Episode 234: “Exploring A Different World | Writer Niceole Levy”

Sharon and Susan begin an all-new series of episodes looking at the groundbreaking 80s sitcom A Different World (1987-1993). This Cosby Show spin-off starred Lisa Bonet, Kadeem Hardison, Jasmine Guy, Charnele Brown, Dawn Lewis and Marissa Tomei.
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The Conversation

  • 80s TV made marriage look easy and fun -- cuz the couples were usually crime-solving millionaires!
  • How watching every syndicated show on TV -- Perry Mason, I Love Lucy, Marcus Welby, Dick Van Dyke Show, Ironside -- prepares you for a life of TV writing.
  • Everything retro is new again: Getting that first gig -- with Blair Underwood -- on the 2013 re-boot of Ironside!
  • Niceole’s advice for getting into TV and film -- DON’T GO TO FILM SCHOOL!
  • For Niceole -- and so many others -- A Different World’s Hillman College was her first exposure to an HBCU.
  • RUN THE NUMBERS: 20 of the 47 writers on ADW were women!
  • SEASON 2 RE-SET: How the addition of show-runner Debbie Allen re-ignited the series with a new sense of excitement and vitality.
  • A DIFFERENT LOOK -- How A Different World achieved a bigger, more expansive look than other sitcoms of the time.

So, join Susan, Sharon -- and Niceole -- as they talk Miami Vice, watching 1,000 television shows, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,keeping a TV journal, Boyz II Men, dancing with Kamala Harris, scheduling your life around a TV show -- and the importance of not messing up the lunch order!

Our Audio-ography

Watch A Different World -- streaming on MAX.

Find out more about Niceole Levy at niceolelevy.com.

Read her article “What I Learned Watching 1,000 Television Shows” here

Buy Niceole Levy’s book "The Writer’s Room Survival Guide" at Bookshop.org.

Get Susan’s President Carter play, Confidence (and the Speech) at Broadway Licensing.

Help Abortion Access at Abortionfinder.org.


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Credits: 80s TV Ladies™ Episode 234: “Exploring A Different World | Niceole Levy”

Produced by 134 West and Susan Lambert Hatem. Hosted by Susan Lambert Hatem and Sharon Johnson. Guest: Niceole Levy. Sound Engineer and Editor: Kevin Ducey. Producer: Melissa Roth. Associate Producer: Sergio Perez. Music by Amy Engelhardt. Copyright 2024 134 West, LLC and Susan Lambert. All Rights Reserved.


80s TV Ladies Ep. 234 - Exploring A Different World | Niceole Levy

Melissa Roth: Weirding Way Media

[Singing] Amy Englehardt: 80s TV Ladies, So sexy and so pretty. 80s TV Ladies, Steppin’ out into the city. 80s TV Ladies, often treated kind of sh-[wolf whistle]. Working hard for the money in a man’s world. 80s TV Ladies!


Melissa Roth: Welcome to 80's TV Ladies with your fabulous hosts, Sharon Johnson and Susan Lambert.


Susan Lambert Hatem: Hello I’m Susan

Sharon Johnson: And I’m Sharon. We are kicking off a new series of episodes looking at a new old show today.


Susan Lambert Hatem: This show has been on our list since the beginning of the podcast. The sitcom A Different World broke ground and changed lives, created and celebrated stars.


Sharon Johnson: Just this month, many of the cast members have been touring the country, visiting HBCUs, having cast reunions across television shows like The View, and dancing at the White House with Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Vice President Kamala Harris. It's a different world indeed.


Susan Lambert Hatem: That's right. The Different World was a spinoff of the hit sitcom The Cosby Show. It premiered on September 24th, 1987 and ran for six seasons until 1993. The show looked at the lives of the students of Hillman College, a fictional historically black college.


Sharon Johnson: Season one centered on Dr. Clift Huxtable's teen daughter, Denise Huxtable, played by Lisa Bonet, and her roommates, Julissa and Maggie, played by Dawn Lewis and Marissa Tomei.


Susan Lambert Hatem: Bonet and Tomei left the show at the end of season one. The incomparable director, producer, actress, choreographer, amazing woman, Debbie Allen, a graduate herself of HBCU Howard University, was brought on to reimagine the show with a mix of old and new cast.


Sharon Johnson: Really creating a new focus for the remaining seasons of the black college experience. Staying funny while addressing sensitive topics like race, sexual assault, equal rights, HIV and AIDS.


Susan Lambert Hatem: We can't wait to dive into this show and I'm really excited to kick off this series with today's guest.


Sharon Johnson: Our very special guest is an amazing 2020s TV lady, a television writer, producer and book writer. She has written for over nine TV shows, including Cloak & Dagger and Shades of Blue. Nicole served as supervising producer for SWAT, co-executive producer for The Recruit, and is currently working on the NBC drama Found.


Susan Lambert Hatem: She is also the co-writer with George Nolfi of the 2018 movie The Banker, starring Samuel L. Jackson, Nia Long, and Anthony Mackie.


Sharon Johnson: She has written an amazing book for aspiring TV writers called The Writer's Room Survival Guide. Welcome to 80s TV ladies, Nicole Levy.


Niceole Levy: I thank y'all so much for having me. I am so excited to do this.


Susan Lambert Hatem: I am so happy to have you on today. Here's the funny thing. I can't remember other than Twitter how we know each other, but I feel like I know you or I met you.


Niceole Levy: Well, I am not sure, because I feel the same way. And I know that I think we have mutuals in common. But it's so funny, because I was like, I just knew the show happened. And I was like, oh, that's so cool. And I feel like I can't remember where I feel like it might have been at a party somewhere that we might have been. Yeah. Either way, I think we intersect Akela Cooper.


Susan Lambert Hatem: Akela Cooper. That's it. That's it. That's it. Okay. There you go. Mystery solved. Mystery solved. She is killing it. She is. Oh my gosh.


Niceole Levy: So excited for her. I know.


Susan Lambert Hatem: So excited for her. And so deserved. Like she's been, you know, like you. Working it really hard. So congrats to you. Thank you very much. All right.


Niceole Levy: So you're in Atlanta now. I am in Atlanta right now. I'm shooting an episode of Found season two, which I am very excited and happy to be a part of. Yeah. I haven't been on set since 2021 when I was shooting SWAT because I had been doing shows that shot remotely and or in development since then. Where are you originally from? I am originally from a little town called Ridgecrest, California. It is between Lancaster and Bakersfield. And I ended up in the middle of nowhere because my father was a career Navy man. And there is China Lake Naval Weapons Center or whatever variation of that name it is right now. It's changed a few times. And that was his final posting. And he and my mom were like, well, we can raise this kid in one place because I'm the baby by a mile in my family. And, uh, I spent the next 15 years being like, why don't you stay here? Why don't you stay here?


Sharon Johnson: And it wasn't. I actually know someone who lives in Ridgecrest. Do you really? I am an Air Force brat. And Bonnie's sister, Donna, and I have been friends since we were 11. Our parents were stationed in Japan. And then Bonnie got married and somehow ended up in Ridgecrest. And she and her husband and her son have been living there ever since. And I think Donna's other sister, Judy, now lives there as well.


