Spin-off of The Cosby Show, the original premise of the series was abandoned after the first season due to Lisa Bonet's exiting the show.
Even after Lisa Bonet had left the series, there was still a certain amount of interplay between this show and The Cosby Show. Phylicia Rashad, Lisa Bonet and Joseph C. Phillips appear on an episode during the 1990-1991 season when Dwayne comes to visit Denise. Rashad is also the sister of frequent episode director Debbie Allen. In the 1987-1988 season, Rudy Huxtable(played by Keshia Knight Pulliam)came to Hillman College to visit Denise. In 1992, a character from the late years of The Cosby show (Charmaine Brown, played by Karen Malina White) joined the cast of A Different World, as a new student at Hillman College.
In the party scene during the "Good Help Is Hard To Find" episode, airing November 8, 1990, the song heard in the background is "Try Me" from the debut album of Jasmine Guy.
The visuals of the campus buildings and entrance to the fictional Hillman College were of Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
Lisa Bonet left the show because she was pregnant and the writers could not write around this or exclude her from many scenes or episodes, as she was supposed to be the main character.
Originally, the character of Whitley was to only appear in just the pilot. However, she became so popular that not only did she become a regular, but it helped to make Jasmine Guy the star of the show.
The show's theme was sung by Phoebe Snow in the first season. It was sung by from season's two through five was sung by Aretha Franklin. In the final season, it was sung by Boyz II Men.
Dawnn Lewis, who played Jaleesa on the show, was one of the songwriters of the show's theme.
Prior to the series, Kadeem Hardison, Sinbad, Charnele Brown and Lou Myers appeared as unrelated characters on A Different World's parent series The Cosby Show.
Darryl M. Bell appeared as Ron throughout the first season, but didn't become a regular until the show's second season.
Ron's decision to pursue a career in music resulted in a falling out between himself and his father. Darryl M. Bell who played Ron said that his decision to go into acting had initially resulted in a fallout between himself and his own father.
Between seasons 2 and 5 the theme song was performed by Aretha Franklin, who had been married to series co-star Glynn Turman prior to the show.
During the show's final season, Kim, who had been a Premed Major, was attending Medical School, and Freddie was attending Law School. These reflected the careers of Cliff and Claire Huxtable from The Cosby Show.
Dawnn Lewis left the show prior to the final season to co-star on Hangin' with Mr. Cooper. The absence of Jaleesa (as well as her and Col Taylor's newborn baby) was never explained.
Declared Majors of regular characters-Dwayne, Math; Whitley. Art History (Minor in French); Jaleesa, Business; Kim, Pre-Med (attended Medical School in final season); Freddie, Creative Writing (atteneded Law School during final season); Walter, Masters Degree; Ron, unknown; Lena, Creative Writing; Denise, undeclared; Maggie, Journalism.
Although Hillman is supposed to be in the state of Virginia, the city is never mentioned.
Marisa Tomei(Maggie)absence after the first season was never explained.
Bill Cosby made three appearances, all in the first season, as Cliff Huxtable from The Cosby Show. Cliff is only seen in the Huxtable living room or kitchen on the other end of phone calls from Denise. Cliff's only appearance on the Hillman campus was seen in the Cosby Show episode which served as an introduction to A Different World.
Producer Debbie Allen made a handful of acting appearances on the show playing a Campus Therapist.
The show was revamped for the second season not only due to Lisa Bonet's departure, but also in response to criticism that the show didn't accurately depict a historically black college, or college life in general. Debbie Allen, who was named producer prior to season two, began to draw on her own experiences as a graduate of Howard University to add to the show. In addition, Allen and the show's writing staff would make annual visits to Historically Black Colleges to research campus life, issues and events and employ those factors in the series.
Whitley's father Mercer Gilbert had been played by 3 different actors Conroy Gedeon, Kenneth Washington and Ron O'Neal. Ron O'Neal also played a different character before he played Whitley's father.
Whitley's first season Roommate and "Protege" Millie was written out of the series as Actress Marie-Alice Recaster was planning to have a child. Producers also wanted Whitley to have a Roommate/Confidente who was more of a strong willed/independent contrast, resulting in the creation of Kim.