“A Different World” is based on the life of “Denise,” “The Cosby Show’s” most popular daughter. It depicts her college life at Hilman College. You will get to know the effect of the departure of Bonet, who you will soon get to meet, how it affected the show, and whether it did at all.
There were speculations by critics and the media that Bonet’s exit would affect the ratings and panned the show as “bland” or “uninspired” before it even aired. To their surprise, “A Different World” held its ratings steadily, and their poor comments became praises.
A Different Premise than that which Premiered
The initial premise of “A Different World” was about a white girl’s experiences in a historically black college. When Meg Ryan, cast for the lead as “Maggie Lauten,” withdrew from television and sorted out into the movie industry, changes were made.
Her exit was before the pilot, and a rescue plan was fashioned. The setup was changed into a new series about Denise finding a stable ground after leaving home, and the role of Maggie was reduced to a smaller role as Denise’s roommate.
Pilot Changes at the Last Minute
Both network and show producers weren’t pleased with the results of the four first episodes before they were aired. Soon enough, Anne Beatts, a former writer for Saturday Night Live, was brought on board to save the show; she was the creator of “Square Pegs.”
She was put in charge of creating a whole new pilot episode just six weeks before the scheduled time to be aired. She, of course, delivered a good job, and the ratings for season one were pretty good. Still, critics argued it was that good because its time slot was inserted between The Cosby Show” and “Cheers,” and they reviewed it as “awful,” “calamitously drab,” “bland and unfunny,” and “a big yawn.”
Let’s Meet the Cast, But First, the Producer and Writer
Yvette Lee Bowser, the writer and producer of “A Different World,” was the first African-American woman to create her prime-time series. She went to Santa Monica High School and graduated from Stanford University in 1983 and 1986, respectively.
She became the producer of “A Different World” in 1991 and created “Sister Lee Productions,” her own company. Yvette served as the consulting and executive producer for the following movies: “A Different World,” “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper,” “The Wayans Bros.,” “Living Single,” “Lush Life,” “For Your Love,” “Half & Half,” “Black-ish,” “Dear White People,” and the 2021 production, “Run the World.”
Debbie Allen Was Hired to Reconstruct “A Different World”
Debbie Allen was made producer-director of “A Different World” to reconstruct the show and move it from the No. 2-rated show on television to the best show on television. She knew it needed a lot of work because the show was leaning on the fame of the “The Cosby Show.”
She knew the show needed “real internal restructuring” on several subject matter and trending discussions that would be volatile, exciting, and explosive. She also wanted the audience to see how political they could be and create a sexually, socially, and economically mature environment.
Debbie Allen’s Ambition for Authenticity
Debbie Allen graduated from Howard University, and her goal for “A Different World” was to produce a more realistic replica of several historically black college experiences. During her tenure on the show, she organized an annual field trip to several HBCUs with the writing staff.
While they visited, they took note of the dorm furnishings and college styles. They interacted with administrators and students about their experiences and hot topics on campus that could be useful in writing future episodes.
Anne Beatts Replaces Bill Cosby as Producer
When filming began in early 1987, Bill Cosby was the producer, but it was for a brief period. Cosby being the producer isn’t much of a surprise since “A Different World” was a spinoff of his show “The Cosby Show.”
He was replaced by Anne Beatts, a former writer for Saturday Night Live and the creator of Square Pegs. She became the co-executive producer of “A Different World.” By the 1990s, she stepped away from the entertainment industry and focused on becoming an adjunct writer.
The Show’s Head Writer, Susan Fales-Hill
Susan Fales-Hill’s writing career began as an apprentice on “The Cosby Show.” After two years of working in the staf,f she was transferred to work on “A Different World” as a story editor. In 1990, she was promoted to be the co-executive producer/head writer.
It was during her tenure that “A Different World” was nominated for the prestigious Humanitas Award. She wrote the episode on Aids, which received three prestigious awards: the 1991 Maggie Award from Planned Parenthood, the Nancy Susan Reynolds Award, and the 13th Annual Media Access Award.
The Great Cosby’s Impact on Yvette Lee Bowser
According to Yvette’s interview with Vanity Fair, she expressed her non-interest in writing for television until she watched “The Cosby Show.” She then went into a deep search through a friend who knew Dr. Cosby but his response after meeting her met him was disheartening.
His words to her were; “Go to law school. I have nothing for you out here,” but that didn’t stop her; instead, it motivated her, and she showed him some of her written stories which got him hinged. He later allowed her to join his team but as an unpaid intern.
Lisa Bonet as “Denise Huxtable”
Lisa Bonet was cast as the lead of the first season of the Cosby Show spinoff. She played “Denise Huxtable,” the second and most popular child of “Cliff Huxtable.” After season one, Lisa became pregnant with her then-husband Lenny Kravitz’s baby, but this didn’t sit well with producers.
