It’s A Different World – How A TV Show 30 Years Later Still Effects A Generation

It was announced that Michael Smith and Jemele Hill would be transitioning from their ‘His & Hers’ slot at 12pm to ESPN’s Sportscenter at 6pm.

The move made waves across the reporting industry & social media alike with praise heaped upon ESPN for their decision to trust diversity and like Wesley Snipes said in Passenger 57 it’s wise to “bet on black”.

“The Six” shortly after premiering opened their show with a vastly different opening.

As the guitar strummed on the instrumental track the screen shows a group of students reading as ‘Sportscenter’ came across in a colorful font. Those in the know became joyous knowing this was in homage to NBC’s A Different World. Those who may not be familiar recognized the singer as legendary artist Aretha Franklin.

The un-indoctrinated must have been taking by her voice as the cast of SC6 mixed with the originals of the show included Dawnn Lewis who played Jaleessa, Glynn Turman as her husband Colonel Taylor, Darryl M Bell as Ron and even Sinbad made an appearance as Coach Walter.

In 2017 how can a show that premiered 30 years ago still resonate with people both young and older generation?

Taking a guess, I believe it’s because of representation and great storytelling.

For the younger generation the relationship with nostalgia has begun.

Buzzfeed articles, the return of Toonami and The Splat being created by Nickelodeon in response to the popularity 90’s Are All That block of television all show the increase in desire for the proverbial ‘good old day’.

“I ain’t going to hell or to Hillman”

— Chance The Rapper, Angels

Recently a friend of mine asked what happened to the quality programs that were fluent in the 1990s. He gave examples of Martin and Fresh Prince, family friendly shows everyone could enjoy.

A Different World, ending in 1993, fits in that category.

“I ain’t one of the Cosbys, I ain’t go to Hillman ”

— Kanye West, Can’t Tell Me Nothing

While other shows were making a splash and having great following ADW’s impact is still being felt.

As a spinoff of the Cosby Show, Bill wanted to show campus life at both Cliff & Cleo Huxtable’s alma mater Hillman College. Denise, their flighty daughter who has a good heart and pure intentions, was accepted and enrolled.

After their first season Cosby brought in Debbie Allen to make changes.

Lisa Bonet, the show’s star was pregnant, and Allen fought to keep her on the sitcom. Planning to explore a single mother while in school she presented this idea to Cosby for approval. He responded “Lisa is pregnant, Denise is not”. So the legacy Huxtable exited the show and began to center around Whitley Gilbert, a high class student who’s interests expanded from finding a man to finding her gifts and talents.

Dwayne Wayne with his trademark glasses stopped being obsessed with Denise and eventually showed his educational prowess eventually becoming a teacher in the later seasons.

Jalessa was the eldest out of the bunch but wasn’t treated as a babysitter. She had her own ideals and restarted her life after being divorced. Dawnn Lewis’ character showed a mature perspective in the second season with an episode about abortion where she revealed she went through a miscarriage.

A Different World wasn’t afraid to touch tough topics.

The HIV/AIDS episode was birthed by the revelation that Lakers great Magic Johnson contracted the disease. In the early 90s HIV was still seen as a death sentence. The episode aptly titled ‘If I Should Die Before I Wake’ was directed by Debbie Allen. It took a sensitive look at prejudices, misnomers and the truth about sex.

Jalessa & Whitley have a conversation about safe sex and being prepared but the censors prevented her from showing a condom while speaking on protection. The episode featured a young Tisha Campbell explaining her life story as the teacher played by Whoppi Goldberg, who was nominated for an Emmy, encouraged her while explaining AIDS wasn’t a moral judgment.

“I am voice in the world”

“And so you are”

Before SNL’s wildly popular impressions of political figures from Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin to Alec Baldwin’s current parody of the current Commander In Chief, ADW took satirical looks with swapping both race & gender roles of the leaders in power, the Clintons became Jill Blinton and Hilliard as characters Dwayne & Whitley showed the inherent sexism that plagued the 1992 campaign.

A Different World was one of the first to talk about the L.A. Riots, instead of beating around the bush Allen and her team of writers decided to put Dwayne & Whitley in the midst during their honeymoon.

This gave an opportunity to break down the parallels between this & the Watts riots of the 60s. The incident was a platform for outspoken students like Lena to have their opinions valued but also challenged by the more experienced like Mr. Gaines & Colonel Taylor.

ADW was and is a chance to see Black faces in a positive light. Representation matters and with a show full of melanin complete with step lines, tribal garb and students who readily quote Malcolm X while also knowing Nikki Giovanni is rare.

Sadly besides the first none of the other seasons were released on DVD and after finding streaming homes at Netflix then later HULU neither currently carry the praised show.

In the era of ShondaLand and Empire, A Different World’s impact is still felt.

Creator of Love & Basketball’s Gina Prince-Bythewood and husband, co-creator of FOX’s Shots Fired were both staff writers on this show.

Papa Morton from Scandal was first Byron Douglas who was infamously interrupted by Dwayne’s impassioned speech to convince Whitley to run off with him instead.

Debbie Allen is the mother of Jesse Williams’ character and now executive producer for Grey’s Anatomy and when rumors surfaced of a Blackish spinoff centered around Yara Shahidi’s character going off to college an outcry of consumers wanted ADW reincarnated. If ABC gives us a Debbie Allen produced show about Zoey choosing a HBCU or going through life at a PWI, Primarily White Institution, we would watched in droves.

Until then we can cherish memories and find marathons on TV One when shown.

For your A Different World fix, follow accounts on Instagram: @adifferentworld8793 @hillmancollege_adw

For Hillman College clothing go to @hillmanbookstore or hillmanbookstore.com

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