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14 Facts About A Different World

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A Different World premiered on NBC on September 24, 1987, as a showcase for The Cosby Show’s most popular daughter, Denise (Lisa Bonet). The show followed her day-to-day life at Hillman College. Bonet's departure at the end of the first season had no real negative impact on the show or its viewers; the ratings held steady, and some critics who had previously panned the show as “bland” or “uninspired” were now praising it as relevant and daring. Here are 14 things you might not know about the Emmy-nominated series, which ran for six seasons.

1. THE ORIGINAL PREMISE WAS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.

In the very, very beginning, A Different World was envisioned as a show about a white girl’s experiences while attending a historically black college. Meg Ryan was originally cast in the lead as Maggie Lauten, but before the pilot she decided to step away from television and concentrate on films. So the setup changed and the series became about Denise adjusting to life away from her family, and the character of Maggie (now played by Marisa Tomei) had a smaller role as Denise’s roommate.

2. THE ORIGINAL PILOT WAS SCRAPPED AT THE LAST MINUTE.

After four episodes were filmed, neither the show's producers nor the network were pleased with the results.  So they brought former Saturday Night Live writer Anne Beatts on board as producer. Beatts, who had also created the short-lived high school sitcom Square Pegs, was charged with creating an entirely different pilot episode just six weeks before it was scheduled to air. The ratings for Season One were strong, but that was mainly due to A Different World’s plum time slot—sandwiched between The Cosby Show and Cheers. The reviews, on the other hand, were scathing, with “bland and unfunny,” “awful,” “calamitously drab,” and “a big yawn” among the ways in which it was described by critics.

3. LISA BONET'S PREGNANCY WAS SERENDIPITOUS.

Fate intervened before a decision had to be made about whether to axe Lisa Bonet when the newly married Mrs. Lenny Kravitz announced her pregnancy just after Season One wrapped, and the actress left the show. Bonet’s exit was followed by the departure of both Beatts and Tomei when Debbie Allen took over as producer. 

4. LISA BONET AND MARISA TOMEI REMAIN CLOSE FRIENDS.

Despite the relatively short time they worked together, it was long enough for Lisa Bonet and Marisa Tomei to form a close friendship. Tomei is godmother to all three of Bonet’s children, and was present at the birth of two of them. 

5. DEBBIE ALLEN AIMED FOR AUTHENTICITY.

Debbie Allen was a graduate of Howard University and aimed to make A Different World more realistically reflect the historically black college experience. Throughout her tenure on the show, Allen took the writing staff on an annual “field trip” to Spelman and Morehouse Colleges in Atlanta. There they not only saw the latest in dorm furnishings and college fashions, they also chatted with students and administrators to find out what issues were hot topics that could be used in future episodes. 

6. A DAVID BOWIE CONCERT INSPIRED DWAYNE WAYNE'S GLASSES.

Anne Beatts is the person to thank for Kadeem Hardison’s trademark flip-top sunglasses. She was looking for some sort of wardrobe accessory that would give math whiz Dwayne Wayne a slightly nerdy look to make him stand out from the other male characters. Inspiration struck when she went to see David Bowie in concert and spotted guitarist Carlos Alomar wearing a pair of what are now known as “Dwayne Wayne glasses.”

7. JASMINE GUY BORROWED HER THIRD GRADE TEACHER'S ACCENT FOR WHITLEY.

Jasmine Guy originally auditioned for the role of Jaleesa, which ultimately went to Dawnn Lewis. When Guy returned and tried out for Whitley, she wasn’t sure what a “Southern belle” was, so she used something that always got her laughs when she was a kid—she imitated the exaggerated accent of her third grade teacher, Mrs. Pinkard. 

8. WHITLEY GILBERT WAS BASED ON THE SHOW'S HEAD WRITER.

The character of the rich and spoiled (and often clueless) Whitley Gilbert was based on the real-life experiences of head writer Susan Fales-Hill. The daughter of a glamorous Haitian actress and wealthy Italian businessman, she had a privileged childhood full of household servants and private schools. In her memoir, Always Wear Joy, Fales-Hill recounted how, when she began her freshman year at Harvard, she struggled to fit in and was often shunned by other black students for “acting white.” 