Niceole Levy: Wow. And it really was actually a lovely place to be a little kid. Cause we would go out in the desert and play make believe all day. And like, we used to literally make houses like outlined on the dirt with rocks. And then like, it would be our fancy, like heart to heart house. So like whatever, you know, but it was rocks on the ground. So it's a lovely place to be a small child. Cause we had a lot of freedom, a lot of riding the bikes to each other's house, that kind of thing. It was a terrible place to be a teenager. How big a town was it? I mean, we had a couple hundred graduating seniors. It wasn't tiny, tiny. It was a decent sized, small town, but like, there was one movie theater. If you didn't want to see those four or five movies, too bad for you. So like, we were the essential blockbuster kids, right? Like, go to blockbuster Friday night, spend two hours picking out movies. Like, that was our jam.


Susan Lambert Hatem: That was so fun. Perusing the shelves.


Niceole Levy: You'd be like, who would ever rent this movie? You'd be like. The answer, by the way, was my brother. When he moved in, you were like, who would ever rent this? My brother rented it. 

But legend is that they were having a rough time and my mom was actually packing to leave him when she found out she was pregnant with me. And so they stayed married for another 28 years until my father passed. So I held it all together. You literally saved the marriage. I did. I did. And there were times where I was like, was that the best choice? But they made it. They made a good go of it after a while.


Susan Lambert Hatem: People are funny.


Niceole Levy: I mean, look, I think that all the time, like marriage is hard. There's a reason I haven't done it. It looks like hard work. And I'm a person who's like, I kind of just like all my stuff where it is.


Sharon Johnson: I'm right there with you. I'm right there with you.


Niceole Levy: I'm like, if somebody went in and like rearranged my kitchen, I would file for divorce that day.


Susan Lambert Hatem: “Why do you do that?” It's hard.


Niceole Levy: It looks hard. Like it's a lot to keep a relationship that healthy. I mean, if friendships are hard enough. Yeah. And I will say, I feel like that's one of the things where 80s television kind of serve as the bill of goods. Cause man, marriage looked pretty easy.


Susan Lambert Hatem: Yeah, it did. In 80s television. Heart to heart. You could be married, millionaires, and have a detective agency and solve crimes.


Niceole Levy: Make it to dinner in Paris. You know, it was all good.


Sharon Johnson: Well, even before 80s television, I think if you look at family television, they made it look really easy. Really easy. So I don't think television did a lot of us any favors in that regard. Very true. So I'm going to guess you watched a lot of television growing up.


Niceole Levy: So much television, so much. So the joke in our house was always like, because I watched soaps, I watched primetime, like I was in deep. And so I'd always be like, okay, but mom, like, can you not pick me up until three? And can we be home by seven thirty five? And like, never. And she gets so She'd be like, are you going to schedule your entire life around a TV show? And so when I got my first job on Ironside, I called her to tell her I had finally gotten a job. And I said to her, so guess what, mom? I am going to schedule my entire life around a TV show. And she fell out laughing.


Susan Lambert Hatem: I love that. And your first show was Ironside? Yeah. The reboot?


Niceole Levy: The reboot with Blair Underwood, who is just a delight, an absolute delight. I've been like wishing I could work with him again ever since. So I'm going to find a way to make that happen.


Susan Lambert Hatem: But I love that for our show, that your first show was working on a reboot of a 60s, 70s show.


Niceole Levy: which I haven't seen every episode of, by the way, because my parents were huge Raymond Burr fans. And so on the weekend, because we got L.A. TV and Ridge Press. So on one of those syndicated 13, 9, 11, one of those channels, there was a block of Perry Mason and Ironside. And I remember being very young, being so confused because Perry Mason would be on first and then Ironside would be on. And I was like, why is there a real show now?


Susan Lambert Hatem: Oh my gosh.


Niceole Levy: I love that. So yes, I had seen every episode of the OG Ironside by the time I did the reboot.


Susan Lambert Hatem: All right. And when you were brought in to try to get that job, did you start with that? Did you go, by the way, I've seen every episode of the Ironside?


Niceole Levy: I did. I did. And Ken Sandoval was our showrunner, was like, have you seen? I was like, no, really. My parents love this show. I have seen all of it.


Susan Lambert Hatem: I'm so excited that it, you know, the television watching gets you a job in television sometimes.


null: Yes.


Niceole Levy: As it should be. I'm sure it did not hurt. I'm sure it didn't hurt. Yeah. My parents were big, loved television. So I watched like every rerun of Marcus Welby, every Perry Mason, Ironside, I Love Lucy, like Dick Van Dyke, all the classic great things. Cause they just always had the TV on and they liked to have me come in and watch with them.


Sharon Johnson: So what was your path in getting to that first job in television?


Niceole Levy: So a lot of that TV watching, it just didn't occur to me that people wrote it. Like I was so far removed from how the business worked. So I thought I was gonna be an actress. And I wrote things, but I wrote things just to give myself something to play around acting, right? And in my senior year of high school, I took AP English. And shout out to Mike Phillips, if he ever wouldn't hear this, it was my AP English teacher. And he, you know, like when you do AP assignments, they put like a number at the top and it's like one through four and four is the best, right? And I kept getting twos and ones and I was pissed because I'm very competitive about my grades. And it's like, and finally he was like, you're writing stuff you think I want you to write. Like just write something from your heart. And so the next assignment was to write about a place that scared us. And I wrote about my mother's family. It's from New Orleans. And my great-grandmother, who was responsible for the spelling of my name, lived in this old, old house that had been a brothel before she bought it. And someone had been murdered in the attic. And so it had all this legend attached to it. But I always felt perfectly safe there because my great-grandma was such a badass. So I was like, nobody gonna mess with my great-grandma. Come out and get us, because she'll take you out, right? And then she passed away. And the first time we went back after she died, the house terrified me. It was like, I saw shadows around every corner or whatever. So I wrote about that feeling and he handed back my paper with a four on the top of it. And it was like, do that. And I was like, so excited that like I had done the thing he wanted. And so I started writing more, but I still didn't know but the path was gonna change. And it was when I went to acting school. I went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and we had to read a lot of these plays. I'm sure I'm exaggerating this now. In my mind, it was a hundred. It probably wasn't that many, but it felt like we had to read a hundred. And in the reading of the plays, I was realizing that like, I loved the storytelling part more than the performing part. And so by the end of the year, I was pretty clear on the fact that like, that was the path I should follow. And so then my parents were elated because they were like, thank God, she's gonna go to a real college and study a real thing. And I had to work my way through school to, you know, my parents were very sort of average middle class and USC tuition was like, oh, what? And so I started out in junior college at Pasadena City College. And I got a job as a police dispatcher in San Marino, which is right by Pasadena, and worked my way through school. And that was kind of how I got into the actual study of writing and did all that. P.S. for anybody out there, do not go to film school. You can have a perfectly great career and never go to film school. I was an English major at USC.


Susan Lambert Hatem: So you were an English major. Yeah. Was this for a bachelor's, a master?


