During its six-season run from the late 1980s to early 90s, the Cosby Show spinoff, A Different World, became a fresh balance of comedy and drama that spoke true to the experiences of young black adults of that time. Now three decades after its first show, the life lessons, groundbreaking issues and moments of love are still way ahead of their time and prove that the show still has staying power today.
Dwayne Wayne, Whitley Gilbert, Ron, Kym, Freddie, Jaleesa, Colonel Taylor, and Mr. Gaines rounded out the cast of characters that kept us laughing, talking about issues and wishing we were all a student at the fictional Hillman University.
Every show in the ’80s and ’90s had special episodes dealing with sensitive subjects, but none of them targeted topics like A Different World did. Each of the special episodes came from a young, collegiate perspective. More than that, they came from the perspective of people of color. Allen produced and directed some of these amazingly titled episodes, which included one where Dwayne rescued Freddie from date rape (“No Means No”); an episode where Whitley stands up to a boss who was sexually harassing her (“Bedroom at the Top”); and domestic abuse in “Love Taps.” It was also one of the first shows to address HIV/AIDS with an episode about the student body’s ignorant reactions to a girl who is HIV positive (“If I Should Die Before I Wake”).
Debbie Allen was a graduate of Howard University and aimed to make A Different World more realistically reflect the historically black college experience. Throughout her tenure on the show, Allen took the writing staff on an annual “field trip” to Spelman and Morehouse Colleges in Atlanta.
There they not only saw the latest in dorm furnishings and college fashions, they also chatted with students and administrators to find out what issues were hot topics that could be used in future episodes.