After the success of “The Cosby Show,” NBC developed a spin-off sitcom in 1987 where the oldest Huxtable daughter Denise (Lisa Bonet) goes off to college. The series explored life and culture at historically black colleges, taking place at the fictional Hillman College. Like “The Cosby Show,” the series pushed the envelope for primetime television. It was the first series depicting life at an HBCU and one of the first to address the issue of Aids/HIV.
Alfonso Ribeiro, who took a break after a 72-episode run on “Silver Spoons,” appeared in a 1990 episode of “A Different World.” Ready to return to acting full-time, Ribeiro’s character, incoming freshman Zach Duncan, was slated to join the show as a series regular the following season. His character was insufferably cocky, yet always the butt of the joke.
Ribeiro, an established entertainer since the age of 12 when he began performing in the Tony Award-Winning music, “The Tap Dance Kid,” had another big opportunity in front of him: A supporting cast member in a popular sitcom that was radically telling Black stories in primetime.
And then, a new show called “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” came along.
Despite the promise of joining “A Different World” as a regular, Ribeiro auditioned for the role of the smug, preppy Carlton Banks on NBC’s new show starring rapper Will Smith. When offered the part, the actor had to choose between an established program or a risky new series.