3. A Different World (1987-1993)
"That's a different world like Cree Summer's."
This reference to the Winifred "Freddie" Brooks character played by Cree Summer is one of many A Different World nods from the college dropout himself, Kanye West.
The Cosby Show spinoff followed Denise Huxtable as she followed in her parents' footsteps at the esteemed HBCU, Hillman College. Denise dropped out (or rather, was written out because of Lisa Bonet's pregnancy), and the show shifted its focus to the frustratingly prissy Whitley Gilbert and he of the flip-shades, Dwayne Wayne.
Not only did A Different World show historically black fraternities and sororities at work on Hillman's campus, it also dared to talk about date rape, skin tone, class struggle, the Persian Gulf War, domestic violence, and the L.A. riots. It was one of the first television shows—black or otherwise—to address HIV and AIDS.
Executive producer Debbie Allen deserves the lion's share of the credit for the show's far-reaching seriousness, as she drew on her own experiences at Howard University when creating the world of Hillman.
A Different World's connection to The Cosby Show allowed for several crossover episodes between the two, but the level of star power went far deeper than that. The list of important greats and soon-to-be-megastars is enormous: Diahann Carroll. Patti LaBelle. Richard Roundtree. Gladys Knight. Jesse Jackson. Heavy D. En Vogue. Whoopi Goldberg. Halle Berry.
Hell, 2Pac even popped up as Lena's boyfriend from back home, allowing viewers to bask in the the well-documented chemistry between Shakur and his old friend Jada Pinkett-Smith. Lena also came face-to-face with her namesake, the legendary Lena Horne, during the show's final season.
For bravery of subject matter dealt with and for the premise alone—young black people at college—A Different World is one of the most important (and best) TV shows in hisotry.