She was fired for becoming unreliable because she was pregnant, and producers did not think a pregnant and unwed Denise was a smart decision. She became highly undependable after failing to meet up with certain work schedules.
Lisa Bonet’s Relationship with Lenny Kravitz
Lisa Michelle Bonet, who now goes by Lilakoi Moon, is an actress and activist known for being on the big screen. But her appearance on the show was cut short after she eloped with Lenny Kravitz on her 20th birthday. She believed because they have similar backgrounds, it was enough to keep their love growing.
She welcomed their daughter on the 1st of December, 1988, and named her Zoë Isabella Kravitz. Regrettably, she didn’t get her happily ever after, and her divorce with Kravitz was finalized in 1993. By 1995, her name had been legally changed to Lilakoi Moon, but she is professionally referred to as Lisa Bonet.
Lisa Bonet’s Relationship with Jason Momoa
Our very own Aquaman, Jason Momoa, has been in a relationship with Lisa since 2005 in which she has two children from the relationship. Their daughter and son were born in July 2007 and in December 2008, respectively. It wasn’t until October 2017 when they eventually got married.
Since her divorce from Kravitz, Lisa retreated from the celebrity life of camera and spotlight. It wasn’t until Will Smith starred her in his movie “Enemy of the State” was she seen. In recent times she starred on “The Red Road,” “Ray Donovan,” and “Girls.”
Jasmine Guy’s Promotion to Lead Actress
Jasmine Guy, who plays “Whitley Gilbert-Wayne,” was supposed to be a supporting cast member but after Lisa’s pregnancy and being fired from the show after the end of season one, Jasmine was promoted to lead.
After “A Different World” ended, she acted in more minor roles but was more involved in some voice work in a series of animations. She then landed recurring roles on “K.C. Undercover” and “Dead Like Me.”
Life and Time of Jasmine Guy
Born on the 10th of March 1962, Jasmine Guy is a distinguished American director, singer, dancer, and of course actress famous for her roles in “Vampire Diaries,” “Dead Like Me,” “School Daze,” and “A Discovery World.”
Her role in “A Discovery World” earned her several awards, including six consecutive NAACP Image Awards from 1990 to 1995 for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.
Dawnn Lewis as “Jaleesa Vinson”
Dawnn Lewis played 25-year-old Jaleesa Vinson, who was also enrolled in Hilman College after a failed marriage. Although she was older than her schoolmates, she used her boldness, maturity, and welcoming personality to help guide her friends and schoolmates.
After five seasons, Dawnn eventually left the show and continued acting in other TV series like “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper.” She didn’t stop there and worked as a regular voice for “The Cleveland Show,” “Futurama,” and “Spiderman.” She currently plays “Patrice Perry” on “Major Crimes.”
Dawnn Lewis Thought: After Broadway, What’s Next?
Dawnn Lewis, who plays Jaleesa Vinson, had just finished the Tap Dance Kid tour, a Broadway show starring Hinton Battle, Dulé Hill, and Harold Nicholas. Although before the tour had ended, she had asked if she could audition for “A Different World,” she was turned down and asked to continue with the tour.
After the tour ended, she received a call asking if she was still interested in auditioning. Of course, she agreed, and ten days after auditioning, she was booked into a costar spot.
Dawnn Lewis was Hired to Sing the Theme Song
Dawnn Lewis was already hired as a costar for “A Different World” before production realized she was the person they hired to sing the theme song. Unfortunately for her, production wasn’t on her side as they thought it was too much work for her to be involved with since it wasn’t her show.
She was taken off singing the theme song, and Phoebe Snow sang it instead for the first season only. Aretha Franklin picked it up and sang the theme song, which was played from seasons two through five until Boyz II Men’s song in season 6.
Kadeem Hardison as “Dwayne Wayne” Promotion as a Lead
The show’s writers went all-in with a mix of nerdy and flirty for this character, and Kadeem Hardison’s delivery was all on point. He played “Dwayne Wayne,” a math genius known for his flip-up sunglasses. It wasn’t until the second season that significant changes were made that he moved up as a lead character in this sitcom.
He has since moved into the movie industry by starring in actions movies like “House,” “My Name is Earl,” and “Supernatural.” He has been booked as a guest in other films, and he starred in “K.C. Undercover” in 2015.
Darryl M. Bell Went from Goofy Musician to Copping Lead Roles
Darryl Bell played Ron Johnson, a goofy musician in all six seasons of “A Different World.” After the show ended in 1993, he was booked as the lead role in the sci-fi comedy series “Homeboys in Outer Space,” where he played “Morris Clay.”
In 1997, he was later featured on three episodes on Cosby. He married Tempestt Bledsoe, a Cosby Show alumni just like him. In 2009, he appeared in “Househusbands of Hollywood” with his wife.
