Debbie Allen

Choreographer / Actress / Producer


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In her two-hour archive interview Debbie Allen discusses her beginnings in the entertainment industry. She talks of dancing and her Tony nomination for her role as "Anita" in West Side Story, and winning the Drama Desk Award. She recounts her various roles on television, including an appearance on Good Times and Captain Kangaroo, as well as her role in Roots: The Next Generation as "Nan." She then speaks about her part in the film "Fame" and how that lead to one of the most famous roles of her television career, playing "Lydia Grant" on the TV version of Fame. She elaborates on wearing many hats on the show - as actress, choreographer, and eventually director and co-executive producer. She also discusses its deep resonance with audiences and how the show inspired and encouraged the creation of dance schools all over the world. Allen then describes how she was brought on to the show A Different World as the director and how she made the show more relevant to the times by covering topics pertinent to young adults, and tackling such subjects as AIDS and the Gulf War. She also mentions her involvement as director on the shows Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Grey's Anatomy, and Everybody Hates Chris and describes what it was like choreographing sequences for the Academy Awards for ten years. Allen discusses her Emmy win for her choreography on the dance number, "African American Odyssey" for the special, Motown 30, What's Going On? and then elaborates on producing "Amistad," a film project near and dear to her heart. She shares her views on the current popularity of reality dance TV shows and also recalls working with her sister, Phylicia Rashad, on the TV movies Old Settler and Polly. Stephen J. Abramson conducted the interview at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy on April 15, 2011 in Los Angeles, CA.

"I think 'Fame' still resonates three decades later because what we did was so pure and it was honest ... those stories were always so compelling. The dancing and the singing were just revelatory to the audiences. They hadn't seen anything like that week to week to week."

Highlights
Debbie Allen on the impact of the show, Fame
00:30
Debbie Allen on choreographing for the Academy Awards show ten times
05:52
Debbie Allen on why reality dance shows like Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance, are so popular
01:07
Debbie Allen on the lasting impact of A Different World
00:30
Debbie Allen on the groundbreaking nature of A Different World
00:57
Debbie Allen on famous quotes from the TV show Fame
03:34
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On her childhood and early influences; on the influence that TV had upon her at a young age, including The Ed Sullivan Show; on her first professional job as a dancer; on moving to New York; on her Tony nomination for West Side Story; on winning a Drama Desk Award
16:04
On her education at Howard University; on her first television role on Good Times; on working on children's show, Captain Kangaroo; on being cast as "Nan" in Roots: The Next Generation; on her role in the movie Fame; on the transition to her role on the TV show of the same name; on her character "Lydia Grant" in Fame; on how the TV show version of Fame differed from the film; on the craft of choreography for television, stage and film; on doing the choreography for the TV show, Fame; on the shooting schedule and locations for the show
17:56
On a typical week filming Fame; on juggling her various roles on the show; on the dance numbers in Fame each week; on challenging episodes of Fame; on the various talents of the cast of Fame; on the link between the shows Fame and Glee; on how her life changed as Fame became more popular; on restrictions and taboo subjects on Fame; on subjects covered on Fame including the "60's" episode and the homage to Hair
09:13
On when she started directing Fame for the episode "Lisa's Ghost"; on being the first African-American woman to direct scripted prime time television; on dealing with discrimination and sexism working as a choreographer and director; on becoming co-executive producer on Fame; on why the show ended; on the impact of the show; on the reality show based on Fame; on her role and impressions of the re-make of the film Fame; on why Fame still resonates with people three decades later; on her influence over arts programs in schools and the creation of performing arts schools around the world
13:13
On becoming a producer and director of A Different World; on how she made the show relevant to the times
03:37

Chapter 2

On the original premise of A Different World; on the changes she made to the show; on why Lisa Bonet left A Different World; on working with Bill Cosby behind-the-scenes on A Different World; on being the first TV show to broach the subject of AIDS; on how television has changed over the years; on obstacles she had to overcome regarding story lines for the show
15:52
On approaching serious topics with humor on A Different World; on how the actors responded to the changes on A Different World; on the collaboration she facilitated between the actors and writers; on the groundbreaking nature of A Different World; on research for the show; on the theme song for the show; on how Carsey and Werner responded to the changes implemented on the show
08:41
On specific episodes of A Different World that addressed controversial issues; on the guest stars and popular characters on A Different World; on shooting the final episode of A Different World; on the lasting impact of A Different World
12:10
On directing episodes of Family Ties, the pilot for The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, and episodes of Everybody Hates Chris; on Grey's Anatomy; on choreographing The Academy Awards ten times; on her Emmy win for Motown 30, What's Going On? for choreographing "African American Odyssey"; on her work on Amistad; on the popularity of dance shows like Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance; on working with her sister Phylicia Rashad on Polly and Old Settler
20:08
On advice she would give to someone aspiring to be a director or choreographer; on how she would like to be remembered
02:10
Shows

Academy Awards, The

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Debbie Allen on choreographing for the Academy Awards show ten times
05:52

Captain Kangaroo

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Debbie Allen on working on Captain Kangaroo
00:31

Dancing With the Stars

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Debbie Allen on the popularity of Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance
01:07

Different World, A

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Debbie Allen on producing and directing A Different World
03:37
Debbie Allen on the premise of A Different World; on the changes she made to the show
15:52

Ed Sullivan Show, The aka Toast of the Town

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Debbie Allen on the influence The Ed Sullivan Show had upon her at an early age
00:35

Fame (1982-87)

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Debbie Allen on being cast as "Lydia" in the TV show Fame
05:55
Debbie Allen on doing the choreography for the TV show Fame
00:42
Debbie Allen on the direct link between the shows Fame and Glee
00:40

