While playing roommates on the show, co-stars Lisa Bonet and Marisa Tomei lived together in real life.
Originally, the character of Whitley was to only appear in the pilot. She became so popular that she become a regular, and made Jasmine Guy the star of the show.
Alfonso Ribeiro was originally set to reprise his role as Zach Duncan as a series regular. He chose to do The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990) instead.
Although Lisa Bonet and Cree Summer were never on the show together, they're best friends in real life.
The show's popularity with young African-American viewers has been credited with boosts in enrollments at several real life historically African American colleges. A number of non African American students have also claimed that they were inspired to pursue a college education by the series as well.
In August 2006, Nick At Nite premiered new shorts titled "Hillman College Reunion" with cast members reprising their characters. The shorts featured Lisa Bonet, Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison, Darryl M. Bell, Cree Summer, and Sinbad. They aired during a week-long marathon of the series.
During the first season, Whitley's roommate and protégée Millie was written out of the series as actress Marie-Alice Recasner was planning to have a child. Producers also wanted Whitley to have a roommate/confidante who was more of a strong willed and independent contrast, resulting in the creation of Kim.
The show was revamped for the second season not only due to Lisa Bonet's departure, but also in response to criticism that the show didn't accurately depict a historically black college, or college life in general. Debbie Allen, who was named producer prior to season two, began to draw on her own experiences as a graduate of Howard University to add to the show. In addition, Allen and the show's writing staff would make annual visits to black colleges to research campus life, issues and events and employ those factors in the series.
Dawnn Lewis left the show prior to the final season to co-star on Hangin' with Mr. Cooper (1992). The absence of Jaleesa (as well as her and Col Taylor's newborn baby) was never explained.
Kadeem Hardison (Dwayne) and Cree Summer (Freddie) were in a long-term relationship during the show's run. Summer said she was never bothered by Hardison's character's on-screen romance with Jasmine Guy (Whitley), stating that she and Guy were like sisters in real life, the direct opposites of their characters.
The inspiration for the accent of Jasmine Guy's character Whitley came from her 5th grade teacher Ms. Pinkford, as told by Jasmine on Intimate Portrait.
Between seasons 2 and 5 the theme song was performed by Aretha Franklin, who had been married to series co-star Glynn Turman prior to the show.
The visuals of the campus buildings and entrance to the fictional Hillman College were of Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
Ron's decision to pursue a career in music resulted in a falling out between himself and his father. Darryl M. Bell who played Ron said that his decision to go into acting had initially resulted in a fallout between himself and his own father.
In the party scene during the "Good Help Is Hard To Find" episode, airing November 8, 1990, the song heard in the background is "Try Me" from the debut album of Jasmine Guy.
Declared Majors of regular characters-Dwayne, Math; Whitley. Art History (Minor in French); Jaleesa, Business; Kim, Pre-Med (attended Medical School in final season); Freddie, Creative Writing (attended Law School during final season); Walter, Masters Degree; Ron, unknown; Lena, Creative Writing; Denise, undeclared; Maggie, Journalism.
Jasmine Guy originally auditioned for the part of Jaleesa. By the time she had officially signed for the series, the opening credits sequences had already been filmed which is why she does not appear in them.
Jasmine Guy and Kadeem Hardison are the only performers to remain with the show for all six seasons. Daryl Bell was there all six seasons, but he was recurring in season 1.
Dawnn Lewis, who played Jaleesa on the show, was one of the songwriters of the show's theme.
The show's theme was sung by Phoebe Snow in the first season. It was sung by Aretha Franklin in seasons two through five. In the final season, it was sung by Boyz II Men.
The series was not initially intended as a direct spin-off from The Cosby Show. The original premise centered around Maggie Lauten (Marisa Tomei) and her experiences as a white student attending a predominantly and historically black college. Eventually, it was decided to include Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) in the series, and Maggie instead became a supporting character. When Debbie Allen took over as producer, she became intrigued by the original idea and wanted the series to partly center around Maggie and explore related issues as part of her revamping the series. Allen even considered a romantic pairing between Maggie and Dwayne (Kadeem Hardison), but ideas relating to Maggie were dropped when Marisa Tomei decided to leave the series.
Darryl M. Bell appeared as Ron throughout the first season, but didn't become a regular until the show's second season.
Whitley's father Mercer Gilbert had been played by 3 different actors Conroy Gedeon, Kenneth Washington and Ron O'Neal. Ron O'Neal also played a different character before he played Whitley's father.
Several characters disappeared from the show without explanation, including: Millie (Whitley's roommate in Season 1), Maggie Lauten (Denise and Jaleesa's roommate and friend in Season 1), Jaleesa Vinson-Taylor (Seasons 1-5), Leticia "Lettie" Bostic (Gilbert Hall's dorm director in Season 2), Ernest Bennett (Freddie's love interest in Season 3), and Terrance Taylor (the son of Colonel Taylor and his first wife who appeared intermittently until Season 5).
