It’s a Thursday night during the late 1980’s to early 1990’s-something. There were only three major networks – CBS, NBC, and CBS with FOX slowing making it’s way on the scene. However, NBC had the 8 o’clock hour on lock with an hour of comedy designed to entertain and educate.
The “Cosby Hour” was time for family time with the Huxtables via The Cosby Show and class time on the campus of Hillman College via A Different World. Actress/director, Jasmine Guy, portrayed Whitley Gilbert on A Different World. The show came during a “wave” of work that included School Daze, Harlem Knights and Queen. These roles, more importantly her presence on the weekly show A Different World would establish her as a talented force on the acting scene. She reflects on the power of the “Cosby Hour”. “I feel like we impacted the country in way that it’s harder to do now because of the kind of power you can have with just three networks.” She adds, “The whole country was watching the show at the same time because we weren’t DVRing our shows.”
So the time to watch a show was the time it actually came on television. A platform of that magnitude produced a legion of young people who now saw higher education in a different way. So, while Hillman was a fictitious institution of higher learning, Guy feels one of the great things about show is it showcased some real experiences and opportunities for America to see that Black was more than one thing. “I loved that the show we had a diversity of black people. We weren’t all from the same neighborhoods, we didn’t look the same, we had different cultural principles and ways of living,” Guy shares. “I was able to go as far as I was with Whitney because of the diversity. It wasn’t like Whitley was representing the whole race. I knew that I could say politically incorrect things because Freddy was going to say the right thing or Dwayne was going to get Whitley.”
The diversity allowed for a variety in voice. There was going to be someone on the show to have the right voice, which deepened the message and connectivity of the characters. Things that Guy attributes to the genius of Bill Cosby in creating a show like A Different World. “He said I’m going to do a spin-off and put it on an HBCU campus. In doing that he made a huge statement, about education about access, about the value of black colleges, and the value of going to college.”
As the theme song states, “Here’s a chance to make it, If we focus on our goals.” The goal was to create a show that would positively impact a nation and that’s exactly what happened. Even almost three decades later, A Different World’s influences can be seen and heard.
Stay tuned for more with Jasmine Guy and what’s happening in her world post-A Different World.