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Old 07-19-2006, 04:04 PM   #1
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Default The Cast Of A Different World Gathers To Celebrate Classic Sitcom

'Different,' but still the same
Cable revives black college sitcom
By JOANNE WEINTRAUB
Journal Sentinel TV critic
Posted: July 13, 2006
Television



Joanne Weintraub
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Pasadena, Calif. - The most talked-about cast member had the least to say when the alumni of "A Different World" gathered Thursday to celebrate a milestone.

Lisa Bonet, who grew up in front of a huge audience on NBC's "Cosby Show" in the mid-'80s, took her character, Denise Huxtable, off to the "Different World" of fictitious Hillman College in 1987. While the spinoff went on to be a solid hit for six years, star Bonet lasted only a single season, leaving to take on a series of mostly disappointing movies before virtually disappearing from the public eye to raise her two children in the mid-'90s.

So her appearance at this month's fall TV preview marathon for critics was a bit of an event. The occasion was the Nick at Nite cable channel's launch of the show with a four-hour marathon starting at 9 p.m. Wednesday. The show then will settle into a regular slot at 9 p.m. Wednesdays, its first regular appearance in prime time in almost two decades.

Co-star Sinbad, whose role as Coach Oakes gave his acting career a big boost, joked that he had recently spotted the reclusive Bonet at a grocery store but hesitated to approach his former castmate because "I didn't want you to think I was a stalker."

He praised Bonet, one of the 1980s' most popular TV actresses, as "the first true sitcom superstar."

But the 38-year-old beauty, casually dressed and appearing thinner than she was 20 years ago, was much more reserved in her appraisal.

Her impact, she said, was because of her groundbreaking TV role as a student at a historically black college - Hillman was modeled on Atlanta's Spelman College - where she was surrounded by high-achieving young African-Americans of all personalities and persuasions.

"When people approach me, it's usually people who are so grateful to have somebody that they (could) identify with, because that just wasn't out there yet," Bonet said. "That's the most common feedback that I get, how grateful people have been to have a reflection that represented something that they could relate to."

As for her sporadic work of the last few years, which has included appearances in the movies "High Fidelity" and "Enemy of the State," Bonet said:

"I want to do something meaningful. I don't want to portray some caricature of some stereotype that is in the news at the moment. I mean, I think for me, it's this collision of meaning and my own desire for creative fulfillment. I'm sure that's probably what every artist longs for, (but) you just get stuck in a pigeonhole."

Some others associated with the show have had higher profiles. Director-producer Debbie Allen and Kadeem Hardison, who played student Dwayne Wayne, recently finished work on a TV movie about "American Idol" star Fantasia Barrino.

"One of the greatest legacies we've left is that we (increased) the enrollment of historically black colleges," Allen said of the sitcom. "That's a huge, huge legacy."

Added Darryl Bell, who played Dwayne's sidekick, Ron: "I think we also left a legacy, whether people want to acknowledge it or not, that young African-Americans can star on a network television show and be a Top 5 show. That's overlooked. Everyone says that it can't happen or that it was a fluke, and it wasn't.

"I think also, particularly thanks to Debbie, that we proved you can be funny and topical at the same time. We could attack war. We dealt with AIDS and date rape."

In a way, reflected Sinbad, "the show was a problem. You look back - black shows were just happening. . . . It wasn't supposed to succeed and it (did).

"This show was never given the accolades it should have."

Jasmine Guy, who played Southern belle Whitley Gilbert and went on to roles on PBS and elsewhere, said: "One thing I was proud of was the variety of people that went to Hillman, because up until then (black actors) were used as tokens. There was a certain way you were supposed to 'act black.' And this show had all different kinds of black people."

In addition to its regular cast, "A Different World" also provided roles for Jada Pinkett Smith, Whoopi Goldberg and other African-American stars.

Early in the comedy's run, Marisa Tomei played one of Hillman's few white students.

Allen said she was disappointed when she suggested a romantic subplot involving Tomei's character and Hardison's and was told it wouldn't fly.
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Old 07-19-2006, 04:09 PM   #2
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Lisa Bonet "First true sitcom superstar"??????????? excuse me while I


Allen being disappointed at the interracial relationship with Marisa and a black guy is also disappointing to me also. In this day and age, what is wrong with that????? Idiots! We have seen so much violence on television, that a romance between two people (regardless of their race) is a nice thing to see.
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Old 07-19-2006, 04:21 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Ireneparalegal
Lisa Bonet "First true sitcom superstar"??????????? excuse me while I


Allen being disappointed at the interracial relationship with Marisa and a black guy is also disappointing to me also. In this day and age, what is wrong with that????? Idiots! We have seen so much violence on television, that a romance between two people (regardless of their race) is a nice thing to see.
He must have forgoten about Lucille Ball.
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Old 07-19-2006, 04:27 PM   #4
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He must have forgoten about Lucille Ball.
EXACTLY!!!!!! He must have been at a loss for words and that crap just spewed out of his mouth...
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Old 07-19-2006, 05:07 PM   #5
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Somebody point Sinbad towards reality and give him a push!

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Old 07-19-2006, 06:24 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ireneparalegal
Lisa Bonet "First true sitcom superstar"??????????? excuse me while I


Allen being disappointed at the interracial relationship with Marisa and a black guy is also disappointing to me also. In this day and age, what is wrong with that????? Idiots! We have seen so much violence on television, that a romance between two people (regardless of their race) is a nice thing to see.