Niceole Levy: So for bachelors in the English major, they had a creative writing track. Oh, good. So that was my bachelor's. And then they used to have, they no longer have it at USC, a master's called the Master of Professional Writing. And what was great about it was you had to do everything. And so I left that program and got a job in publishing immediately, in magazine publishing. And so What I feel lucky about is that my degrees actually helped me keep a roof over my head for the many, many years it took for me to break into television. So it turned out to be really helpful, but very expensive. I finally paid my student loans off a couple of years ago and it was the happiest day of my life.


Susan Lambert Hatem: Congratulations. Congratulations. That's huge. I paid mine off and it took a long time, but I am very concerned about the people that have hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt from school.


Niceole Levy: I literally, I could not borrow enough money to go to USC now. Like my total student loan debt for five years between undergrad and grad school is probably two actual years at USC now. Yep. I don't know, I couldn't do it now, but I'm real glad I did it when I was like too excited to go to USC to realize the financial burden.


Susan Lambert Hatem: Well, you were smart to go to Pasadena first, so you got a couple of years, a reasonable price. Yes. Yeah, that didn't occur to me. I got out to USC and then I was like, why am I? I came to go to film school. Why am I taking English 101? Like, I could have stayed in Georgia for that.


Sharon Johnson: Yeah. I have some friends who two of their three kids are doctors. So you can only imagine the size of their student loan debt. But you've paid off yours. Yes, yes. Woo! That really is amazing.


Susan Lambert Hatem: I want to get to a different world. Did you watch this show in the 80s? I did.


Niceole Levy: I did. And what was fascinating, like I hadn't thought about it in so long, but I was talking with another friend about the fact that I was going to do this and I was rewatching the show. And what I remembered so clearly, even from from the first episode is It was the first time that the idea of an HBCU was even a thought to me of a thing I could do because Neither of my parents had done that and it sort of wasn't like a thing that we talked about in our house. And again, my parents had both grown up in the South, but now we were all the way out in California. So they were definitely not suggesting anything that meant I was moving back across the country. They were very like, stay close to us or we can keep an eye on you. And I had seen like the contrast because of school days, which made going to an HBCU seem like a terrible idea for me because The way that the light-skinned girls get treated in that is not great. And so I was like, oh, like that might not be a thing. And then when I saw a woman in a different world, I was like, well, that looks great. And it was so fascinating because my parents were, they were like, sweetheart, we just don't know. Like, if you want to look into that, you should, but like, you've never spent time in a predominantly black environment. Like, I don't know if that's a right choice for you. But that's not a conversation we ever would have had if I hadn't seen the show and come running in and been like, but it looks great. What if I wanted to go to a school like Hillman? And they were like, well, I guess we're having this conversation now.


Sharon Johnson: I didn't even know HBCUs existed when I was growing up, maybe partially because you know, being a military brat, we lived different places. I mean, I was in Japan for junior high and first two years of high school. And at that point, it was like I didn't know what the heck I was doing in terms of trying to pick a college. I had no clue. I think I think like you and I several years older than you, that Hillman was really kind of my first exposure to HBCU, as sad as that may seem.


Niceole Levy: Yeah, like I knew Howard existed, like I knew of Howard. I knew what it was. Another family friend had a son who had gone there or was going there, but like, it still just didn't, it never was like a, oh, that's a thing I should consider until I saw the show. And it was like, so eye-opening to me that like, there was this whole other part of life in like Black culture that I just didn't know anything about. in large part because I had grown up in such a different space. So it was really fascinating to like watch that and sort of see, right, like there are a bunch of different kinds of people at the school and it didn't have that connotation of any one sort of person was wrong. It was sort of like, no, like we're sending the message that like all of our blackness is good.


Sharon Johnson: which I so appreciated. Not to mention the differences in the socioeconomic backgrounds of all of them as well. Yes. And the ages.


Niceole Levy: Yes. Like I remember I had not, definitely had not seen the first season in a really long time. And so I rewatched it and like, I forgot how big a reaction everybody had to Jaleesa being older and divorced. You know, it was such a big deal. And I'm so used to being older than most of the people in my spaces in Hollywood. So it's like, you're like, calm down. She's not 24.


Susan Lambert Hatem: It was it was very, very huge, you know, reaction in that it's the first episode that they're just. Yeah. Kind of can't stop talking about it and they're gossiping about her.


Niceole Levy: Yeah. And I just, I found that so fascinating, but I mean, at the time, like I probably would have had the same reaction, but like having now lived and been, you know, the person who started my career later. So I'm older than most of the writers in my rooms. It's always a little interesting, but I have forgotten by the way, that there was also ever another version of the theme song. Other than the Aretha Franklin version.


Susan Lambert Hatem: And there's a different one for season six. 


Niceole Levy: It's the boys to men version. Yes.

Which is also is good. And like, as soon as I heard it, I remembered, like, loving it. But I completely forgot the season one version. Completely forgot it. Yeah. Aretha showed up and out the window it went. Well, it's hard to beat Aretha Franklin.


Susan Lambert Hatem: It is. It is. I do love that that theme song was co-written by Don Lewis.


Niceole Levy: I know, I know, that's so cool. And the fact that they didn't know that she had been cast and then had also gotten hired to co-write the song, it's hilarious to me.


Susan Lambert Hatem: I didn't know that either. I didn't know that part. I didn't either, yeah.


Niceole Levy: Yeah, it was like two separate arms completely. And so I was reading a thing where she talked about, and they were like, oh, wait, what? She's in the show?


Susan Lambert Hatem: I love that. It's having a renaissance right now because of the tour to raise awareness and money for the Historically Black Colleges. A Different World is, you know, dancing at the White House, you know, as you do. And, you know, with our Vice President, Kamala Harris.


Niceole Levy: Yeah. The Road Trip reunion special, did you guys see that? It aired right after Sinbad had his stroke, but they did like on E, it was like a road trip reunion. And I think they talked about it there. And it was so funny because that when Jasmine Guy and Cree Summer stand up to do the step routine and like, they still remember it. I was like, oh my God. Cause that's one of my favorite episodes. And they were talking about it in the special, right? It's like, So Jasmine, who had this floral dance background, to have to sort of come and dance from this very stuck-up, wiggly place, as opposed to the freedom of movement that she has. And then Kris Summer, who is very coordinated and very graceful, to have to constantly play these pratfalls. And so the dance part of that, and they were saying, like, at a certain point, Debbie walked in and was like, can the child just learn the dance by the end? But it was hilarious because they were like, I think I still remember. And they get up on the stage and start doing it. And and then they cut to the clip and you're like, oh, my God, like I remember watching this for the first time.


Susan Lambert Hatem: What I love about the show is they're just musical numbers and musical stars walking in. And as a person that loves musicals and loves theater, loves theater people, I'm like, yes.


Niceole Levy: Yeah, it was so good. Like, you know, the parade of people, like the Gladys Knight thing where like Whitley and Delisa team up was so great. And then the Heavy D episode where Whitley's like snap-talking hip-hop to Heavy and he's just like, oh, really? And there's people that I had just forgotten ever were on the show when you're re-watching episodes. Forgot Blair Underwood was on it. Forgot, you know, Halle Berry was over on it. The parade of people who went through it.


Sharon Johnson: Yeah, that's been an ongoing theme in the shows that we've watched and doing this podcast and seeing so many people that we know so well now at the very beginnings of their careers. It's so much fun. And you're right. It just has just a murder's row of people who went through that show. Yeah. Just great. So.


