A Different World was added to Netflix recently, becoming popular all over again. Newer generations can watch what life is like at a historically Black college or university as well as witness other relatable experiences to most young people. However, there are plenty of behind-the-scenes secrets you all might not know about this college-set sitcom, which was a direct spin-off of The Cosby Show.
Close Casting Calls
Meg Ryan was set to play Maggie Lauten on the show but decided to focus on her movie career. Marisa Tomei had played Lauten for the first season before her movie career took off as well.
Originally, the series was to be centered around white student Maggie Lauten’s (Marisa Tomei) experiences at the HBCU Hillman College. Instead, the show became a direct spin-off of The Cosby Show with Denise Huxtable as the lead and Maggie as a supporting character. When Debbie Allen took over as producer, she thought about making the show about both characters, but both actresses left the show after season 1.
The character Whitley Gilbert (Jasmine Guy) was originally only supposed to appear in the pilot episode. She was so popular she became a series regular. Guy’s third-grade teacher, Ms. Pinkford, inspired her popular accent.
Jasmine Guy as Jaleesa?
Jasmine Guy originally auditioned for the part of Jaleesa, but producers decided she was more suited for Whitley Gilbert. By the time she was offered the role and had signed the contract, the opening sequence had been filmed, which is why she doesn’t appear in it for season 1.
Marisa Tomei and Lisa Bonet’s characters weren’t only roommates on the show, but the actresses lived together in real life.
Lisa Bonet Leaves
Lisa Bonet, who played Denise Huxtable, was the star of the show in the first season, but she became pregnant with actress Zoe Kravitz, her daughter with Lenny Kravitz, during the first season. Instead of writing her pregnancy into the show, as Debbie Allen suggested, she left the show.
Criticism and Revamp
The show was revamped not only due to Lisa Bonet’s departure, but because there was criticism that the show inaccurately portrayed HBCU life. Debbie Allen not only expanded the Black cast, but she drew from her experiences as a graduate of Howard University. Her staff started to do research and visit HBCUs to include issues, events, history and experiences of real-life historically Black colleges and universities to the storyline.
The character Millie, Whitley Gilbert’s sidekick, was written out of the show, due to the actress Marie-Alice Recaster’s pregnancy. Plus, the producers wanted Gilbert to have a stronger roommate and best friend. It’s the reason the character Kim was created.
The show’s leads
Jasmine Guy and Kadeem Hardison, who played Whitley Gilbert and Dwayne Wayne respectively, were the only cast members to remain on the show all six seasons. They shared the co-lead spots with Lisa Bonet during season 1 before becoming the lead characters during season 2.
Dawnn Lewis, who was a series regular in season one through five, co-wrote the show’s theme song. Phoebe Snow sang it in season one, followed by Aretha Franklin in season 2 through 5, and by Boyz II Men for the final season.
Lisa Bonet and Cree Summer didn’t get a chance to work together on the show. However, the actresses are close in real life. Summer is even Zoe Kravitz’s godmother.
The exterior of Hillman campus was actually Spelman College in Atlanta. Hillman’s fictional campus is located in Virginia, but the city is never mentioned. Some believed it was right outside of Richmond.
Alfonso Ribeiro was supposed to be a series regular on the show as the character Zach Duncan, but he chose to co-star on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, instead.
Several characters left the show, and their absences were never explained:
– Millie disappeared after season 1
– Maggie disappeared after season 1
– Lettie disappeared after season 2
– Ernest disappeared after season 3
– Jaleesa disappeared after season 5
– Terrence disappeared after season 5
The show inspired young African-Americans to attend HBCUs – helping boost the enrollment at several of these colleges and universities.