‘A Different World’: Sinbad Once Said NBC Wanted ‘Cosby Show’ Spinoff to Fail

The NBC comedy A Different World spun off from The Cosby Show in 1987. It lasted until 1993, but one of its stars said the network was rooting for it to fail. Sinbad played Hillman College coach and dorm RA Walter Oakes. The comedian once shared his opinion of their network. 

Sinbad and Lisa Bonet sit on a 'Different World' panel for TV Land in 2006
Sinbad and Lisa Bonet | Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc for Nickelodeon Television

Sinbad was part of a Television Critics Association panel for A Different World when the show joined the Nick at Night lineup in 2006. Here’s why he said A Different World outlasted their expectations. 

Sinbad said ‘A Different World’ did not feel the ‘Cosby Show’ love

The Cosby Show was NBC’s sitcom juggernaut. So you’d think the network would appreciate Bill Cosby gifting them with a spinoff where Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) went off to college. Sinbad said NBC resented A Different World.

“The show was a problem,” Sinbad said. “As a matter of fact, it was almost like the stepchild. It wasn’t supposed to succeed and it’s successful. I was the last cast member to come on. This show was never ever given the accolades it should have had, ever. They was never given the respect as there had been on other shows. It succeeded in spite of the fact they did not want to succeed and because it was a talented cast.”

‘The Cosby Show’ cast a large shadow over ‘A Different World’

Sinbad’s co-star Darryl M. Bell, who played Dwayne Wayne (Kadeem Hardison)’s roommate Ron Johnson, said NBC wouldn’t even credit A Different World with its own success. Yes, Bonet’s character came from The Cosby Show and the spinoff aired immediately after at 8:30, but that only takes a show so far. 

“In the media, our success was attributed to Cosby,” Bell said. “We were always called a time-slot success despite the fact that we were one of the 50 highest-rated shows in the history of television, besides the fact that no other show besides Bewitched has premiered in their debut at the Number 2 spot, despite the fact that we were the only show in our third year to increase, to go from fifth to fourth [in the] top five shows. We were always looked at as a show that succeeded just because we followed Cosby.”

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The Cosby Show bump certainly brought viewers to A Different World, but Bell had proof that wasn’t the only factor. 

“Despite the fact that they tried to air new shows in our time slot and they bombed,” Bell said. “Despite the fact that our ratings were higher than Family Ties in that 8:30 time slot. It bombed. There’s no show that has done as well or successful as our show that is, quote, unquote, ‘forgettable’ in the media. It’s never happened.”

The fans tell Sinbad the truth 

NBC may have denied A Different World the accolades it deserved, but Sinbad always knew the show reached people. The fans who approach him ever since A Different World represent the true reach of the show.

“This show had a fan base — white, black, Asian, Hispanic,” Sinbad said. “Now that’s the thing, a testament to the show, every kid, everybody, every family watched this show because they could touch on everything that was in. That’s what is phenomenal about A Different World. It crossed everything without trying. There was no formula to cross. It just crossed because it shows if Hollywood would take more chances.”