9. THE SERIES HAD CONNECTIONS TO SPIKE LEE'S SCHOOL DAZE.

Three of the series’ principals—Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison, and Darryl M. Bell—had previously worked together in the Spike Lee film School Daze. Years after A Different World had established itself as the seminal series about historically black college life, Lee expressed regret in a 2008 Vibe interview that he hadn’t thought of pitching the School Daze premise as a TV series. “I fell asleep on that one.” 

10. ROSEANNE BARR MADE AN IMPORTANT CAMEO.

Roseanne Barr and her then-husband Tom Arnold made an unusual uncredited cameo in A Different World, appearing as a pair of looters helping themselves to freebies at a high-end boutique during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. It was Debbie Allen’s idea to have the Roseanne stars, along with the handful of white suburban soccer moms, gleefully savage the merchandise racks. She wanted to show her audience what CNN didn’t: that people of all races participated in the post-Rodney King melee.

11. CREE SUMMER'S VOICE IS FAMILIAR.

Cree Summer (“Freddie Brooks”) did voiceover work before, during, and after her time on A Different World. She’s been the voice of the Green M&M for the past 20 years, and has also been a regular on dozens of animated series including Inspector Gadget, The Care Bears, As Told by Ginger, and Rugrats. In 1991 she had the opportunity to “morph” in Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” music video.

12. AN INTERRACIAL RELATIONSHIP SPARKED BACKLASH.

Charnele Brown was in her early 30s when she played 20-something pre-med student Kim Reese. According to an interview the actress gave to Sac Cultural Hub in 2014, she received a lot of angry mail after her character dated a Caucasian student. “The majority of the backlash came from men in prison,” she stated. “They wanted to know why NBC would pair ‘the only black girl on the show’ with a white boy.” Brown struggled with rejection for many years when auditioning for various television roles; she was continually told that her skin “type” (i.e. dark complexioned) was not in style.

13. COLONEL TAYLOR WAS MARRIED TO ARETHA FRANKLIN.

Dawnn Lewis not only played Jaleesa Vinson, she also co-wrote the series’ theme song. Jaleesa eloped with math professor Colonel Taylor and disappeared from the series with no explanation after Season Five. In reality, Lewis had accepted a starring role (and a hefty salary increase) on Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper. Speaking of the A Different World theme song: it was performed by Aretha Franklin from Season Two through Season Five. The Queen of Soul happened to be the ex-wife of Glynn Turman, who played Colonel Bradford Taylor. 

14. TEMPESTT BLEDSOE FOUND LOVE ON A DIFFERENT WORLD.

Tempestt Bledsoe made a guest appearance as Vanessa Huxtable on A Different World in 1989. Sparks didn’t fly immediately, but five years later she and Darryl M. Bell (who played Ron Johnson) started dating. They are still together today (“happily unmarried”).

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15 Fun Facts About Yo Gabba Gabba!
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Since its debut on August 20, 2007 on Nick Jr., Yo Gabba Gabba!—a kids’ show featuring a red cyclops, a magic robot, a pink flower girl, a green-striped guy, a blue cat-dragon, and a host wearing orange spandex and a fluffy hat—became one of the biggest draws for the preschool crowd. But thanks to the show's hipster-friendly musical performances and celebrity guest stars, Yo Gabba Gabba! managed to transcend its kiddie roots to become a hit with fans of all ages. On the 10th anniversary of its debut, let's go behind the scenes of the beloved series.

1. THE CREATOR OF NAPOLEON DYNAMITE HAD A HAND IN GETTING YO GABBA GABBA! ON THE AIR.

Longtime friends Christian Jacobs and Scott Schultz got the idea for Yo Gabba Gabba! when, as two dads in their mid-30s, they were less-than-enthusiastic about the television shows their kids were watching. It wasn't that the other shows were bad; they were just boring and sanitized.

With their experience as musicians and videographers, Jacobs and Schultz thought they could do something different. So they scraped together about $150,000 and began writing, animating, and shooting demo episodes of Yo Gabba Gabba! in their garage. They posted these videos online and Jared Hess, director of Napoleon Dynamite, happened to see them. Impressed, Hess passed the link onto Brown Johnson, an executive at Nickelodeon, who said, “Lordy. Nothing else looks like this on television.” She quickly contacted the duo and, in a risky move that obviously paid off, gave them complete creative control of their own show on Nick Jr.

