Originally, this was a Spin-Off of The Cosby Show: Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) goes to college. It ran on NBC from 1987 to 1993.The show was set at fictional, historically-black Hillman College in Virginia. Two of the supporting cast, Dwayne Wayne (Kadeem Hardison) and Whitley Gilbert (Jasmine Guy), proved to be Ensemble Darkhorses. In the second season, Lisa Bonet was let go because she and then husband Lenny Kravitz were having a baby and the producers were concerned about Denise appearing to be an unwed mother. This led to Dwayne and Whitley becoming the new leads. Despite all the odds working against them, this actually changed the show into a hit and altered the formula from being a mere spin-off to an entity of its own.The show also became acclaimed for tackling issues that other shows (especially The Cosby Show) refused to at the time, and became the first prime-time show to actually address the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
But Not Too Black: Averted. The show featured African-Americans of varying skin tones and despite each person having various flaws and qualities, no particular shade was depicted as more desirable/intelligent/successful than the other.
The Cast Showoff: Several cast members get to show off their singing talents in various episodes.
Celebrity Star - En Vogue, Blair Underwood, Kris Kross, Patti LaBelle, Diahann Carroll to name a few.
Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Maggie (Marissa Tomei) and Whitley's sidekick, Millie, along with the first dorm mom Stevie (Loretta Devine) (season 1), Lettie (seasons 1-2)
Cousin Oliver: Col. Taylor's son Terrance (Season 4), Lena, Gina, and Charmaine (Cousin Pam's friend from The Cosby Show) (Season 5), Season 6's new freshman class
Cree Summer: A rare Live-Action role as Freddie Brooks.
Cross Over: Unsurprisingly, often with its parent series. Cliff appeared in cameos during phone conversations, while Claire, Theo, Rudy, and Grandpa Russell each visited Hillman. After Denise's departure, Claire still made appearances and Vanessa made one. In a later episode, Dwayne visits Denise (in her final appearance on the series) and meets Olivia. Lance and Charmaine also appeared in Season 5, with the latter joining the cast the next season.
Ethnic Menial Labor: Nearly a whole episode was devoted to a discussion on the mammy archetype after Whitley decides to dedicate an art installation to said archetype.
Fake High: In Season 2 episode, "If You Like Pilgrim Coladas", Whitley and Kim go to a bar with a fake ID and are found out when they act drunk after several of the eponymous drink, which contains no alcohol.
Forgotten Birthday: They run this plot with Whitley three times (technically.) The first season, she's surprised with a cake by the main cast. Then, on her 21st b-day, she assumes everyone forgot, gets drunk and nearly makes out with a photo of Denzel Washington, but is given a "spinster" dinner by her dorm mates, and receives some sentimental gifts from Dwayne and Julian. While not exactly the same, special mention has to go to her first birthday as Dwayne's wife, where she gets paranoid and PLANS HER OWN SURPRISE PARTY, Dwayne finds out and cancels it, gives her a crappy dinner at a diner, and bluffs her all the way home where a roomful of people surprise the crap out of her with a cake and gifts.
I Drank What?: In one episode, Lena is babysitting for Jaleesa's baby while Colonel Taylor is hosting Byron's bachelor party. Ron makes pina coladas and decides to use the milk in the fridge. Cue several spit takes when Lena comes down to get the breast milk for the baby.
Long-Lost Uncle Aesop: guest stars, including but not limited to Tisha Campbell (of Martin fame) and Sista Souljah, introduced topics such as date rape, AIDS, the Gulf War and the LA Riots to viewers and then disappeared.
Musical Episode: although several of the actors sang from time to time in the series, "The Little Mister," the episode spoofing the 1992 presidential elections, counts as one of these.
MRS Degree: One episode has Whitley confessing to Dean Hughes that when she initially came to Hillman, this was her plan, complete with a wedding the day after graduation and using her art history degree to pick out the right paintings to decorate the living room.
Put on a Bus: When Season 2 begins it's explained that Denise isn't coming back to Hillman for another term.
The Rashomon: An episode in which Ron and Dwayne get into a brawl with three white students from a rival college is depicted as it really happened (both sets of students saying and doing things to provoke each other, culminating in one of the white students vandalizing Ron's car), then from Ron's point of view (showing himself and Dwayne as completely innocent and depicting the one white student who was trying to stop the incident from escalating as equally aggressive as his friends), then from the white students (claiming that Ron and Dwayne were the aggressors and omitting the damage done to Ron's car).
Rich Bitch: Whitney initially, although this was toned down over time.
Romantic False Lead: Hoo boy. Before Dwayne and Whitley marry, he dates Denise, Suzanne and Kinu. For Whitley, there's Julian and Byron (whom she almost married.) Ron (seriously) dates Millie and Kim before his relationship with Freddie, who dated Ernest, Garth (who tried to rape her,) and Shazza Zulu before him. Kim dated Robert, Freddie's cousin Matthew, and Ron before hooking up with her eventual fiance Spencer, and Jaleesa almost married Walter before shocking everyone and eloping with Col. Taylor.
Runaway Bride: Whitley literally leaves fiance Byron at the altar to run down the aisle into Dwayne's arms.
Sassy Black Woman: Post-Denise, pretty much all of them, outside of Whitley and Freddy.
He would fit the trope if his best friend was a white guy, but Dwayne is about as far from that as the show got. Ron did have some Daffy Duck tendencies, but as time went on, he showed himself to be sincere, thoughtful, innovative, and genuine. Sure he was greedy, but given that his father was a used car salesman, he could have turned out a LOT worse.
Wedding Deadline: In "Save the Best for Last," Dwayne interrupts the wedding just before Whitley says "I will" to Byron, only to say "I do" to Dwayne, marrying him instead.
Wham Episode: One episode had Kim's detective father (played by Richard Roundtree) coming down hard on her after she defied him to go to a concert in DC. The next episode? Kim, Whitley, Dwayne and Freddie drive from Virginia to Ohio after finding out he was shot and possibly paralyzed.