Niceole Levy: I was thinking, because I watched the finale, or what is the technical finale, right? The Whitley and Dwayne finale yesterday. And it occurred to me, what an 80s Diane Carroll had, right? Between Dynasty and that, like, good on you, Diane. Like, she came back with, I am here, I have earned all the adulation, adore me.


Susan Lambert Hatem: Yes. I kind of love that. I definitely feel like that has to be the Debbie Allen of it all, of like, come in, be a diva, let's go. And, you know, there was so much room for women to come in and be superstars in this show, both literally, you know, Because they were in the episode, I think the one you were talking about is season two, episode five, Three Girls Three, where they're competing to be the backup singer. And then they get the dream sequence where they sing with Gladys Knight. It's great. It's amazing. And you're like, OK. It was really a lot of just beautiful moments. I remember season one more than the rest of it because I think I was then I just didn't catch it that often, you know, and of course, I watched the spinoff of the Cosby show. But then when I did catch it, it did always feel like, well, there's a huge star and it must have been why I watched it. Like I must have read the TV Guide and went, oh, well, I'm going to tune in for that, you know, the TV Guide. So it's been a gift as I'm rewatching it to be like these young, amazing, talented people that are just sort of starting and then these incredibly talented women that are coming in and basically kind of getting their flowers a little bit and being able to kind of do a really great episode where they're performing or they're, you know, being the diva, you know, it's great. Yeah. That's what I'm really appreciating on this rewatch is the cast.


Niceole Levy: Yeah. It just there's so much joy to like all the episodes, even when they do hard things like the way that they still find the joy and friendship and the the way that people show up for each other and those kind of things, which I think is part of what I loved about it. And like I like a lot of things from the first season, but I think there was just That energy level went up so much when Debbie came. Yeah. That it just, it grabbed you the second it started. Like there was just a like, and you're sitting down and you're going to watch like every episode. And I'm not, it's just, however she made that happen, it was magic.


Susan Lambert Hatem: And it just the college feels like more people are there. I mean, every frame is filled. It's really interesting, particularly that second season, because it's so, you know, it's so different look wise from the first season, even though the sets are all the same, like, you know, for the most part. And yet it really does have an energy of excitement and an energy of camaraderie. And it's just filled with people. Yeah. Like all the time, which is really neat. Yeah.


Niceole Levy: Like I wanted to go to the pit so bad. Yeah. It just seemed like the most fun place on earth. Like everyone was always there. Everything was always happening there. Like breakups and makeups and all the things were happening at the pit.


Sharon Johnson: Let's take a quick break. We'll be right back. And we're back. I was trying to figure out how they shot it. It feels very… You have a feeling it has a different feel or a different look than other three-camera sitcoms?


Susan Lambert Hatem: Yeah, of that time period, it looks much different than The Cosby Show. It looks much different than what I would call a traditional sitcom. Even though there are times it looks like a sitcom, there are times it looks like they picked up a camera and went right in to me.


Niceole Levy: Yeah, I mean, I think that's some of that energy feeling, right, of just everybody's young and in movement constantly, and somehow they were able to capture that.


Susan Lambert Hatem: Yeah. And there's a lot more locations because, you know, like I was like, now they're in a basketball. Now they're outside. For a sitcom, it didn't feel constrained. Yeah. The way most 80s sitcoms definitely felt like, oh, this is all being shot on a soundstage and this is all being shot in these six sets they have.


Niceole Levy: Yeah, no, I agree. The scope felt really big. And even when you could tell, like, oh, we like pull the car into the stage or whatever to do so. I don't know. You just felt it felt a little bit different, like the episode where Freddie goes out with the the date right episode. And like, even though that's clearly like, we pull the car on a stage and we put some girls or whatever, it still had that feeling of she's all alone. out there till Dwayne managed to come in the roof of the car, right? So you still got the feel of that, even though it was shot on a stage, which I just was like, so, I know at the time I would not have noticed, but now as a TV writer and producer being like, damn, like that was good. Just they built the atmosphere so well for that scene.


Susan Lambert Hatem: Yeah. And that's no means no. Season two, episode 20. And that was what was interesting is, again, it's got some really funny bits and it's a really serious episode. Their special episodes didn't have that special sitcom episode feel. They felt like normal episodes, which also were dealing with really important stuff. I really love the conversation between the two guys in the basketball scene. That's, I think, the basketball scene I was talking about, where Dwayne is discovering information in that scene that starts to make him very uncomfortable. Yes. That his friend is talking about, oh yeah, I basically force women because that's what they want, right? It's OK. And for the time, you know, were there other conversations that were that complex? Because he liked the guy, right?


Niceole Levy: Yeah. He wasn't a bad guy.


Susan Lambert Hatem: He wasn't a bad guy. Yeah. Yeah. I was really impressed with how subtle and conversational that episode in particular was. And also just the joy that she has for that guy when she's talking with her friends. And she's giddy. And you remember that feeling. So it's crushing, right? Like it's crushing. I was really impressed with it in terms of being a sitcom, approaching a really important, vital topic that's really hard to talk about and was harder to talk about in the 80s because we didn't have language. You know, absolutely. And it was very impressive.


Niceole Levy: That scene that you hit on, I was you're right, because it's that thing of he's not done anything to appear to be a bad guy. So like that uncomfortable moment where you start to realize, oh, are you not a good person? We're doing this information like we've all experienced that in our lives for different reasons. But it's just we've sort of had that moment. And I was so struck by that. And then when Dwayne goes to talk to Walter, And at the end of that scene, when Dwayne says, dudes need to talk about this stuff too. And it was like so progressive for the 80s, right? That like, this isn't just a conversation for women to be having. You all need to be talking about this too. Those of you who know better need to be telling the other men, this is not how you do it. watching it, I was like, oh my God, this was so great.


Susan Lambert Hatem: It was so, like, unbelievable. I mean, I don't remember this show being called out for being so progressive, other than it being said, like, on all levels, like, and I knew they were happening. But I think it was a little bit like, you know, just the subtlety of how they're dealing and having these discussions. It was very unsitcommy. It approaches the Cagney and Lacy level of we're talking about things that don't normally get talked about and in a way that's entertaining and sideways and leaves you with as many questions as answers.


Sharon Johnson: Looking back on it, I'm wondering if one of the reasons why the show didn't get the credit it deserved for these kinds of things may have had something to do with the fact that it's a spinoff of The Cosby Show and that's the big thing in the room. And oh, by the way, there's this other little show over here, however successful it might be. It's, you know, the Cosby show is kind of sucking all the air out of that room. Of course, if not for the Cosby show, it wouldn't have existed. But also maybe if not for the Cosby show, it might have gotten more notoriety and more kudos for the types of things that they were doing in that respect, because they did a lot of that kind of thing throughout the course of the show.


Susan Lambert Hatem: They did, but they did not get respect for it. I think you're absolutely right.