2. THE TITLE IS MEANT TO BE MIMIC BABY TALK.

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According to Jacobs, the name of the show is a nonsense phrase meant to be reminiscent of the first words spoken by a baby. However, that doesn't mean Jacobs and Schultz aren't happy the name also pays homage to The Ramones, who used the phrase “Gabba Gabba Hey!” in their song “Pinhead.” But that actually makes it an homage of an homage, as The Ramones were paying tribute to the original source of the phrase, the 1932 cult classic film Freaks. In the film, “Gabba Gabba Hey!” is part of a chant uttered by a group of circus freaks as they welcome a new member into the fold.

3. ITS THEME SONG IS REMINISCENT OF PEE-WEE'S PLAYHOUSE.

The show's intro music seems suspiciously like the intro music from another kinetic kids' show, Pee-wee's Playhouse. Pay close attention to when the trees part on Pee-wee's intro and you'll hear a lot of similarities between the two.

4. THE SHOW BECAME A WORLDWIDE PHENOMENON.

Yo Gabba Gabba! became a worldwide phenomenon, and was broadcast all over the world, including in Italy, France, the UK, the Netherlands, Australia, and Canada.

5. DJ LANCE ROCK REALLY IS A DJ.

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DJ Lance Rock is actually Lance Robertson—and he really is a DJ. Robertson grew up in St. Louis, where he started spinning records in the early '90s before moving to Los Angeles at the age of 29. While in L.A., he played with a band, The Ray Makers, who played a few gigs with a group called Majestic, which counted future Yo Gabba Gabba! co-creator Scott Schultz as a member. When the Yo Gabba Gabba! guys were looking for a host, Schultz thought of Robertson. After Robertson signed on, one of the first things he did was suggest they change DJ Lance's look to the now-iconic orange jumpsuit and fuzzy hat. The original costume included a waistcoat similar to the one worn by Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka.

6. MUNO AND BROBEE EXISTED BEFORE YO GABBA GABBA!.

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While the other characters were created exclusively for Yo Gabba Gabba!, Muno and Brobee were already around as part of the live show for Christian Jacobs's kid-friendly ska/punk band, The Aquabats. Since shortly after their founding in 1994, The Aquabats have dressed in matching superhero costumes, fighting evil under aliases like The MC Bat Commander (Jacobs), Crash McLarson, Jimmy the Robot, Ricky Fitness, and Eagle “Bones” Falconhawk. The lineup has changed frequently over the years (Travis Barker of Blink-182 was briefly their drummer under the name “The Baron von Tito”), but the band still performs live and releases the occasional studio album. Naturally, they made a handful of appearances on Yo Gabba Gabba!, as well.

7. THE SHOW HAS A CONNECTION TO DEVO.

While most kids only know him as the kookie art teacher on the show, Mark Mothersbaugh was one of the founding members and lead singer of the New Wave band Devo. Even when he’s not wearing a red terraced “Energy Dome” hat, Mothersbaugh’s career has been prolific as a composer for dozens of TV shows, films, video games, and commercials, including Apple’s famous “I’m a Mac” ads starring Justin Long and John Hodgman.

8. BIZ MARKIE WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO DANCE ON THE SHOW.

Yo Gabba Gabba! fans learned how to beatbox thanks to rapper Biz Markie (born Marcel Theo Hall) and his “Beat of the Day” segment. Biz was initially asked to do a Dancey Dance routine for the show, but he has a bad back, so he offered to teach the kids how to do a beat instead. The producers loved it and it became a staple on the show. Parents knew Biz best from his 1989 hit “Just a Friend,” which featured his unique brand of rapping and “singing.” 

9. SUPER MARTIAN ROBOT GIRL IS THE PRODUCT OF TWO GROUNDBREAKING COMIC BOOK ARTISTS.

The comic book the Gabba gang often reads, Super Martian Robot Girl, is the creation of married underground comic book celebrities Sarah Dyer and Evan Dorkin. Dorkin is the genius behind the small press comic Milk and Cheese about “dairy products gone bad”—a milk carton and a wedge of cheese who love to drink gin and beat people up. Dyer was an influential creator in the '90s zine scene, where she was one of the few people giving female zinesters a voice with her Action Girl Newsletter, which later paved the way for the similarly-themed Action Girl Comics.

10. IT WAS NOMINATED FOR SEVEN EMMYS, BUT NEVER WON.

Yo Gabba Gabba!  received numerous Daytime Emmy nominations for Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction and Costume Design, as well as for Outstanding Pre-School Children's Series, but a win eluded the show. In addition, the series was nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Children’s Programming by the Television Critics Association Awards five times (and won twice). Internationally, the show was awarded a BAFTA in 2008. And DJ Lance received two NAACP Image Award nominations.      

