, by Pinkett Smith’s production company 100% Womon and Suburban Noize Records. Will Smith served as the project’s executive producer. The album made it to Billboard’s Top Heatseekers chart, and peaked at number 44 during the week of March 11, 2006. AllMusic reviewer Alex Henderson said of the album, “[Pinkett Smith] shows herself to be an expressive, commanding singer” and that “[Wicked Wisdom] shows considerable promise”. The band promoted the album in 2006, touring with heavy metal band Sevendust. On December 31, 1997, about 100 guests attended their wedding at The Cloisters, near her hometown of Baltimore, Maryland. Jada and Will have two children, Jaden (b. 1998), and Willow (b. 2000). She is also the stepmother of Trey Smith, Will’s son from a previous marriage.
Karen Malina White:
In 1989, White starred in Lean on Me alongside actor Morgan Freeman. She was nominated for the 1990 Young Artist Award for Best Young Actress Supporting Role in a Motion Picture for her performance in the film. During the 90’s she made many guest appearances in various television shows. She portrayed Charmaine Brown during Seasons 7 and 8 of The Cosby Show (1990-1992), and Season 6 of A Different World (1992-1993). White also guest starred as Jewel, Jazz’s wife in two episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’.’ Shayla’ in “Living Single” episode ‘Woman to Woman’. From 2001-2005, she performed the voice of Dijonay Jones on the animated Disney Channel series The Proud Family. Betty Lebo is Season 2 of “I Didn’t Do It” White has also appeared in various stage productions.
Why A Different World Made Such An Impact:
For 30 years this show has been a staple in black houses and for good reason too. In the ’70s and ’80s there were not a lot of good representation of black people on TV. Yes we were on TV but we were poor or in crazy situations that were not realistic to real black life. It really wasn’t until The Cosby Show that we started to see a normal middle class black family on TV just living their life. It gave a lot of black people hope and a good look at what could be or what is. Then when A Different World came along it gave even more hope to a lot of young black kids watching. For a lot of black people college was not even in the cards for them due to their environment, money or lack of an academic future. So when they started watching A Different World it gave them hope that they too could go to college. It has been inspiring due to the wide assortments of black people from the hippie Freddie to the book smart Dwayne to the bujee Whitley ect. It wasn’t the stereotypical like most shows and it helped to bring in a great wave through the ’90s of positive diverse looks at black people. Thanks to A Different World shows like Moesha, Martin, The Fresh Prince of Bell Air, Sister, Sister and so many other shows. Sadly since this time there hasn’t been a lot of black shows on TV but for a time it was really great. Oh and also all that black power and all the important storylines they dealt with are timeless that every generation goes through and can relate to. Anyway A Different World is an incredible show that everyone should check out.
Well Till Next Time As the One Great Shazza Zulu Once Said…
2 thoughts on “A Different Time, A Different World: Making An Impact for 30 Years”
A Most Excellent Write-up!
I watched the show from the beginning and it’s true the first season, based on Denise, just didn’t work. It greatly improved when she left and the focus switched from her to being about life on an HBCU. I never heard the story about the original plans for the Maggie character. I’m glad she didn’t stay on to become the “star” of the show, but I do think it could have been interesting to keep her on as the sole White student at a Black campus, and seeing how she deals with that (like they later did when they brought in Freddie’s White cousin). The idea of her dating Dwayne sounds interesting.
I agree the Dwayne/Whitley relationship seems implausible at first, but the way they built up the attraction between over the seasons definitely worked. I also will say that I liked the Freddie/Ron relationship, it was one of those “Opposites Attract” type of things, which happens sometimes.It’s a shame the show never got a proper finale, to go out in style. And it’s an ever bigger shame that the show hasn’t been revived. I recall there was some talk of revival a few years ago, but then Bill Cosby scandal broke, and that killed any talk of it.
The Cosby Show and A Different World raise the standard of excellent of black television over 30 years ago. Now we have ratchet reality TV show that make black people bad.