Niceole Levy: Yeah. And I think you're right, Sharon. I think it was a lot of that idea, right? It was a little like TV nepotism. It was like, well, how hard could they have it? You know, they're spun off of the Cosby show. And it was like, but they're not the Cosby show. It's a completely different thing. It's not like they just did Cosby show 2.0. And it was like, it's the same show. It's a completely different thing. And I think for the critics who are the people who always make those decisions about buzz and no buzz, I think they never kind of let go of the struggles that season one had. And they just couldn't give the credit where credit was due of the work that was done to like put the show on its feet in season two, right? all credit to the season one folks because there's a lot of fun to be had there. And there's a lot of interesting moments, but when you watch season one into season two, the change is so huge. And you realize like how much work was really done between seasons to like make it the show we all remember. And I think like that deserves so much credit. Cause that's a really difficult thing to do. you know, the most modern day equivalent I can think of. And again, people who never got the credit for it, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., right? Completely different kind of show. But the first season, there was so much like, oh, it's trying to be case of the week and blah, blah, whatever. And of course, nobody knowing that Marvel's forcing them to tread water for 16 episodes. the whole Runner Soldier thing drops and S.H.I.E.L.D. falls apart, right? The way that that show completely pivots and amps up the momentum, becomes this huge, huge show on a broadcast budget, you'll never get enough credit for that. And I think it's so hard for people to let go of the harder parts for most shows. I think the only show I've ever seen people really let go of those rocky early moments is 30 Rock.


Sharon Johnson: And I would say maybe Parks and Rec, too. I don't watch either of those. Parks and Rec, probably, too. And The Office. Seinfeld. Some shows get that opportunity to figure things out, and then once it's figured out, get to move forward in whatever manner the show is.


Susan Lambert Hatem: But what's interesting, I think, about A Different World, as you were just saying, is there's a conscious reset, right? These other shows, it's the same team shifting and figuring out the show. And that seems to be a half hour comedy path is we have a general idea, we have some cool characters, but we really don't know where to take them until the end of season one. And then by season two, where everybody's just cooking with gas, which apparently you shouldn't do anymore. But this show had to kind of reboot itself, right? With the loss of Lisa Bonet, with the loss of Marisa Tomei, Bonet and Tomei, I realized rhyme when I was setting up. I was like, I had never realized that before. So Bonet and Tomei left. And the real desire to lean into the historically black college world, I think, and really honor it. Yeah. Even more than the being a concept for the show, I think was really smart and allowing the show to do that. Cosby had broken all that ground and you can't have the show without the Cosby show for all sorts of reasons. But then what this show became, you're right, does not get credit because of the shadow of the Cosby show. And I would argue because it's women running it.


Niceole Levy: I would 100% agree with that. I think that is the historical nature of our business is, you know, it's why I think that it was that TV nepotism of, well, I needed to spin off. So they don't, it's not like it's hard. It's like, you're saying that because it's a bunch of women. Like if someone else had run the show, you would have probably been like, Oh my God, look at the work they did. Yeah. Rebooting the show and all of those things. And, you know, sort of to our point of, bringing in the hard topics and keeping the funny and all of that. Like I hadn't watched If I Should Die Before I Wake in quite a while. And so I watched it. And I mean, it brought me to tears because it took me right back to what it felt like to watch people with HIV and AIDS treated like monsters. and how infuriating it was to be young and watching that and being like, nobody has to try for it. Nobody's choosing to get sick. Like what is wrong with you people? They are treating people like they don't deserve to be hugged anymore and they don't deserve to be loved anymore because they're sick. And the way that they were able to do that, I mean, there is a part of me, I'm not saying, obviously I'm friends with a great many male writers. I have like all of those things, but like, the touch that was required to do that, there was a, such a nurturing undertone of that, right? Debbie being in a world, right? Coming from dance where lots of people were suffering and being lost from this illness and being able to like infuse that, to print it out into the world, right? It was just so monumental and so valuable. And knowing that we still need messages like that in the world, like watching that was just such a reminder to me, right? You think about the political climate right now. Can we close, just remember that everybody is a human being. Like, can we stop with the othering and sectioning people off? And like, I think that's part of why it hit me so powerfully again, not just the memory, but like, it's still so necessary. And I think so much of this show, like, showing the differences in young people, right? Showing the, you know, Kim having the pregnancy scare versus Whitley wanting to wait longer to ever have sex. You know, all of those things, it's like, you start to think of people as a monolith, and it's such a great reminder that there's all different kinds of people in the world, because you see them all at the school.


Sharon Johnson: It makes me think about the fact that this kind of storytelling, the kinds of topics that were touched on, not just in the different world, but in a lot of shows in the 80s, we don't really see it anymore. We don't see that kind of thing talked about in the context of the characters and people's life experiences. And I really kind of miss that. I wish there was more of that because I think it helped make a lot of difference, in my opinion, in the AIDS crisis. It helped to help people go, okay, you know, whatever I've been hearing and how scary this is and not to minimize it, but maybe there's a better way, different way to think about this, to deal with this.


Niceole Levy: There is such an absence of that in some of our shows, and I really miss it. I think the most recent version of that I can think about is how people talked about how Modern Family helped so many people get over the hump with gay marriage, right? It was like, wow, we love them. So I guess it doesn't look that different. And it's all fine. And like people were able to kind of take their blinders off a little bit. And look, procedural television has bought me a house. I'm grateful for it. I've done a lot of stories I cared about in the procedural space, but it does feel like there's a little fear now of talking about real things in too real a way. Yeah, it makes me sad. Like I'm like, I want Hill Street Blues again. I want, you know, homicide. Like I want those things that talk about life in a way that isn't cops are perfect or cops are all terrible. It's like we should talk about human beings doing a really difficult job. Right. And then the sitcom world again, it's like trying to make space for, you know, not everybody looks the same and not everybody comes from the same place. And my friend Debbie Wolfe is doing the Lopez versus Lopez show right now. And I'm just so proud of her because it's like, at least it's someone different, right? On television, it's a different kind of family than we've seen in quite a while and different economic situation, different everything. And it's like, thank God.


Susan Lambert Hatem: And I know that 80s television and the people making it felt a need to talk about this stuff because there wasn't the internet, there was newspaper articles, but television kind of often would break ground on this stuff. And this is doing that same thing. To your point, I just, I remembered there was a quote that I had pulled that was from a People Magazine article, quoting Don Lewis, who starred as Julissa. When a different world comes along, you're adding people of color, various shades of brown and financial elevation, social awareness or unawareness. We painted a palette where there was someone for everyone. So anything we did, anything that our characters did to raise awareness or elevate the various facets of who we are in this fabric of this country and in our culture, I think that's what still resonates today because we're all striving to be our best selves. The facet of the historically black college experience. And as a white person and a white woman, it opened up a world to me. It also was like, Well, that looks amazing. But I was from Georgia. I grew up in Decatur, Georgia. Morehouse College is there. Spelman College is there. I knew they were there. I didn't know they were historically black colleges and universities. So I didn't know what they meant until this show. And I didn't know what they meant to the culture until this show and that was and has been still a real revelation because it's not what was being put on television then and it's not as much being put on television now. Documentaries, yes. Internet, yes. There's a way to find all this information, but it's not as sort of beautifully stitched into a story, which I find is such a great way to learn and to absorb information because it doesn't feel like you're learning.