Kadeem Auditioned Because of the Cast
Remember “School Daze”? If you don’t, this show starred Kadeem, Jasmine, and Darryl. After they were done filming “School Daze,” Kadeem went to Los Angeles for a visit where he met some of his friends and found out about the audition for “A Different World.”
He went to watch a taping of the show because he knew Lisa; he then realized Lisa, Marisa and Dawnn were all casts for the show and thought it could be something big and decided to audition.
Kadeem Discovered that Darryl Auditioned on the Phone
Kadeem and Darryl got super close when they starred in “School Daze.” They were so close they met in each other’s room every night, playing Nintendo and video games.
Two weeks after Kadeem went to the taping, he received a call about auditioning for extra characters. After he had auditioned, he called Darryl to talk about his audition. He asked him if he knew about the Cosby Spinoff and Darryl said he just went in to auditioned too.
Kadeem and Darryl Both Auditioned to Play “Dwayne Wayne.”
He asked Darryl what role he auditioned for during the phone conversation, and he said “Dwayne Wayne,” which came as a shock to Kadeem. He exclaimed and told Darryl he had auditioned for that same role.
According to Darryl, three or four people had auditioned for the role of “Dwayne Wayne.” He knew Kadeem had auditioned for that role because Kadeem was the first to go in, and he and the others who came to audition had heard Kadeem and the team in charge of auditions laughing while he auditioned.
Kadeem’s Charisma for the Win
The location for the audition took place at one of the NBC’s offices, and it was packed with a team of producers, writers, and NBC executives. Kadeem introduced himself and sought out to get the names of all who were present.
He then recited the names but in reverse order. This did not only catch their attention; it also made them even more curious about what he had to offer. Even Darryl and the other men who came to audition could hear the laughter from the hallway.
“Whitley Gilbert’s” Accent was Jasmine Guy’s Idea
When Jasmine auditioned for the role of Whitley Gilbert, she introduced an accent that wasn’t added to the character. In her defense, she said she had to bring in something new and different, and since she had nothing to lose, she went forward with her plan.
During Jasmine’s addition, one of the writers presents Susan Fales-Hill said she couldn’t remember the others who auditioned because Jasmine was exceptional.
“A Different World” was Originally Titled “Stepping Up to Step Out”
Susan Fales-Hill was one of the writers for The Cosby Show, and she was initially selected to write the spinoff, which was titled “Stepping Up to Step Out.” Yvette joined the team right after, and the original premise was changed.
The premise involved the chronicle of Denise’s life and “Maggie” and “Jaleesa,” her roommates. Meg Ryan was cast to play Maggie, but she turned it down, and Marisa Tomie played “Maggie” instead while Dawnn Lewis played the role of “Jalees.”
Yvette’s Ambition to Make a Mark
It wasn’t all rosy and perfect for Yvette Lee Browser, she had to act like the apprentice she was signed up for; From taking lunch orders, babysitting, taking notes, running errands, and devoting her time to serving the producing and writers’ team of NBC before she was eventually given a shot.
Even though many of these jobs were beneath a degree holder from Stanford University, she was hell-bent on making a mark. She was ready to do all that was necessary to be a part of the creative process. The opportunity eventually came when she pitched the idea for episode four.
Introducing Charnele Brown, Who Played “Kim Reese.”
“Kim Reese” was introduced as Whitley’s roommate and an overachieving medical student in her 20’s. The role was played by Charnele Brown, who was in her early 30s at the time. Her role was a bit controversial.
She appeared on “Martin, My Wife and Kids, and Girlfriends,” but for minor guest roles. She ventured into production and produced the thriller “Love You to Death” with Julius Tennon
Controversies, Backlash, and Racism
Charnele Brown did not have the sweetest ride playing “Kim Reese.” It all began when his character was paired into a relationship with a Caucasian male. This did not sit well with some men, the majority being men in prison.
She would receive angry emails from them, rudely expressing their distaste about the relationship. Charlene had suffered several rejections because of her skin color, and she was once told her complexion was not in style while being rejected.
Cree Summer Went From Actor to Voicing Character
The Love interest of many college students at Hillman College and roommate to Jaleesa, “Freddie Brooks” was played by Cree Summer. After the show, she wasn’t involved in acting, but she was actively voicing characters.
She voiced characters on cartoons like “Batman Beyond,” “Sonic the Hedgehog,” “Danny Phantom,” “Voltron,” and “Rugats.” She ventured into the Music Industry and had her long-time friend Lenny Kravitz produce her first solo album.
Lou Myers as “Vernon Gaines”
Lou Myers played the “Grumpy Vernon Gaines.” “Vernon Gaines” was the owner and manager of the Pit Restaurant. He was friends with military man “Colonel Brad Taylor” throughout the six seasons, and several cast members worked at his restaurant.