Family Ties

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Debbie Allen on directing episodes of Family Ties
00:51

Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The

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Debbie Allen on directing the pilot for The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air
01:50

Glee

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Debbie Allen on the direct link between the shows Fame and Glee
00:40

Good Times

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Debbie Allen on working on Good Times, her first television role
02:51

Roots: The Next Generations

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Debbie Allen on being cast as "Nan" in Roots: The Next Generation
02:07

So You Think You Can Dance

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Debbie Allen on the popularity of Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance
01:07
Topics

Characters & Catchphrases

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Debbie Allen on famous quotes from the TV show Fame
00:35
Debbie Allen on why "Whitley" and "Dwayne" were such popular characters on A Different World
01:07

Diversity in Television

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Debbie Allen on casting Marisa Tomei as the only Caucasian character on A Different World
00:53

Emmy Awards

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Debbie Allen on being nominated for several Emmy Awards for the TV show Fame
00:38
Debbie Allen on the Emmy winning "Othello" episode of Fame
01:41
Debbie Allen on her Emmy win for Motown 30, What's Going On? for choreographing "African American Odyssey"
01:23

Gulf War

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Debbie Allen on the episode of A Different World that addressed the Gulf War conflict
02:11

Health and Medicine

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Debbie Allen on how A Different World was the first network show on TV to broach the subject of AIDS
03:10

Memorable Moments on Television

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Debbie Allen on the episode of A Different World that dealt with the L.A. riots
01:47

Minorities

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Debbie Allen on the impact of Roots; on being cast as "Nan" in Roots: The Next Generation
02:07

TV Theme Songs

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Debbie Allen on the theme song for A Different World
00:53
Professions

Dancer/Choreographer

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Debbie Allen on when she knew she wanted to be a dancer
00:54
Debbie Allen on her dedication to her profession
01:10
Debbie Allen on advice she would give to someone aspiring to be a director or choreographer
01:32

Directors

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Debbie Allen on the collaborative effort needed to direct and produce a strong show
02:43
Genres

Awards Shows

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Debbie Allen on choreographing the Academy Awards ten times
05:52

Children's Programming

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Debbie Allen on working on Captain Kangaroo
00:31

Comedy Series

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Debbie Allen on working on Good Times, her first television role
02:51
Debbie Allen on producing and directing A Different World
03:37
Debbie Allen on the genius of how Family Ties was produced
00:56
Debbie Allen on the changes she made to the show A Different World
15:52

Drama Series

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Debbie Allen on being cast in the TV show Fame
05:55
Debbie Allen on the link between TV shows, Fame and Glee
00:40

Reality TV

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Debbie Allen on the popularity of Reality TV dance shows like Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance
01:07

TV Movies/Miniseries/Dramatic Specials

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Debbie Allen on the impact of Roots; on being cast as "Nan" in Roots: The Next Generation
02:07
Debbie Allen on working with her sister Phylicia Rashad on Old Settler for PBS Presents
01:41
Debbie Allen on working with her sister Phylicia Rashad on the movie of the week, Polly
00:54
People

Leonard Bernstein

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Debbie Allen on working with Leonard Bernstein
01:32

William Blinn

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Debbie Allen on working with William Blinn on the TV show Fame
01:57

Lisa Bonet

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Debbie Allen on why Lisa Bonet left A Different World
02:44

Diahann Carroll

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Debbie Allen on working with Diahann Carroll, her favorite guest star on A Different World
01:12

Marcy Carsey

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Debbie Allen on working with Marcy Carsey, Tom Werner, and Caryn Mandabach on A Different World
03:37
Debbie Allen on how Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner responded to the changes she implemented on A Different World
00:44

Bill Cosby

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Debbie Allen on being hired by Bill Cosby to produce and direct A Different World
03:37
Debbie Allen on working with Bill Cosby behind-the-scenes on A Different World
07:48

Aretha Franklin

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Debbie Allen on the theme song for A Different World
00:53

Gary David Goldberg

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Debbie Allen on the genius of how Family Ties was handled
00:50

Whoopi Goldberg

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Debbie Allen on working with Whoopi Goldberg on the AIDS episode of A Different World
01:33

Jasmine Guy

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Debbie Allen on working with Jasmine Guy on A Different World
01:07
Debbie Allen on the episode idea from Jasmine Guy for A Different World dealing with the Persian Gulf War
02:11

Uta Hagen

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Debbie Allen on training for dance with Uta Hagen
01:32

Kadeem Hardison

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Debbie Allen on working with Kadeem Hardison on A Different World
01:54

Lena Horne

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Debbie Allen on on the large number of prominent guest stars that appeared on A Different World including Lena Horne
01:12

Warren Littlefield

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Debbie Allen on Warren Littlefield's response to advertisers' reactions to the AIDS episode on A Different World
03:10

Phylicia Rashad

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Debbie Allen on working with her sister Phylicia Rashad on Old Settler and Polly
02:35

Gene Anthony Ray

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Debbie Allen on working with Gene Anthony Ray on the TV show Fame
01:22
Debbie Allen on the talents of Gene Anthony Ray, Lori Singer, Carlo Imperato, Lee Carreri, and Doris Schwartz
01:39

Will Smith

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Debbie Allen on working with Will Smith and Alfonso Ribeiro on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
01:51

Steven Spielberg

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Debbie Allen on working with Steven Spielberg on Amistad
03:54

Marisa Tomei

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Debbie Allen on working with Marisa Tomei on A Different World
00:53

Tom Werner

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Debbie Allen on working with Marcy Carsey, Tom Werner, and Caryn Mandabach on A Different World
03:37
Debbie Allen on how Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner responded to the changes she implemented on A Different World
00:44

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