Even after Lisa Bonet had left the series, there was still a certain amount of interplay between this show and The Cosby Show (1984). Phylicia Rashad, Lisa Bonet and Joseph C. Phillips appear on an episode during the 1990-1991 season when Dwayne comes to visit Denise. Rashad is also the sister of frequent episode director Debbie Allen. In the 1987-1988 season, Rudy Huxtable (played by Keshia Knight Pulliam ) came to Hillman College to visit Denise. In 1992, a character from the late years of The Cosby show (Charmaine Brown, played by Karen Malina White ) joined the cast of A Different World, as a new student at Hillman College.
During the show's final season, Kim, who had been a pre-med major, was attending medical school while Freddie was attending law school. These reflected the careers of Cliff and Claire Huxtable from The Cosby Show (1984).
Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison and Darryl M. Bell were all featured in supporting roles in the 1988 Spike Lee movie School Daze (1988), which was also set on the campus of a African-American college. The movie was released on February 12, 1988, during the show's first season. Tisha Campbell-Martin and Roger Guenveur Smith, both of whom also acted in School Daze (1988), would go on to have recurring roles in A Different World (1987) as Josie Webb, an HIV-positive student, and Professor Howard Randolph, an African-American History professor, respectively.
The only Cosby Show cast regulars not to appear on A Different World include Geoffrey Owens (Elvin Tibideaux) and Erika Alexander (Pam Tucker).
Prior to the series, Kadeem Hardison, Sinbad, Charnele Brown, Joseph C. Phillips and Lou Myers appeared as unrelated characters on A Different World's parent series The Cosby Show (1984).
At one point in the series' development, there were plans to feature singer Lena Horne as a Hillman professor who also served as a mentor to students. When the series was picked up by NBC, this plan was abandoned. Horne would however appear on the series' during its final season in a guest role as herself.
Bill Cosby made three appearances, all in the first season, as Cliff Huxtable from The Cosby Show. Cliff is only seen in the Huxtable living room or kitchen on the other end of phone calls from Denise. Cliff's only appearance on the Hillman campus was seen in the Cosby Show episode which served as an introduction to A Different World.
Series producer and director Debbie Allen made a handful of acting appearances on the show playing a campus therapist.
Meg Ryan was originally cast to portray the role of Maggie Lauten. However, she turned the series down to focus on pursing her movie career. The role eventually went to Marisa Tomei.
Although Hillman is supposed to be in the state of Virginia, the city is never mentioned.
The fictional sorority Alpha Delta Rho, to which Whitley Gilbert and Kimberly Reese were members, was inspired by and named after three real African-American Greek sororities: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. Debbie Allen, the series' producer, is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. along with her sister, Phylicia Rashad, who portrayed Claire Huxtable in "The Cosby Show".
Whoopi Goldberg and Marisa Tomei were the only Oscar winners on this show. Denzel Washington, who also won an Oscar, also did show up on the set one time and played a trick on Jasmine Guy during the shooting of the 21 Candles episode.
Glynn Turman was originally cast as Han Solo. At the last second George Lucas decided to recast him with a white actor; and Harrison Ford got the part.
Different World started in 1987; right after Different Strokes ended in 1986. That means there were two NBC hit sitcoms about young black people, both with the word "DIFFERENT" in the title; back to back from 1978 to 1993.
Claudette Wells was originally considered for the role of Whitley. But NBC executives preferred Jasmine Guy. Both actors auditioned and Guy won the role.
Kim and Damon Wayans as well as David Allen Grier all make a guest appearance in the first season. They would later go on to star in the improv comedy show "In Living Color"
The show was originally going to be about a white girl going to a HBCU; starring Meg Ryan as Maggie; the central character. But after she was cast Meg Ryan changed her mind, and dropped out to focus on her film career. Then they decided to make it a spinoff to Cosby Show; focusing on Denise Cosby/Lisa Bonet; with the Maggie character recast as Marisa Tomei; now a sidekick to Denise.
It's well known that "Hillman" is a thinly veiled disguise for Howard University; a highly regarded HBCU in America. There is a Hillman Medical Center which is part of Univeristy of Pittsburgh Medical Center; not too far away from Cosby's Alma Matter, Temple University in Philadelphia. That's likely where he got the name "Hillman" from.
Season one; focusing on the girls dorm with Denise and Maggie and the other girl students living in the dorm; and the house mother Mary Alice; is like Facts of Life.
Cree Summer played Penny (Don Adams' daughter) in the Inspector Gadget cartoons before landing the Freddie role in Different World.
Glynn Turman starred in the 1975 blaxploitation movie "Cooley High" before starring on "Different World".
Aretha Franklin version of "A Different World " song was only meant to air for one season and they where to have a different version each season. It got so popular that it went on for 3 more seasons