A Different World Alum Kadeem Hardison Explains Why He And Co-Stars Had No Idea The Show Would Become So Iconic

A Different World is still considered one of the best Black sitcoms of the 1990s, which is fitting given its effect on pop culture. Watching a group of friends navigate co-ed life at the renowned Hillman College served as a weekly reminder that young adulthood could be fun and emotional. In the same breath, it inspired millions of students to enroll in college. Unfortunately, the A Different World cast didn’t know about the show’s influence during the series’ original run, according to Kadeem Hardison. Hardison explained why he and his co-stars had no idea the sitcom would become so iconic.

For multiple generations, the K.C. Undercover dad will always be the nerdy engineer student Dwayne Wayne. His fashion alone made an impact on mainstream culture. While viewers loved the character and the show, Hardison didn’t necessarily hear about its influence during the NBC sitcom’s heyday. The actor spilled to The Bakari Sellers Podcast that the cast was informed more about the ratings rather than viewer responses, saying:

You know there was no direct contact with the fans or anybody, you know, who liked the show. So, we pretty much had to go by what the ratings were, which were always kind of mythical. ‘Oh, you have a 21-point something or a 32-point that translates to blah, blah, blah.’ But we didn’t directly feel that.

The network was more concerned about the numbers instead of viewer feedback. But that was expected given a show’s ratings can be the difference between a season renewal and a cancellation, especially in the pre-streaming era. Compared to the current state of television, the 1980s and 1990s shows didn’t get a real-time reaction from fans through social media. While the comedy was a hit, the A Different World cast didn’t feel its impact in real-time. Working on the series made them completely unaware of how iconic it would become, according to Hardison. He said:

I don’t think any of us really knew that what we were doing was going to be that important or that iconic.

The cast did see small glimpses of the college comedy’s impact during its heyday. Hardison revealed seeing Black co-ed college life was translating into increased enrollment for higher education, especially for HBCUs. Multiple institutions experienced enrollment amongst Black students as the numbers doubled (or tripled) over the sitcom’s run.

Other hints about the sitcom’s mark were more direct as the actor recalled grandparents and parents telling him that Dwayne inspired their college-bound kid to become an engineer. In some cases, the student wanted to enroll at an HBCU, more specifically at Hillman (despite being a fake school).

A Different World was a spinoff of the extremely successful The Cosby Show, and initially a vehicle for second-oldest daughter Denise Huxtable (played by Lisa Bonet) as she attended her parents Cliff and Claire’s alma mater Hillman College. Bonet left the show after the first season, causing a shift toward the relationship between Dwayne and Whitley Gilbert, played by Hardison and Jasmine Guy, respectively, before ending in 1993. 

During its six-season run, the NBC comedy went through multiple cast changes and departures, which could’ve included The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air alum Alfonso Ribeiro. The series served as Jada Pinkett Smith’s acting breakthrough before breaking into movies.

Get into all hijinks and high drama of A Different World by subscribing to HBO Max to watch all six seasons. After you finish bingeing the classic show, you can look over CinemaBlend’s 2022 TV schedule to see what comedies will premiere this year.

Adreon Patterson
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A boy from Greenwood, South Carolina. CinemaBlend Contributor. An animation enthusiast (anime, US and international films, television). Freelance writer, designer and artist. Lover of music (US and international).