Niceole Levy: Absolutely. I mean, when you think about, you know, firstly, all credit to Jasmine for the performance, and then also the way the writers wrote around Whitley, right? Like, there's so many shows in which Whitley's just the bad guy. Where she's just a rich, spoiled girl, and she's always looking down on people, and like, yeah, she's pretty, and yeah, she's hot, but wait, like, she's kind of a bitch. And the fact that Whitley was always an actual person, even when she was doing all those things, like even in, cause I think the surprise birthday party is like before Debbie got there, right? Where she thinks everyone forgot her birthday. But even that, we've all been the person who was like, everyone forgot it's my birthday. We haven't even remembered it's my birthday and how crushing that is. And to like, watch Whitley who has everything go through that moment, right? And I just, watching it like really jumped out to me as a writer now, like how, They wrote the other characters' reactions to her in a way that was not basically like, oh, Whitley's such an a**hole. It was like, we love her. Let's be patient. Let's help her get to the thing, which is such a big difference in how you write the characters around her. And so that, you know, when Duane falls in love with her, you totally believe that because Whitley's always been a good person in her heart. She just had a very narrow worldview and they helped open it up for her. And I just think sometimes watching on TV now, like if there was a character like Whitley, I would 100% expect her to be written as like the butt of jokes and not get that level of humanity. And I think that's a little of what I find is missing. Yeah.


Susan Lambert Hatem: And I think it's there from season one. Yeah. Dwayne was written a certain way in season one. And so when he becomes the man he becomes, it's, it's college. Like it's where you suddenly realize like, oh, people actually do learn and grow up and make mistakes and correct them and develop their personalities to their full extent, if allowed.


Niceole Levy: Yeah. So I will admit, it's so funny. Like at the rewatching, I remember That third last season I think I would watch and like really watch for the characters who had been there all along and kind of tune out a little bit on the younger characters because I was hitting this stage where I was tired of younger characters and shows where the young people were always the smartest person in the room and I was like whatever. But I thought it was so lovely to watch the effect that our original characters had on those younger characters. Cause that's what happens, right? You grow up and then you're the person the next generation wants to be. Looking back, I'm like, oh no, I like that.


Susan Lambert Hatem: There's a huge evolution in this show. That was the other thing that I had forgotten, like how it shifts and adds characters and people and Sinbad. And, you know, like I just sort of had forgotten the richness of the cast. Yeah. You know, and how much the teachers come in. Yes. And it wasn't technically on my list for somehow I ended up watching it was Radio Free Hillman, because I kind of make a list of what highlights I'm going to hit first. But of course, I was watching it this week and thinking about all the college campus protests that are happening right now and going, God, I mean, I can't believe they did this. Right. And yet that's what was happening in the 80s, too. And it's so resonant, right? Like you want young people to be passionate and protesting and you want them to be able to do that safely. And you want colleges to make room for that. It should be where they're doing it safely. Yeah. And that's hard. And that's what the episode is all about. It's crazy.


Niceole Levy: It's crazy, it was stunning to me to like rewatch it and realize how much of the subject matter is still so relevant. It's like amazing and also makes me a little sad because you're like, oh, really? We haven't pushed past some of this stuff? But I feel that way. I rewatch Hill Street Blues all the time, and I feel that way with Hill Street as well. Like, if you could digitize that with giant bricks of portable phones and stuff, it would feel pretty current, honestly, for a lot of the social commentary. I think that just shows that they really had tapped into something that is pretty universal to being young and then also very specific to being young and Black. They were able to do both those things, which I think is so tricky and hard.


Sharon Johnson: Yeah, admittedly, even when I was a kid, for the most part, I was not particularly interested in shows about kids or teenagers. I was always interested in what the grownups were doing. But it really has been remarkable rewatching it to see just how how remarkable it really is that I just didn't appreciate at the time. That sort of thing has been one of the gifts of doing this podcast and getting to go back and rewatch these shows and to learn to better appreciate what was happening and the women who were behind it, which frankly, I never thought about it. I just figured these things showed up on my TV without really giving a lot of thought as to how that happened.


Niceole Levy: Yeah, no, absolutely. And it's funny you say that, that, you know, because it was about the teens, it's really unusual to me that I stuck with this show because like I was the girl who Thursday nights at 10 was like, you know, let's go on TV with the dial, but twirling down the street and not landing because I couldn't shoot because couldn't record it, couldn't do anything, like had to be there. So I was like, let's have, let's have, oh, it's not an Abby scene. Okay. Let me go back. Like, I would like go back and forth trying to keep up with both shows. Because I was like, screw you, networks. I am going to know what's happening on both my shows.


Susan Lambert Hatem: I love that. That never occurred to me. I wish it had.


Niceole Levy: Oh, my God. The amount of lectures I got about how I was destroying my eyesight because I would just be arm's distance.


Melissa Roth: Yeah, never occurred to me either.


Sharon Johnson: I don't know why it never occurred to me, but it didn't occur to me either.


Susan Lambert Hatem: Oh my God, you and Stan Zimmerman was creating networks and developing his own network schedule. You guys were much more proactive. I was just trying to go through the TV guide and go, I guess I have to do this one.


Sharon Johnson: Desperate times, desperate measures.


Niceole Levy: I came up with all kinds of creative solutions for things. Like I was a stat girl for the varsity football team, which meant every Friday I was at a football game. But I was also obsessed with Matt Houston, which is ridiculous, but I loved it. And so I got my friend's mom because they got a VCR and I convinced my friend's mom to record it for me. So then every Saturday I would go over to their house and watch it so they could record over them.


Sharon Johnson: That's fantastic. When I was a kid, we had one TV, as you did, and so we'd get into fights, I guess, about what to watch. And my mom finally said, okay, you each pick one show that we will watch. no matter what, and everybody gets to pick a show. So I gave it a lot of thought, thought about what everybody else liked, thought about what I liked, and I deliberately picked a show that, even though it may not have been my favorite, I knew nobody else wanted to watch, but I did, and I still got to watch other shows that I liked because other people picked them. So you gotta do what you gotta do to get your TV, is basically what I'm saying.


Niceole Levy: Cause I was just such a TV junkie and my parents got tired of listening to me flipping the thing around. So they put a TV in my room. They were like, we're done, go to your bedroom, do what you're gonna do, we're done with you. In ninth grade, we had to write a journal and we had to write in it Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I was like, I don't wanna talk about my life. So on Mondays, I would talk about what happened in the Friday episode of Matt Houston. And then they would have shown the preview. And then I would have also seen the ad for the next episode of Hart to Heart. So then Wednesday, I would like Monday guess what I thought was going to happen based on the ads. And then Wednesday, I would write about what really happened on Hart to Hart. And then Friday, I would write about what I hoped was going to happen on Matt Houston. And then Monday, I would come in and talk about, oh, well, here's what really happened. And so at the end of the year, my teacher wrote a note at the top of the journal. And she was like, this is literally the most entertaining journal I've ever read.


Susan Lambert Hatem: Do you still have that journal?


Niceole Levy: I wish I did. But it was probably my earliest not knowing it, but I was kind of writing fanfic, right? Cause I was kind of like, here's what I hope happens. And they're like, well, this is what they did, but here's what they should have done instead. Oh my God. You had to be a TV writer from that moment on. I didn't realize it, but clearly it was already trying to come out.


