It was over two decades ago that “A Different World” debuted, but in its day, it was one of TV’s most groundbreaking shows. A spin-off of the ultra-popular “The Cosby Show,” “A Different World” premiered on NBC in September 1987, and it immediately became a hit, sending a whole generation to historically black colleges and universities based on what they saw on the show.
It was the first time that many people – black or white – saw the traditions and history of the nation’s HBCUs explored on TV.
The show was set at the fictional Hillman College in Virginia (though Altanta colleges like Spelman and Clark Atlanta doubled as locations) and initially starred “Cosby” kid Lisa Bonet. By the second season, Bonet was gone, but actors Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison, Cree Summer, Jada Pinkett and Darryl Bell carried the show forward, becoming TV stars in the process.
“A Different World” has been off the air since 1993, but has gotten new life via TV One reruns and on DVD. Here’s what some of the show’s cast is doing these days.
JADA PINKETT SMITH (Lena James) – Although she only appeared on two of the show’s six seasons, Pinkett Smith achieved the biggest stardom of the group after the show ended. The actress has appeared in 25 motion pictures, including “The Human Contract,” her directorial debut. In the 1990s, she was the black film “It Girl,” starring in “Jason’s Lyric,” “Menace II Society” and “Set It Off.” Married to mega-star Will Smith since 1997, the couple has two children, Willow and Jaden, and Will’s firstborn son, Trey, from his first marriage. She is now starring in the medical drama “Hawthorne” on TNT and overseeing the careers of her offspring.
CREE SUMMER (Freddie Brooks) – If you’re wondering what’s up with Cree Summer these days, just ask people who are into cartoons or video games. The actress has been steadily working as a voice actress since her “A Different World” days, voicing over 100 animated characters in cartoons and in video games. Summer has voiced characters on the shows “Inspector Gadget,” “Sonic the Hedgehog” and “Rugrats” and voiced video games from “X-Men: Legends” to “Bratz Forever Diamonds” and many, many more. Summer is also a musician who has released two albums.
JASMINE GUY (Whitley Gilbert) – Once dubbed the most beautiful woman alive by Arsenio Hall, Guy has spent much of her post-TV days in theatre. The Atlanta native was a dancer by trade when she joined “A Different World,” but has seen success mostly as an actress since. She has appeared on TV shows “The Vampire Diaries,” “Dead Like Me” and “Drop Dead Diva” in recent years. In 1990, she released a CD, and in 2004, Guy, a friend of late rap star Tupac Shakur, released an authorized biography on his mother, Afeni, and her Black Panther years. Guy married Terrence Duckett in 1998 and had a daughter, Imani, a year later, but has since divorced.
KADEEM HARDISON (Dwayne Wayne) – New York native Hardison, whose mother is famed model agent Bethann Hardison, worked steadily in his-post “Different World” years, but never quite found the celebrity he enjoyed then. Hardison married singer Chante Moore, and the two had a daughter, Sophia, but are now divorced. In 2006, Hardison played Fantasia Barrino’s father in the Lifetime movie “Life Is Not A Fairy Tale” about the singer’s life and rise to stardom. According to IMDB.com, Hardison once said that co-star Cree Summer was his true love. Hardison has some film projects in the works for 2011.