‘Different World’ Goes Beyond Realm of ‘Sitcom’


Television writer Rick Du Brow left a few ideological participles dangling in his column item (Calendar, Dec. 3) relating to “A Different World.” Since the Los Angeles Film Teachers Assn. recently chose to honor that series with its first Responsibility in Television Award, I question his beginning the item (even though it was basically positive) by stating “ ‘A Different World’ isn’t exactly a world-class sitcom.”

In my opinion, “A Different World” is world-class, and “A Different World” is not a “sitcom.”

As is the case with many other comedy series, “A Different World” has extended itself beyond the limitations inherent in the designation “sitcom.” “Sitcom” implies the what-can-I-do?-I’ve-invited-two-girls-to-the-prom school of half-hour diversion which, it is true, takes up far too much room on television, prime time or any time.

But there is an encouraging number of fine weekly shows which, like “A Different World,” graduated to another level and still prospered in the difficult world of ratings. To refer to “All in the Family,” “Maude,” “Murphy Brown,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “MASH,” “The Cosby Show,” “Cheers,” “Taxi,” “Designing Women” and many others as “sitcoms” misses the whole denigrating point of that word.


We chose to make “A Different World” the first honoree of our television award because it is meeting its idea-addressing responsibilities to its audience bravely and passionately. Reaching one of the largest audiences of young people of any program, the show--at least from the perspective of teachers who know how badly television can bend and bruise young minds--respects its obligation to deal with issues as well as with humor.

In the course of the past year, “A Different World” has presented fully-dimensional, objective and even painful consideration of such real-world concerns as AIDS, date rape, scholastic application, affirmative action, the cons as well as the pros of the Gulf intervention and sexual responsibility. In fact, the substance of Du Brow’s item was that the Dec. 5 episode of this series dealt with so brave a subject as black self-perception and self-esteem, considering some delicate realities which are rarely addressed on deep-thought hour shows, much less “sitcoms.”

I would offer this week’s episode (Thursday night) of “A Different World” as further evidence. I had an opportunity to read the script for this program, and it confronts the very language of hatred which perpetuates our social separations.

We at LAFTA felt powerfully validated in our selection of “A Different World” as our first Responsibility Award designee when we learned that the writers and producers had celebrated their 100th episode by underwriting a $30,000 scholarship program administered by the United Negro College Fund, sharing their well-merited good fortune with three young people who now will be able to pursue higher education.

The cast members of “A Different World,” by the way, are powerful and positive role models, infusing primary and high school students, especially minority students, with the desire to extend their education, their minds and their opportunities at the university level.

The Responsibility in Television Award, first presented to the producers of “A Different World,” is the small-screen sibling of our Jean Renoir Film Humanities Award, which has been received graciously by such artists and organizations as Frank Capra, King Vidor, LucasFilm, the National Film Board of Canada, Robert B. Radnitz, Martin Ritt and many other distinguished creative forces.

We initiated the Responsibility in Television Award to encourage the aspiration of a medium whose frequent failure to aspire is acknowledged by such goal-limiting terms as “sitcom.”

There must be a word which better and more accurately describes those half-hour shows which have dared and explored, which have respect for the audience’s intelligence and which have respect for their own ability to tap into and expand that intelligence.