A Different World was a popular sitcom from the late 80s and early 90s that was created by Bill Cosby and produced/directed by Debbie Allen. I loved A Different World. This spin-off made a huge impact on television during its debut. Before I tell you about the legacy of A Different World, let me tell you about the history of the show.
With The Cosby Show being the most popular show of the 80s, Bill Cosby wanted to make a spin-off series about the fictional Black college called “Hillman” starring Lisa Bonet (Denise Huxtable). That show was called A Different World, which made its debut in the fall of 1987. When the show first started it became very successful in the ratings, being #2 in the first season. However, it was criticized for being a terrible representation of college life and being poorly written. So in 1988, Bill Cosby hired Debbie Allen to be the producer/director of the show. This caused the show to evolve into something amazing. Unfortunately, this also caused Lisa Bonet to be dropped from the series due to her being pregnant by her husband at the time, Lenny Kravitz. It didn’t stop the characters from The Cosby Show to drop in from time to time, though.
As Debbie produced and directed the show, it evolved and became an amazing representation of HBCU (Historically Black College/University) life. The show became popular during its 6-year run. It was in the top 10 in the Nielsen ratings during its five-year run, while also being the highest rated show in black households.
What makes this show iconic is the chemistry between all the characters, the astounding writing, and the legacy it had for HBCU’s. While being a sitcom, this show discussed a lot of serious topics such as sex, drugs, racism, poverty, date rape, and more. In 1991, A Different World did an episode where it talked about the AIDS virus, which was one of the first shows to do so besides The Golden Girls. This was a serious epidemic at the time, and still is today.
The show also did a romantic story arc between the Dwayne and Whitley characters. If you haven’t watched the series, the writers did an amazing job developing the romantic story arc of those two characters. There was a wedding episode towards the end of the fifth season where Whitley was about to marry the politician Byron until Dwayne shows up at the last minute asking Whitley to marry him, screaming, “BABY PLEASE!” Eventually, she says, “I do!,” and the two get married, leaving Byron in a depressing state of mind for the rest of his life. The wedding episode at the end of the fifth season proved how brilliant all the characters’ performances were, but also how amazing the writing for this show was.
Seriously, there’s not a lot of good shows like this today. During the sixth season, the show ended its run. However, it didn’t end on a high note because in 1992 NBC decided to air the show at the 8:00 P.M. timeslot. As the season went on, they moved the show to the 8:30 P.M. timeslot, and then moved it to Saturdays, causing the show to get cancelled in 1993. It was horrible that NBC did this, but it was kind of expected because this was the same time The Cosby Show and Cheers were ending, while shows such as The Simpsons and Martin were starting to get popular on FOX. During the show’s run, however, it made an astounding legacy to HBCUs by increasing/doubling enrollment at most schools by 44%.
Overall, I loved A Different World. It was a good show and it proved to be one of the greatest spin-offs ever made while also making an everlasting impact for everyone and HBCUs. I commend Bill Cosby and Debbie Allen for making a show like this.