Susan Lambert Hatem: I friggin' love that. So what other shows?


Niceole Levy: I mean, Hill Street Blues to me is the greatest show in the history of television. I love that show. And usually when people try to debate me, I'm like, yeah, that show wouldn't exist if Hill Street hadn't existed.


Niceole Levy: Because it really did. It changed how dramas got made and it allowed all those other shows we love to come into existence, right? Huge Wonder Years fan. Which again, unusual, because it was about kids, but it felt like it was told from such a grownup perspective. So I think I always still really keyed into it. Heart to heart, obviously. Well, started pre-80s, but Dallas. Dallas was my jam. Knotts Landing because of that dynasty. Falcon Crest, all the nighttime soaps. I was there for all of them.


Sharon Johnson: I was a CBS nighttime soap person. I resented Dynasty for trying to steal Dallas's Thunder, so I refused to watch it.


Niceole Levy: And then Cagney and Lacey. My mom got me on Cagney and Lacey, so I loved that you guys talked about it. Scarecrow and Mrs. King, it was my jam. Had to be home to watch it every week. And then probably in the, you know, starting to get more grown up, like Miami Vice felt like a game changer to me. Cause I just didn't know a show could look like that and feel like that. Like it was so atmospheric. And so like, also you could never make that pilot now. Like, I don't know how long it's been since she watched the Miami Vice pilot. We are not even in a scene together in the first hour.


Sharon Johnson: Really?


Niceole Levy: Oh, wow. They don't meet until, like, the end of the first hour, basically.


Susan Lambert Hatem: Does he have a different partner or something? Do they have a different partner?


Niceole Levy: Yes. And he starts out with a different partner. And Rico's in town without permission because he's from New York and he's working. So, like, Rico just seems like a guy in the mix of the drug world or whatever. And then it's like, oh, no, I'm really a cop from New York. I'm here to find who killed my brother. And then it's like, oh, like that would go away with that now.


Susan Lambert Hatem: Move it left.


Niceole Levy: I had been keeping a list of all the TV shows I had ever watched in my lifetime. And the rule for the list was I had to have gotten through at least one complete episode for it to be on the list. If I got mad during the pilot and turned it off, it didn't count. Admittedly, there were shows on there that I would not have watched by choice, but I used to do closed captioning for television. So did I. So I still watched them. They still counted.


Sharon Johnson: Did you really? I did. I worked for a company in the 90s called Captions, Inc.


Niceole Levy: Oh, yes. I remember the name. Yeah. I worked for Vitax.


Sharon Johnson: Yes. I remember the name as well. Anyway. You guys could have met.


Niceole Levy: We could have, I know. And so I was getting close to a thousand. So Amanda Green, who's one of my dear friends that I met on that show, was like, you have to write about what you've learned from watching a thousand TV shows. And so I did. So much of my taste buds came from watching, right? I know I don't like a show where people die every week. It's like, who dies this week? I'm out. Cause I love TV because I get to build a relationship with the characters. If you're going to kill somebody, it better count. And I realized like a lot of that's from the shows I watched growing up and how much of an impact it would have, right? Cause they used to be so skittish about killing people off on shows. And like the impact it has, like, when it happens, that you're just, so it should really matter. And I think that's one of my biggest takeaways from being a fan of TV. So I'm very appreciative to all of those writers that I watched growing up who were like, make it count.


Susan Lambert Hatem: If you're going to do it, make it count. And you also have written a book.


Niceole Levy: I did. I wrote The Writers' Room Survival Guide. A little against my will at first, Carol Kirshner, who was an amazing human being who administers the CBS Writers Mentorship Program, which is now the Paramount Program, and does showrunner training at the Writers Guild. Was sort of one of the first people to believe in me as a TV writer, and thus I adore her. And she was like, I really think somebody should write a book like this. And I was like, someone should, that's a great idea. And like the fourth time she was like, Nicole, you, I'm trying to tell you, you write the book. I was like, I don't think I have, I don't want to write a book. And then I wrote a table of contents and sent it to some friends to be like, what am I missing? And they told me, and I was like, oh yeah, I have a lot to say about that. And suddenly I had an idea for a book. So there you go.


Susan Lambert Hatem: Congratulations. Don't scrap the lunch order. And other keys to a happy writer's room.


Niceole Levy: Several people, isn't that more about the writer's assistant? And I was like, no. It's the person in the writer's room who makes lunch difficult. If you're in the writer's room and it's like, I don't wanna disparage a restaurant, but restaurant X, which I hate, I am not gonna throw a fit because we're going there. I'm gonna just go to the connoisseur and grab my own lunch. But the people who were like, we don't want that. Or if you're gonna go there, can you also stop at this other place that's like two blocks away and do whatever? I was like, no, unless you're the showrunner, you either say thank you for my lunch, or you take care of yourself. You do not run the PA crazy. So I did, I got my whole start in procedurals. And I think a lot of that was I grew up in a house where my parents loved cop shows, right? My parents were also responsible for my Dallas addiction. They were responsible for China Beach. China Beach? Yeah. There were definitely some shows that my parents got me into that were not the traditional like cop shows, but like Little Street was my parents' fault. Homicide, I think I found on my own, but like, you know, Police Woman and McMillan and Wife, all of those shows. And I had always enjoyed them. And so definitely a lot of my early work was doing specs of whatever the modern day equivalent of their shows were and like really honing that and trying to find my way in. The first spec I ever wrote was for The X-Files. And it's dreadful, but it taught me a lot. So you have to learn the stuff to get better because it sounds great. And then you sit down and do it and you're like, oh, this is hard. Yes. It's hard work to write an hour of television. It doesn't just magically come out of you. So I did a lot of that procedural work, the show where I willed myself to the place. I had always loved genre. on top of my procedurals. Buck Rogers, OG Battlestar, original Star Trek, Next Generation. Next Generation is my touchstone, I love it. So that world had always fascinated me and I read comics, right? Never occurred to me in a million years that writing comic book TV shows was gonna be a thing. That seemed like, like I had watched original Flavor Wonder Woman, it didn't seem like they wrote that was coming back, right? Incredible Hulk, great. Something I watched as a kid, never coming back again. And then here I am in the TV business and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. happens and now suddenly comic book TV shows are a thing. And I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that I just sent everyone I knew, Ikayla included, to the Marvel offices to be like, how have you not interviewed Nicole? And so that by the time I got a meeting at Marvel, I walked in the door and they were like, so I heard you watch everything. And I was like, I do. Which show would you like to talk about first? And that is how I got my job on Cloak & Dagger. I got off of that, got a meeting with Joe Picasty, who was like, even though he teased me mercilessly about my agents of sheer love, hired me anyway.


Susan Lambert Hatem: I did what, I'm so glad you brought up Cloak & Dagger because I'm a big fan of Cloak & Dagger. I love Olivia Holt. I think I love her as an actress and I know Joe Bukowski. So I was like watching that show sort of from the, I wish there was more of that show.


Niceole Levy: I do too, believe me. Like I really thought we were going to get to go back for season three and we were pretty hopeful until they killed us. But it was just an absolute dream come true. You know, there's always that fear that you're going to get to do the thing you always dreamt of doing and it's not going to be great. But it was, Joe runs such a good room and like the writers were great. The cast was great. It was just such a terrific job. And like, I would, I would still be there.


