A Different World is an American television sitcom which aired for six seasons on NBC from September 24, 1987 – July 9, 1993. It is a spin-off series from The Cosby Show and originally centered on Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) and the life of students at Hillman College, a fictional historically black college in the state of Virginia, inspired by student life at Howard University. After Bonet’s departure in the first season, the remainder of the series primarily focused more on Southern belle Whitley Gilbert (Jasmine Guy) and mathematics whiz Dwayne Wayne (Kadeem Hardison).
While it was a spin-off from The Cosby Show, A Different World typically addressed issues that were avoided by The Cosby Show writers (race and class relations, or the Equal Rights Amendment). One episode that aired in 1990 was one of the first American network television episodes to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The original premise was to have a white student there and have Lena Horne as an acting teacher, but in production, the premise changed from being a story about a white girl in a black college to a black girl (Denise Huxtable) in a black college with a white friend. It was ultimately decided that Denise, who was of college age, would be spun off and have a white roommate in order to show the dynamic of a white girl in predominantly-black surroundings. Meg Ryan was originally cast for this role, but she decided to pursue a film career, so Marisa Tomei was cast. The first season of Hillman’s student body consisted of both black and white students, but this was changed at the beginning of the second season and a very predominantly-black student body maintained until the series ended.