11. THE SHOW GOT ITS OWN LINE OF SNEAKERS.

Ever wanted to see Foofa pop a wheelie? How about Toodee ride a surfboard? In 2011, the Gabba gang shot a series of videos to promote their line of Vans shoe, a brand popular among the extreme sports crowd. The characters shared the screen with some of the biggest names in the X Games, including surfers Alex Knost and Jared Mell, skateboarders Bucky Lasek and Christian Hosoi, BMXers Alistair Whitton and Coco Zurita, and motocross stars Dean Wilson and Ryan Villopoto. You can check out the videos at Yo Gabba Gabba's official YouTube channel.

12. THEY PLAYED COACHELLA.

The gang invaded the Coachella Music Festival in 2010, where they performed, hung out with celebrity fans backstage, and even showed up to dance with the audience at other musical performances.

13. THE SHOW HAD A LOT OF CELEBRITY FANS.

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For Halloween 2009, Brad Pitt donned DJ Lance's orange jumpsuit and fuzzy hat when he took his kids trick-or-treating. Lance was later quoted as saying that Pitt looked “Awesome.”

14. IT FEATURED A LOT OF GUEST STARS.

While most celebrities only come on the show to do a Dancey Dance or Cool Tricks segment, there have been a handful of guests that played a bigger role in an episode. The first was Jack Black, who had an entire episode dedicated to his adventures in Gabbaland after his flying motorbike ran out of gas. He got the gig after his wife emailed the show and practically begged them to let Jack come on because he was such a big fan. Other celebrities who popped in: Angela Kinsey from The Office played a teacher, the Tooth Fairy was played by Amy Sedaris, Mos Def saved the day as Super Mr. Superhero, Anthony Bourdain cameoed as a doctor, Jason Bateman played an evil spy, Lost’s Josh Holloway played a helpful farmer, and Weird Al Yankovic guested as a circus ringmaster.

15. A YO GABBA GABBA! DOLL WILL COST YOU A PRETTY PENNY.

The Gabba action figures that DJ Lance brought to life at the beginning of each episode were produced by Kidrobot, one of the leading names in the vinyl toy movement. The figures are no longer produced, so when one pops up on eBay, it often commands a high price. But if you’re not willing to spend that kind of money on an action figure, there are plenty of other Gabba-themed toys, books, DVDs, comics, smartphone apps, and clothes to keep your kids happy.

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10 Witty Facts About The Marx Brothers
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Talented as individuals and magnificent as a team, the Marx Brothers conquered every medium from the vaudeville stage to the silver screen. Today, we’re tipping our hats (and tooting our horns) to Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and Gummo—on the 50th anniversary of Groucho's passing.

1. A RUNAWAY MULE INSPIRED THEM TO TAKE A STAB AT COMEDY.

Julius, Milton, and Arthur Marx originally aspired to be professional singers. In 1907, the boys joined a group called “The Three Nightingales.” Managed by their mother, Minnie, the ensemble performed covers of popular songs in theaters all over the country. As Nightingales, the brothers enjoyed some moderate success, but they might never have found their true calling if it weren’t for an unruly equid. During a 1907 gig at the Nacogdoches Opera House in East Texas, someone interrupted the performance by barging in and shouting “Mule’s loose!” Immediately, the crowd raced out to watch the newly-liberated animal. Back inside, Julius seethed. Furious at having lost the spotlight, he skewered his audience upon their return. “The jackass is the finest flower of Tex-ass!” he shouted, among many other ad-libbed jabs. Rather than boo, the patrons roared with laughter. Word of his wit soon spread and demand for these Marx brothers grew.

2. THEY RECEIVED THEIR STAGE NAMES DURING A POKER GAME.

In May of 1914, the five Marxes were playing cards with standup comedian Art Fisher. Inspired by a popular comic strip character known as “Sherlocko the Monk,” he decided that the boys could use some new nicknames. Leonard’s was a no-brainer. Given his girl-crazy, “chick-chasing” lifestyle, Fisher dubbed him “Chicko” (later, this was shortened to “Chico”). Arthur loved playing the harp and thus became “Harpo.” An affinity for soft gumshoes earned Milton the alias “Gummo.” Finally, Julius was both cynical and often seen wearing a “grouch bag”—wherein he’d store small objects like marbles and candy—around his neck. Thus, “Groucho” was born. For the record, nobody knows how Herbert Marx came to be known as “Zeppo.”

