The Cosby Show and A Different World

The Cosby Show (1984-1992)
A Different World (1987-1993)
Type: Spin Off

   This is a sort of unique spin off situation: a show meant to be a vehicle to spin off a regular cast member from a huge hit show that becomes a huge hit itself only minus that cast member. Too confusing? Lets back up...

   The Cosby Show was not just a huge hit for NBC but also a huge deal for all the networks. Why? Well because at the time it seemed that sitcoms were on the way out. I myself find that almost impossible to believe but that's what they say was happening. Sitcoms were getting to be old hat, getting low ratings... blech!

   Then comes along Bill Cosby playing Cliff Huxtable, doctor and family man. A middle class black family man with a typical family at that! This was also a big deal since network TV wasn't exactly overflowing with happy successful black families. It was an image of black families that was nice to see and rarely portrayed and the show was actually funny to boot! It was a huge hit and its success stopped the networks from letting sitcoms in general Rest In Peace.

   The show was so big that the decision was made, of course, to spin off another show from it. In 1987, Cliff's daughter Denise Huxtable went off to college and her own series A Different World. Denise, played by Lisa Bonet enrolled at fictional Hillman College, a predominantly black university her father and grandfather had attended. The series would center on exploring college life through the eyes of Denise and her friends.

   Well, that was the original plan. The first season was maybe a bit more sitcommy and less true to college life than had been hoped. Former dancer Debbie Allen was brought on as a producer and she set about making the show better reflect life at a black university. Cast changes were made, including the loss of the one white character, Maggie, played by the on-her-way-to-fame, soon-to-be-an-Academy-Award-winner Marisa Tomei. More surprisingly though was the departure of Lisa Bonet and her character Denise! What the hey? She was the star right? For whatever reason she decided to leave and the show shifted focus, making former supporting players Jasmine Guy as Whitley and Kadeem Hardison as Dwayne Wayne the new central figures on the show. Lisa Bonet would later actually return as a regular playing Denise... on The Cosby Show.

   So you have a spin off that had just a so-so first season, whose star - the only tie to the parent show - quits. Plus it's being overhauled and majorly reworked for season two. Sounds like a formula for doom. The star is gone! Tinkering! These are very bad signs. Few shows that get tinkered with ever emerge the better for it. So here's the weirdest part: the show actually went on to thrive and become a respectable hit running six years! Incredible! It was on long enough to see Dwayne and Whitley fall in love, graduate and get married as well as other characters evolve and change just like most people do in their college years. The show made stars out of Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison and standup comic Sinbad. All things considered, pretty dang impressive.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This site is dedicated to TV crossovers. It deals with many many series and not just The Cosby Show and A Different World. I am not an expert on either of these shows and I have no direct connection to them. Before you write me about these shows, please understand I don't have info on episodes, music played in the shows, the clothing worn or if a reunion show is being planned. Sorry.

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