After “A Different World,” Lou Myers booked minor roles in some romantic comedy over the years from “It’s Kind of a Funny Story among,” “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” to “The Wedding Planner.”
From Math Teacher to Mr. War
Glynn Turman played “Colonel Brad Taylor” a math teacher at Hillman College and friends with “Vernon Gaines.” He was often called “Mr. War” by his student. Glynn Turman’s career is one of the most impressive cast members of “A Different World.”
He won an Emmy for his guest spot in “Treatment” in 2008, and he has been featured in the following movies and series; “Big Apple,” “Resurrection Blvd.,” “House of Lies,” “Fly,” and “The Wire.”
Cree Summer as the Voice of the Green M&M
One of Cree’s most extended voiceover works was as the voice of the Green M&M. She has been the voice for the past 24 years. Other animated series she has been a regular on included; “As Told by Ginger,” “The Care Bears,” and “Inspector Gadget.”
Not only is she successful as a voiceover actress, but in 1991 she was one of the characters who morphed in Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” music video.
Sinbad for Comic Relief as “Coach Walter Oakes”
When listing the busiest character in “A Different World,” Coach Walter Oakes tops the list. He was so busy as he coached the basketball, football, track, and baseball teams. He was also the co-director of the Gilbert Hall Dorm.
He was characterized by a “colorful personality and crazy outfits.” Sinbad owned this role, perfectly delivering the needed comic relief. He has since been seen in several comedy movies and series; he even launched his family show titled “The Sinbad Show.”
An Uncredited Cameo Depicting the 1992 Los Angeles Riots
Debbie Allen suggested that Roseanne Barr stars as a guest in “A Different World.” Roseanne and her then-husband Tom Arnold acted out an uncredited cameo about the 1992 Los Angeles riots. They acted as a pair of looters stealing from a high-end boutique.
Debbie Allen also suggested that white suburban soccer moms be included as looters savaging the merchandise racks. Her goal was to show the audience that people of all races, not one race, were involved in the post-Rodney King melee of which CNN refused to show.
The David Bowie Inspired Glasses
A David Bowie concert was the inspiration behind Dwayne Wayne’s glasses. But it was Anne Beatts’ idea for Kadeem Hardison to wear flip-top sunglasses. She needed to give “Dwayne Wayne” a look that fit the slightly nerdy look.
While at a David Bowie concert, she noticed Carlos Alomar, David Bowie’s guitarist, wearing a pair of flip-top glasses, and till today, they were referred to as “Dwayne Wayne glasses.”
“Whitley Gilbert’s” Accent was Inspired by Jasmine Guy’s Teacher
The idea of “Whitley Gilbert” having a “southern belle” accent was all Jasmine Guy’s idea, but where and from who did this idea originate? Well, she mimicked the closest southerner’s accent she had heard, which was from a Mrs. Pinkard, her third-grade teacher.
She had already lost the role of “Jaleesa,” which she originally auditioned for to Dawnn Lewis, and had nothing to lose and gave the best-exaggerated imitation of her third-grade teacher’s accent that always made her laugh when she auditioned.
“Whitley Gilbert” was Susan Fales-Hill Telling Her Story
Whitley Gilbert was born and bred in a wealthy home; she grew up spoiled and attended Hilman College. Susan’s dad was a wealthy Italian businessman, and her mum a glamorous Haitian actress. She was stuck between two races, but she lived a privileged childhood until college.
Susan Fales-Hill revealed this truth in her memoir. Whitley Gilbert was her life as a freshman at Harvard. In college, she struggled with fitting in and was ignored by black kids because they felt she was acting too white.
From Spike Lee’s “School Daze” to “A Different World”
Although Spike Lee regrets not pitching the “School Daze” premise as a T.V. series, it doesn’t change the fact that it was a successful series whose three principal casts were also starred in “A Different World.”
Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison, and Darryl M. Bell previously worked together in “School Daze.” They built a good relationship amongst themselves, and while shooting “A Different World,” it was hard to miss how intimate they were.
Freddie Brooks: A Trip to Spelman and Morehouse
Freddie Brooks’s character was created after Susan Fales-Hill went on a trip to Spelman and Morehouse. One of the multiple questions asked was why mixed marriages were not spoken about on the show. She was surprised people were interested in that since she was from a mixed marriage.
Susan was very passionate about the chance to share such rudiment matters that many people were aware of but afraid to speak on, and she shared information that would educate, enlighten, and influence people.
Slavery and Colorism in “A Different World”
Susan received a call from the attorney general of Pennsylvania who told her of a seven-year-old girl who was raped by her neighbor and didn’t tell her parents about the horrific incident until after the date rape episode had aired.
Susan ensured that she incorporated slavery and colorism into “A Different World,” telling how slavery was still rampant in America, particularly in Louisiana. She addressed the issue of criticism because of the color of one’s skin during her tenure.