3. GROUCHO WORE HIS TRADEMARK GREASEPAINT MUSTACHE BECAUSE HE HATED MORE REALISTIC MODELS.

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Phony, glue-on facial hair can be a pain to remove and reapply, so Groucho would simply paint a ‘stache and some exaggerated eyebrows onto his face. However, the mustache he later rocked as the host of his famous quiz show You Bet Your Life was 100 percent real.

4. HARPO WAS A SELF-TAUGHT HARPIST.

Without any formal training (or the ability to read sheet music), the second-oldest Marx brother developed a unique style that he never stopped improving upon. “Dad really loved playing the harp, and he did it constantly,” his son, Bill Marx, wrote. “Maybe the first multi-tasker ever, he even had a harp in the bathroom so he could play when he sat on the toilet!”

5. THE VERY FIRST MARX BROTHERS MOVIE WAS NEVER RELEASED.

Financed by Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and a handful of other investors, Humor Risk was filmed in 1921. Accounts differ, but most scholars agree that the silent picture—which would have served as the family’s cinematic debut—never saw completion. Despite this, an early screening of the work-in-progress was reportedly held in the Bronx. When Humor Risk failed to impress there, production halted. By Marx Brothers standards, it would’ve been an unusual flick, with Harpo playing a heroic detective opposite a villainous Groucho character.

6. GUMMO AND ZEPPO BECAME TALENT AGENTS.

World War I forced Gummo to quit the stage. Following his return, the veteran decided that performing was no longer for him and instead started a raincoat business. Zeppo—the youngest brother—then assumed Gummo’s role as the troupe’s straight-talking foil. A brilliant businessman, Zeppo eventually broke away to found the talent agency Zeppo Marx Inc., which grew into Hollywood’s third-largest, representing superstars like Clark Gable, Lucille Ball, and—of course—the other three Marx Brothers. Gummo, who joined the company in 1935, was charged with handling Groucho, Harpo, and Chico’s needs.

7. CHICO ONCE LAUNCHED A BIG BAND GROUP.

Chico took advantage of an extended break between Marx brothers movies to realize a lifelong dream. A few months before The Big Store hit cinemas in 1941, he co-founded the Chico Marx Orchestra: a swinging jazz band that lasted until July of 1943. Short-lived as the group was, however, it still managed to recruit some amazing talent—including singer/composer Mel Tormé, who would go on to help write “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” in 1945.

8. THEY TESTED OUT NEW MATERIAL FOR A NIGHT AT THE OPERA IN FRONT OF LIVE AUDIENCES.

With the script still being drafted, MGM made the inspired choice to let the brothers perform key scenes in such places as Seattle, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. Once a given joke was made, the Marxes meticulously timed the ensuing laughter, which let them know exactly how much silence to leave after repeating the gag on film. According to Harpo, this had the added benefit of shortening A Night at the Opera’s production period. “We didn’t have to rehearse,” he explained. “[We just] got onto the set and let the cameras roll.”

9. GROUCHO TEMPORARILY HOSTED THE TONIGHT SHOW.

Jack Paar bid the job farewell on March 29, 1962. Months before their star’s departure, NBC offered Paar’s Tonight Show seat to Groucho, who had established himself as a razor-sharp, well-liked host during You Bet Your Life’s 14-year run. Though Marx turned the network down, he later served as a guest host for two weeks while Johnny Carson prepared to take over the gig. When Carson finally made his Tonight Show debut on October 1, it was Groucho who introduced him.

10. SPY MAGAZINE USED A MARX BROTHERS MOVIE TO PRANK U.S. CONGRESSMEN.

Duck Soup takes place in Freedonia, a fictional country over which the eccentric Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) presides. In 1993, 60 years after the movie’s release, this imaginary nation made headlines by embarrassing some real-life politicians. Staffers from Spy got in touch with around 20 freshmen in the House of Representatives, asking some variation on the question “Do you approve of what we’re doing to stop ethnic cleansing in Freedonia?” A few lawmakers took the bait. Representative Corrine Brown (D-Florida) professed to approve of America’s presence in Freedonia, saying, “I think all of those situations are very, very sad, and I just think we need to take action to assist the people.” Across the aisle, Steve Buyer (R-Indiana) concurred. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s a different situation than the Middle East.”

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