Virginia’s fictional HBCU, Hillman College, gave us many phenomenal entertainers over the years. The television sitcom A Different World featured an excellent cast with Lisa Bonet, Loretta Devine, Sinbad, Kadeem Hardison, Jasmine Guy, and Jada Pinkett Smith, among others. But as with any show, changes are bound to happen. A few cast members were noticeably absent when the show moved into its second season. Loretta Devine, who only appeared for one season of the show, is speaking about her sudden departure after the first season,
Season one of A Different World, first airing in September of 1987, had Lisa Bonet, Marisa Tomei, and Loretta Devine in the main cast. Dreamgirls star Loretta Devine played in ten episodes of the first season as Stevie Rallen, Gilbert Hall’s dorm director and a graduate student of the Hillman College. But midseason, Devine reportedly exited the series to “pursue her own interests,” according to actress Dawnn Lewis who portrayed the role of “Jaleesa Taylor.”
As it turns out, the initial reason given in 1988 to the Washington Post may not have been the whole truth. Many of the show’s cast and crew reunited with Vanity Fair in 2021 to speak on their experience. According to the Emmy Award-winning actress, she was seemingly let go from her role. Devine told the publication that she arrived to work one day and discovered that her on-set apartment had been removed. “It was just a door,” she said, which clued her in that “Stevie Rallen” was no longer coming back to the show. The removal left Loretta Devine “devastated,” saying, “I thought everything was just over.” Her character was replaced by Tony Award-winning actress Mary Alice, who played the role of “Leticia ‘Lettie’ Bostic.”
Actresses Lisa Bonet and Marisa Tomei were also missing when the show returned for its second season. Oscar-winning actress Marisa Tomei first appeared on the soap opera As The World Turns before being cast in A Different World as one of the main characters in the show, “Maggie Lauten.” She was considered one of Hillman College’s first white students and was the roommate of “Jaleesa” and “Denise Huxtable,” who was played by Lisa Bonet.
But season two brought the show’s creators leaning in a different direction culturally, one which no longer involved Tomei’s character. According to Dawnn Lewis’s account to Vanity Fair, they had an incredible time working together, and she was sad to see her go. Tomei also recounted some of her experiences to HipHollywood in 2019, telling them it was “one of the most fun times in my life.” The actress also expressed that she imagines her character returning to the show as a “professor” if given the opportunity.
Lisa Bonet, who was coming off of The Cosby Show fame, was also missing from the second season as she became pregnant by her then-husband, Lenny Kravitz. A Different World was centered around her character as it was a spin-off to The Cosby Show and her departure caused many changes once Bill Cosby reportedly fired her due to being pregnant. Many reports stated that Cosby was fine with Bonet being pregnant but “not Denise Huxtable,” despite claims that producers felt the idea would be innovative at the time.
Actor Kadeem Hardison, who played the role of “Dwayne Wayne,” discussed the changes during a Hip Hop Uncensored podcast interview. Hardison shared that they learned of the changes upon arriving to set as they had occurred during the summer. He claims that Debbie Allen’s presence was “great,” and they were “happy that she was taking over,” but questioned where his former co-stars were. The cast and crew were then told, “Bossman said, ‘That’s not happening.'”
Removing his co-stars left him unhappy as he felt that Denise Huxtable being pregnant would have been “phenomenal” and inspiring to portray. Calling Bonet his friend, Hardison said, “it seemed like she was getting suckered out of a job and all the stuff we could’ve done together as a cast.”
Actress Jasmine Guy, who famously portrayed “Whitley Gilbert” on the show, also mirrored those sentiments. While speaking with Vanity fair, she expressed that both she and Hardison were concerned for their futures at the time. Guy stated that they began to worry about being removed in the upcoming seasons. However, they were prominent cast members for the show’s six-season run.