A Different World: Pivotal Coming of Age Show Turns 30

In 1987, I was a 14-year-old 9th grader attending Paul Robeson Junior High School in Trenton, New Jersey.  Alf was making horrible puns on television for NBC, Robocop, The Untouchables and The Witches of Eastwick moved the needle at the box office and Lionel Ritchies music could be heard playing on the radio every weekend as my mother razzed us out of our beds to complete chores.  

We lived in a corner house near a busy intersection. Outside my window, a trickle of former classmates who grew up too soon joined the goons in front of the corner store. It would eventually grow into a deluge.  Each block was famous for selling a different type of contraband; but crack would rule the decade.  

It was during these tumultuous times that I imagined myself into a better life in an uncertain future with the help of A Different World.  

WATCH- “A Different World” 30 Year Anniversary Tribute

A Different World- 30 Year Anniversary

Television programming isnt a one-way street.  While were watching, its only natural for the young and hungry to be inspired to imagine themselves beyond their current circumstances.  

Debuting September 24, 1987 as a spin-off of The Cosby Show, A Different World initially starred Lisa Bonet as Denise Huxtable as she disembarked from the protective eye of her television parents to attend Hillman College, a fictional HBCU that was also the alma mater of her television father, Heathcliff Huxtable. 

A Different World | All 3 intros (Theme Songs)

This is the intro and theme songs to all seasons of A Different World! Which one is your favorite??? Season 1 – Phoebe Snow Season 2-5 – Aretha Franklin Season 6 – Boyz II Men I do not own A Different World – I just love the show!

Bonets departure after season one due to pregnancy placed characters Whitley Gilbert, played by Jasmine Guy, and Dwayne Wayne, played by Kadeem Hardison, at the center of the show. In addition to the positive aesthetics of seeing intelligent, articulate and beautiful young black people on my television screen, the cast of incredible, veteran black actors that were either guests or regulars on the show depicted a world in which middle-aged individuals of African descent took a vested interest in seeing young black minds thrive.  

A Different World: 4×17 – Whitley’s jealousy kicks in

A Different World (1987-1993) Season 4 Episode 17 Ms. Understanding (28 Feb. 1991) Shazza Zulu, a student in his sixth year of undergraduate work, publishes a book discussing the sexist behavior of men at Hillman. The women take his words to heart; they get really worked up and decide to boycott all men.

A Different World wasnt simply a cavalcade of famous black faces that gave the show a different kind of funk than that which many young people at the time had been accustomed to.

“The impact of the show didnt hit me until after I left the show. This is what I did!  I came to a set and I went home.  Now that Ive been around the country and listening to kids say they went to school because of A Different World or dudes telling me I knew I could get a girl like Whitley because of Dwayne Wayne, thats just incredible to me the power of that medium. Also, back then we had 20 million people on three different networks watching the show.  

You dont even get that now.  Also, it was a Cosby show, (he) thought and did things his way and paid for it and fought for it.  He knew the business.  By the time Bill Cosby did A Different World he had already done four or five television shows. He already knew what the animal was out here.

— Jasmine Guy to EURweb.com, 2011

In addition to the primary cast, A Different World also starred Jada Pinkett-Smith, Glynn Turman, Loretta Devine, Cree Summer and Sinbad, both permanently and intermittently. 

Debbie Allen was called upon to revamp the show to be more in tune to life at an actual HBCU after season one.  The departure of Marisa Tomei from the show signified that change. Allens arrival also signaled the reshuffling characters from secondary to primary roles and the addition of other characters in supporting roles who were essential to the shows six-year run.

A Different World: 3×07 – Dwayne and Whitley’s famous kiss

A Different World (1987-1993) Season 3 Episode 7 Wedding Bells from Hell (16 Nov. 1989) Walter wins a honeymoon trip to Hawaii and decides he’d like to take Jaleesa… as his wife! They decide to get married and everyone jumps in to help. Jaleesa and Walter end up cancelling the wedding because they just aren’t ready.

Legendary soul singer Aretha Franklin sang the opening theme song and veteran thespians, comedians and contemporary music acts would regularly frequent the show.  Richard Roundtree, Gladys Knight, Tupac Shakur, Lena Horne, Billy Dee Williams, David Alan Grier and Whoopi Goldberg are but a few of the many stars that gave A Different World a special kind of genuine, uncontrived negritude.

A Different World premiered the first episode of its final season on September 24, 1992, going off the air for good in June of the following year.

It wasn’t just cavalcade of famous black faces that gave the show a different kind of funk than that which many young people at the time had been accustomed to, but imagery and themes that drove discussion.  

In the past, television had rarely shown black people as being brilliant, creative, three-dimensional characters living for themselves, not orbiting a white character or institution as some secondary or less important body, but as stars shining brilliant on their own paths, for their own purposes.  

In doing so, they helped millions of teens and young adults perceive a future beyond their immediate circumstances via higher education.


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