Susan Lambert Hatem: Can you tell us a little bit about your show now that you're working on? Sure.


Niceole Levy: So Found, for those of you who have not seen it, stars the amazing Shanola Hampton. as a woman who when she was in high school was kidnapped by her teacher and held preserved for a year. And he kidnapped a second child and she was like, no, and escaped and saved herself and the other child. He got away. He has now been at large for 20 some odd years. This is not really a spoiler, because if you saw the commercials for the show, you definitely got this, was she now finds people for a living, specifically people who police are less likely to be looking for. So people of color, people from the LGBTQIA community, people who fall through the cracks. So that's her vocation. She has a whole team of people who help her do that. She also has her kidnapper locked in her basement. She tracked him down and is now holding him prisoner, forcing him to help her find other bad guys. So that's kind of the premise. We left you on a very big cliffhanger. Well, I should say the other writers did because I was not there season one, but I am now part of season two. It's so great to me because anyone who follows me on socials knows that I have been reposting stuff from the Black and Missing Foundation for three years, I think, since the documentary aired on HBO. When people who are black and brown go missing, they don't get the media attention that a lot of other folks do. And so to get to make television that talks about something that matters to me that much is pretty exceptional. You get to do some really fun work in this business. It's not often that you get to also talk about something that you're that passionate about when you haven't been able to create the show. So it's pretty, pretty wonderful to be in Nkechi's universe and working on this show. And it stars Mark Paul Gosselaar, who used to be in Slowed by the Bell, plays our villain, Sir. So if you're an old Slowed by the Bell fan and you want to see him in a different light, he is Sir. He is our kidnapper. and he's wonderful and it's very strange because he's such a lovely human and he's such a bad guy.


Sharon Johnson: It's a pretty intriguing concept. I don't think I've heard of anything quite like that before. Definitely kudos to whoever thought that up.


Niceole Levy: Yes, that was the goddess in Nkechi Carroll, (Nkechi Okoro Carroll) who also runs All-American and All-American Homecoming. So basically doesn't sleep because she has three shows on broadcast television. But she is an amazing human. And like, you know, just like us, grew up loving television and grew up watching all these shows and now creates them and hires people like me to write them, which is an awesome thing.


Susan Lambert Hatem: Well, we clearly could talk forever. Oh gosh, yes. But apparently we have to stop sometime. I love those 80s ladies and they're having a blast and they're wonderful on like, I follow Susan Sullivan and she's always posting really like, like good morning and be positive and everything love in the world. Yes. I am stalking some of them hoping that someday they'll follow me back and I can DM them and go, please come on our show.


Niceole Levy: If you ever get Susan Sullivan to come on and talk about Falcon Crest, you have to let me at least just come listen.


Susan Lambert Hatem: Okay, you got it.


Sharon Johnson: Yeah, Falcon Crest was one of my shows. I will try to hold it together.


Niceole Levy: It might be my favorite nighttime soap of all time, right? Dallas for several years was great. Knotts Landing for several years was great. Falcon Crest, like Joe Miman was just wow. And her and David Selby together, holy crap.


Sharon Johnson: Knott's Landing is my favorite, I think, of them, not the least of which because of the incomparable Donna Mills, who played the most amazing villainess, but not villain. I mean, she was somebody who knew what she wanted, went after it, but she wasn't evil. Exactly. She was a three-dimensional person.


Niceole Levy: Yeah, I was always on Abby's side. I was always on Abby's side.


Susan Lambert Hatem: OK, I'm sensing we need a whole different podcast, maybe not even just an episode. I think clearly you guys have a lot of opinions. We're going to have you back. I do want to run through the numbers. So how many women were on this show behind the scenes? Based on my count on IMDb, five out of 22 directors are women. But that's not telling the whole story. The top three are all women, including top one, Debbie Allen, who directed 83 episodes of A Different World, which is stunning.


Sharon Johnson: Until Debbie Allen started working on Grey's Anatomy a few years ago, I had no idea she had this whole career behind the camera.


Susan Lambert Hatem: I didn't. She does get some flowers. She doesn't get nearly enough. And she certainly didn't get nearly enough on this show from the Emmys. It was nominated three times only. I know. I'm so stunned at that. Out of 144 episodes, six seasons, nominated three times for technical direction, which they didn't even name her in, and two guest things. Don't even because thankfully, she does have 20 Emmy nominations and five wins to Tony's and Golden Globe. And she got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1991.


Niceole Levy: Yes. Yes. Did you in the honeymoon episode? That's like a bit of a honeymoon episode when she's cleaning her star. It's a bit. It's delightful. Yeah. She's amazing. I know. But in terms of the Kennedy Center honor, more completely, I don't think.


Susan Lambert Hatem: I will also say that of the writers on A Different World, 20 of the 47 listed writers were women.


Niceole Levy: If you think about like 20 women at that, like those years, that's, that's remarkable. Yeah. Outstanding. That was clearly very intentional because you can find a lot of shows from back then that did not have that level of female involvement.


Susan Lambert Hatem: It was very intentional and I think it was Debbie Allen and I think it was Susan Fales Hill. who we will be talking to on this show for one of our episodes. Stay tuned. Oh my gosh. Okay. Thank you. Please come back.


Niceole Levy: I would love to come back. Thank you. This was so much fun. So much fun. It'd be really hard for you to name an 80s show that you wanted me to talk about that I hadn't really seen. Okay.


Sharon Johnson: So. We are definitely going to take you up on that. We are definitely going to take you up on that.


Niceole Levy: Thank you so much. This was so fun.


Sharon Johnson: Thanks, Nicole. In today's audiography, find a different world streaming on Max.


Susan Lambert Hatem: And you can learn more about Nicole Levy at NicoleLevy.com. N-I-C-E-O-L-E-L-E-V-Y.com. There'll also be a link in our description.


Sharon Johnson: On that site, you can find her article, What I Learned Watching 1,000 Television Shows, and we'll have a link that'll take you directly there.


Susan Lambert Hatem: And of course, the book today is The Writer's Room Survival Guide, Don't Screw Up the Lunch Order and Other Keys to a Happy Writer's Room by Nicole Levy.


Sharon Johnson: We hope 80s TV Ladies brings you joy and laughter and lots of fabulous old and new shows to watch. All of which will lead us forward toward being amazing ladies of the 21st century.

Susan Lambert Hatem: [singing] It's a different world!

[Singing] Amy Englehardt: 80s TV Ladies, So sexy and so pretty. 80s TV Ladies, Steppin’ out into the city. 80s TV Ladies, often treated kind of sh-[wolf whistle]. Working hard for the money in a man’s world. 80s TV Ladies!

Credits: 80s TV Ladies™ Episode 234: “Exploring A Different World | Niceole Levy”


Produced by 134 West and Susan Lambert Hatem. Hosted by Susan Lambert Hatem and Sharon Johnson.  Guest: Niceole Levy.  Sound Engineer and Editor: Kevin Ducey. Producer: Melissa Roth. Associate Producer: Sergio Perez. Music by Amy Engelhardt. Copyright 2024 134 West, LLC and Susan Lambert. All Rights Reserved.