1 9 8 7 – 1 9 9 3 (USA)
142 x 30 minute episodes
1 x 60 minute episode
A spin-off from The Cosby Show in which Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) left the Cosby home to attend the predominantly black Hillman College in Georgia – her parents’ alma mater. Her attempts to adjust to life away from her family’s New York upper-East Side nest, and her relationship with her roommates, fuelled the plot of each episode.
Initially, the series seemed distinctly unhappy with itself, going through several crew changes early on and drawing considerable critical flak – the American listings magazine TV Guide considered it ”the worst sitcom in recent memory to do so well in the ratings”.
The high figures were due to scheduling: NBC sandwiched the programme right between parent The Cosby Show and Cheers.
One of Denise’s original co-ed pals at the college was none other than Marisa Tomei, who played Maggie Lawton in the first season (1987-88). Interestingly enough, the series star Bonet – the reason for the show’s existence in the first place – left at the same time as Tomei.
Bonet left the show to have a baby. Her character, it was said, was unable to consistently make the grades required for her presence at college.
Rather than crumble without its star or its direct connection to The Cosby Show, the series immediately prospered, a fact not coincidental to the arrival – at Bill Cosby’s suggestion – of Debbie Allen, the former star/dancer/choreographer of Fame, who took over as director/producer.
A Different World thrust former supporting players Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison and Darryl Bell into the limelight and stayed on NBC’s schedule for five years.
A cafeteria cook, Mr Gaines, was added to give the series a flavour of southern culture. A hardworking, pre-medical student, Kim Reese, was also introduced as a foil for Whitley. She worked for Mr Gaines in the cafeteria and eventually found herself caught in an on-again, off-again romantic relationship with Ron.
Dwayne became entangled in a love-hate relationship with Whitley, and their eventual marriage became a major event in the storyline.
Other new characters included: Col. Taylor, the campus ROTC commander; Freddie Brooks, an environmental activist with metaphysical leanings; Terrence Taylor, the son of Col. Taylor; and Lena James, a feisty freshman from the Baltimore projects. Each new season brought an incoming class of freshman and new featured characters.
One special episode, guest-starring Whoopi Goldberg and personally introduced by Bill Cosby (he urged parents to watch it with their children), looked closely at AIDS. For a long time, NBC considered this too hot a potato to handle, and some advertisers withdrew, but Cosby et al forced it through and the audience rating remained as high as usual.
Col. “Dr War” Clayton Taylor
Terrence Johann Taylor
Winifred “Freddie” Brooks
Karen Malina White
Byron Douglas III