The Cast of A Different World Take a Trip Down Memory Lane, and I’ve Never Wanted to Be a Hillman Alum So Bad

Opening Credit Scene of Season 1 of A Different World
Opening Credit Scene of Season 1 of A Different World
Screenshot: YouTube/Steven Brandt

Mellifluous.

A word that means “having a smooth rich flow,” as defined by Merriam-Webster.

It’s also a word that I first heard many years ago while watching an episode of A Different World, uttered by Freddie’s then-boyfriend Shazza while explaining God knows what to who knows who.

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At the time, I thought the word sounded bizarre (blame my youth) but oddly cool. Since then, it’s a word I’ve adopted into my everyday language that I’ve even taken the liberty of conjugating to fit any occasion. (Ex: What are you doing, Shanelle? Oh nothing, just mellifluating. You see?) Now, in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, the word seems like a fitting adjective to describe the groundbreaking series, experiences and memories the cast of A Different World all share.

In conversation with Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison, Darryl M. Bell, Cree Summer, Sinbad, Dawnn Lewis, director Debbie Allen, writer Yvette Lee Bowser, producer Susan Fales-Hill and more—the Hillman crew took us all back to those blessed Blackity-Black college streets and man, I never wanted to go to a fake college so bad.

Could You Picture This…?

In a revelation that was particularly intriguing, Hardison and Bell were both up for the role of Dwayne Wayne. Obviously, Kadeem won out but the thought of Ron being Dwayne and Dwayne possibly being Ron is just, WOW.

From Vanity Fair:

Kadeem Hardison (Dwayne Wayne): I had just finished filming School Daze [with Jasmine Guy and Darryl M. Bell], and I’d come to L.A. to visit some friends. Since I knew Lisa, I went and saw a taping of A Different World. It was just her, Dawnn, and Marisa, and I thought, This could use something.

Darryl M. Bell (Ron Johnson): Through School Daze, Kadeem and I got really close. He’s a big gamer now, but he had never played video games until we were filming in Atlanta, where I’d brought my Nintendo. He would be in my room every night playing video games.

Hardison: Two weeks after I went to the taping, I got a call that they were auditioning people for extra characters. I auditioned and then I got a call from Darryl. He was like, “You heard about this Cosby spinoff audition?” I was like, “Yeah, I just went in.” He was like, “I just went in.” I was like, “Oh, for who?” “Dwayne Wayne.” And I was like, “You went in for Dwayne Wayne? I went in for Dwayne Wayne.”

Bell: I think there were three of us, maybe four, that went to network for the part of Dwayne Wayne. Kadeem went in first and you could hear the laughing outside in the hallway while the rest of us were waiting.

Hardison: By the time I got to the middle of the room you could feel this swell, like “Is he going to make it? Is he going to make it?” I got all the way to the last one and hit it. And they just erupted applauding and applauding and applauding.

Bell: Kadeem got the job but he’s a New Yorker, so he [came] to L.A. and moved in with me. He didn’t have a driver’s license, so I would have to take him in to work every day—to the job I auditioned for and didn’t get.

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Making It Authentic...

The cast also discussed their displeasure with the first season. Yvette Lee Bowser and producer Susan Fales-Hill recall a time before season two where they went on an HBCU tour to get insights from students on the things they experienced in real life. That’s also about the time, Allen says, that she got the call from show creator Bill Cosby to come on and work her magic.

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“We were on our grind, doing our due diligence to make sure that we could bring as many authentic elements to the show as possible going forward,” Bowser explained.

Allen added, “I had been asked to work on Family Ties, but then I got this call from Bill and he said, ‘You know we need you to come and get out your broom; clean it up and bring reality to it.’ So that’s what I did. I made that choice.”

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Fales-Hill echoed similar sentiments by saying, “It was in our second season with Debbie as our director and executive producer that we really started to find our own voice.”

Saying Goodbye...

And find their voice they did. A Different World went on for six seasons, wrapping up much to the dismay of the cast and crew. Despite consistently staying in the No. 2 spot for top-rated television (only behind The Cosby Show and sometimes surpassing it outright), the network decided that a seventh season would not be in the cards. Coupled with the lack of recognition for both the Emmys and Golden Globes, the show’s ending proved to be a bittersweet moment for everyone involved.

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Vanity Fair has the scoop:

Fales-Hill: I’m not somebody who beats her chest about oppression, but when you see the way certain white shows at the same time frame were assessed versus the way we were assessed, it had everything to do with color.

Guy: I remember doing The Dennis Miller Show and he asked, “How does it feel being between the number one show and the number three show, Cosby and Cheers?” And I kind of, not stuttered, but I was trying to regroup. And he said, “That’s a messed up question to ask you.” I said, “Yeah, it is. But I’m still good.” I don’t look for those accolades. I know that the show never won an Emmy, but it never felt like we were part of that party anyway.

Bell: There were a lot of people who wanted to say, “Yeah, you’re just [successful] because you’re in the time slot behind The Cosby Show.” They didn’t want to give us credit for being as good as we were.

Bowser: If I allow myself to feel slighted by the lack of recognition, it would be a very sad life. I wouldn’t have been able to move forward, quite frankly. A Different World definitely should have been more lauded and acknowledged for its popularity and its contribution to society, but we were making a show for the people, not for the accolades.

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Allen added, “There were a lot of politics going on behind the scenes, and none of us will ever truly know all of it. [Though] I have to say, I witnessed a great deal of resentment towards Bill Cosby’s power, and Marcy and Tom. Six years is a nice, good run [but] I didn’t like how it ended. It went off the air unceremoniously. It was not nice.”

“And it was very hurtful to my entire company—the cast, the writers, the producers, the cameramen. We had worked to a fault and we had become kind of like a new search engine of what was possible. For us to go off the air so unceremoniously, I don’t know. I’ll let the powers that be…they’ll live with that.”

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To check out the full interview (and I implore that you do because it was truly feel-good read), head to vanityfair.com.

DISCUSSION

straightoutofpangaea
The Thugnificent Pangaean

In conversation with Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison, Darryl M. Bell, Cree Summer, Sinbad, Dawnn Lewis, director Debbie Allen, writer Yvette Lee Bowser, producer Susan Fales-Hill and more

I really wish this conversation includes Lisa Bonet and Cosby’s decision to write her, the original lead character, off the show while pregnant with her husband’s baby. According to Wiki, Allen was read to include a pregnant mother going to an HBCU and Cosby pulled the plug on that idea, causing a 2nd season rewrite.