Maybe I misread that part, but to me it seemed like she was disappointed that her idea of Marisa Tomei being in an interracial relationship was rejected. That's what I thought she meant.
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Old 07-19-2006, 06:26 PM   #7
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Maybe I misread that part, but to me it seemed like she was disappointed that her idea of Marisa Tomei being in an interracial relationship was rejected. That's what I thought she meant.
Allen was disappointed. I was agreeing with her disappointment.
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Old 07-19-2006, 06:26 PM   #8
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Here's more to the article:

'Different World' making comeback
By Kevin D. Thompson

Palm Beach Post Television Writer

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

PASADENA, Calif. — It ran for six successful seasons on NBC. The show never fell out of the Top 20 during its entire run. It made you laugh and think while tackling such pric-kly issues as AIDS, apartheid, politics and date rape — topics that were rarely explored on lighthearted TV comedies.

Yet, A Different World, a progressive sitcom about dorm life at a fictitious historically black college, never got the respect it deserved after fading off the air in 1993. Unlike such NBC hits as Cheers, Seinfeld, Frasier and Will & Grace, The Cosby Show spinoff just limped away without any fanfare or splashy farewell promotion.

There were no one-hour retrospectives or big magazine cover stories lamenting the end of a great series.

"It was like an insult or a slap," recalls Sinbad, who played a wisecracking dorm director and gym teacher. "They ended the show on a Saturday night when nobody would see it. (The network) said, 'Let's just put you away and put you on the shelf.' "

But 13 years after A Different World ended, the series is enjoying a welcomed renaissance. The series has enjoyed a successful run on Oxygen. And starting today (10 p.m.) with a four-hour marathon, World joins Nickelodeon's Nick at Nite lineup. The show will air in its regularly scheduled weeknight 10 p.m. timeslot starting Monday.

Despite the new-found attention, it's obvious that the sting of being overlooked for so long hasn't gone away for the show's cast.

"This show was never ever given the accolades it should have had," says Sinbad.

"It's a lie that young African-Americans can't star on a network television show and be a Top 5 show," observes Darryl Bell, who played the hip Ron Johnson. "Everyone tries to ignore that fact and say that it can't happen (again) or that it was a fluke and it wasn't."

That World lasted as long as it did was a surprise. Initial reviews were dismal. The show's original intent was to make a star out of Lisa Bonet — or as most viewers knew her, Denise Huxtable on The Cosby Show.

World was to follow Denise's adjustment to college and her new roommates after she had lived in her parents' upper-middle-class nest her entire life. But Bonet left the show after one season due to her real-life pregnancy.

Bonet's departure, however, was something of a blessing.

Enter Debbie Allen, the actress/dancer/producer/director, who took over the reins after the show's first season. Allen, a graduate of Howard University, quickly put her stamp on World by adding several new cast members and instituting an annual trip to such real black colleges as Spelman and Morehouse to meet with students and faculty so the writers could come up with story ideas.

Moreover, Aretha Franklin — The Queen of Soul — was hired to replace Phoebe Snow and sing the show's new theme song. The series also wasn't afraid to showcase African-American history, fashion, dance and music even if white viewers didn't get it — or like it.

Critics noticed the radical changes — as did viewers.

The Hollywood Reporter, for instance, noted that A Different World, which launched the careers of such actresses as Jasmine Guy, Marisa Tomei and Jada Pinkett Smith, was transformed "from a bland Cosby spinoff into a lively, socially responsible, ensemble situation comedy."

Says Allen: "We tripled enrollment of historically black colleges. And that's a huge, huge legacy."

Allen believes such shows as Living Single, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and even Friends owe a partial debt to A Different World.

"They were certainly inspired by the work we did," she says.

Sinbad says he'll always remember how the tenacious Allen fought to make World a socially relevant sitcom and not just a funny one.

"We ran from no subject," he recalls. "When Debbie came on the show, there was no subject that could not be dealt with and that was a testament to this lady who also catches hell in the business."

For instance, Allen wanted to showcase Tomei's character, the only white student on campus.

"I thought that she and Dwayne Wayne (played by Kadeem Hardison) would be friends and we could do an episode where she actually goes home with him for Thanksgiving and it would be 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner,' and his momma would not like him coming home with a little white girl," Allen remembers. "Well, they did not like that idea. I thought it was very progressive. I said, 'How can you have one white character in an all-black dorm and you don't deal with that?"

The final result: Tomei's character was dumped. But she went on to win an Oscar for her role in My Cousin Vinny.

The main reason why World was often overlooked was because it was a Cosby spinoff. The show never really stepped out of that sizable shadow.

"We were always looked at as a show that succeeded just because it followed Cosby," says Bell. "When we look at our success in syndication now, people still find the show topical. The shows still (resonate) the same way they did then. That's our reward."
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Old 07-19-2006, 06:27 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Ireneparalegal
Allen was disappointed. I was agreeing with her disappointment.

Oh...my bad.
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Old 07-19-2006, 06:37 PM   #10
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I think the show stayed better longer than Cosby did.. After the first season whiich I didn't like it was a great show. Cosby on the other hand had many ups and down seasons during the later years.
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Old 07-19-2006, 06:54 PM   #11
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I think A Different World was a great show. I think it broke barriers in the sense that many people were looking for this black show to not do so well.
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Old 07-19-2006, 10:36 PM   #12
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I'm surprised Lisa was there, I didn't think she wanted anything to do with things related to the show.
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Old 07-27-2006, 01:18 PM   #13
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Here are the pictures:
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Old 07-27-2006, 01:19 PM   #14
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Jasmine Guy, Lisa Bonet, Debbie Allen and Dawnn Lewis
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Old 07-27-2006, 01:21 PM   #15
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Here are the pictures:
God, how awful Lisa looks. she looks so sunken in...terrible.

Cree Summer was always very pretty to me. She does voice over work for the Nickelodeon channel. She provides one of the voices on the Rugrats cartoon. In between cartoons they showed the various people who provide the voices and they showed Cree Summer at work doing the voice. She still looks so pretty.
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