Did you know there was supposed to be a Coming To America TV show? In case you didn’t, footage has been online for years!
Writer/producer and 2019 Sundance Screenwriters Lab fellow Bonsu Thompson wrote about the show that never was in his Level article “An Oral History of the Coming To America Show You Never Knew About.” The plot of the show, he wrote, was that Akeem, now King of Zamunda, would send his undisciplined younger brother Tariq to attend Queens College in New York. Tariq would have been played by none other than Tommy Davidson, who was then an upstart about to break into the mainstream. Oha (Paul Bates) would also travel to New York with Tariq as his personal aide.
Thompson writes the pilot floundered because it was written by a white writer, Ken Hecht, “who had made a name penning Black sitcoms like Diff’rent Strokes and Webster.”
“Hecht reportedly took a rigid, I-know-best approach to comedy,” wrote Thompson, who also stated the pilot “didn’t take advantage of Davidson’s gifts.” But, what Hecht was able to do with Diff’rent Strokes and Webster “did not rule in 1989–and a suspect fascination with Africans eating insects didn’t help,” he continued. “CBS declined to pick it up as a series.”
The pilot’s potential begs the question of what it could have been if someone like Debbie Allen, who saved A Different World from obscurity thanks to her specific knowledge of Blackness and HBCU life, would have been given the reins.
Watch the pilot below: