‘A Different World’: Marisa Tomei Was Fired Because Executive Opposed Inter-Racial Dating Story

Oscar winner Marisa Tomei got her start on A Different World. She was only on the first season as Hillman College student Maggie Lauton. Things worked out for Tomei after A Different World, but her departure from the Cosby Show spinoff was unceremonious.

'A Different World' stars Marisa Tomei, Lisa Bonet and Dawnn Lewis fold their arms
L-R: Dawnn Lewis, Lisa Bonet, and Marisa Tomei | NBCU Photo Bank

Debbie Allen would produce A Different World from season 2 on. In 2006, she joined her cast for a Television Critics Association panel when the show joined the Nick at Night lineup. Asked about Tomei’s departure, Allen told the truth about how executives froze out the star. 

Debbie Allen made some changes to ‘A Different World’ in season 2

Allen inherited A Different World after a season. The show began in Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet)’s freshman year, but Bonet did not return for the second season. Allen added some new characters like Freddie Brooks (Cree Summer), Kim Reese (Charnele Brown) and Shazza Zulu (Gary Dourdan). She also had ideas for existing ones. 

“When I took over the show, I wanted to take every character and expand and explore, as well as add new characters,” Allen said. “That’s when I found Cree, Charnele Brown. I brought in Gary Dordan. Every year we tried to find new faces, and I had great ideas for Marisa Tomei.”

‘A Different World’ Season 2 Marisa Tomei storyline was provocative

Even in 2006, 13 years after A Different World ended, Allen remembered the stories she never got to do with Maggie and Dwayne Wayne (Kadeem Hardison). Dwayne and Whitley (Jasmine Guy) were the show’s will they or won’t they, but Allen would have paired Maggie and Dwayne.

“I thought that she and Kadeem, Dwayne Wayne, would be friends,” Allen said. “We could do an episode where she actually goes home with him for Thanksgiving and it would be Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. And then his momma would not like it, him coming home with a little white girl. And I thought this would be great to show the reverse racism or to show those kind of challenges.”

NBC executives pushed Marisa Tomei out 

Allen remembers the executives’ resistance to her ideas. Not only didn’t they want Allen to produce that Thanksgiving episode, but they removed Tomei from A Different World over it. Tomei did a few movies immediately after but four years later came My Cousin Vinny.


‘A Different World’: The History-Making Clause Debbie Allen Put in the Cast’s Contracts

“Well, they did not like that idea,” Allen recalled. “I thought it was very progressive. I said, ‘How can you have one white character in an all-black dorm and you don’t deal with that? You should deal with it somehow.’ I mean, unless we’re going to add at least three other people, you know, something. So they weren’t inclined to do anything and so it was the executive of the show’s decision to take her off the show because I really was looking forward to having her and doing something with her.”