As children growing up in the 1990s and 2000s, television was a big part of our daily routine. Whether it was waking up early on a Saturday morning to...
The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air is a much loved American sitcom from the 1990s created by Andy and Susan Borowitz. It famously stars Will Smith a.k.a.The Fresh Prince in his first acting role away from the music industry. Will Smith plays a fictionalised version of himself, born and raised in West Philadelphia but is sent to his wealthy Aunt and Uncle’s home in Bel-Air after getting into trouble in his neighbourhood. It was originally released on 10th September 1992 to 20th May 1996. The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air ran for six seasons and a total of 148 episodes.
Our Fresh Prince of Bel-Air facts include why Will Smith fell out with Jane Hubert, after season 3, the sentimental prop Karyn Parsons owns from the set and what Aunt Viv was originally going to be called.
1. The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air Had Many Celebrity Guest Appearances
The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air had a huge selection of notable guest appearances from celebrities throughout its run – 40 in total. These included Quincy Jones, Bo Jackson, Naomi Campbell, Isaiah Thomas, Queen Latifah, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Bell Biv DeVoe, Milton Berle, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Jones, Hugh Hefner, Boyz II Men, Stacey Dash, Donald Trump, Dick Clark, Brad Garrett, Karim Abdul Jabbar, Jay Leno, Isaac Hayes, Chris Rock, B.B. King, Wayne Newton, Regis Philbin, William Shatner, and, Gary Coleman.
2. The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air Is Based On Benny Medina’s Life
In 1990 Music Manager Benny Medina and his business partner Jeff Pollack wanted to make a TV Show based on Medina's life. He had grown up in East Los Angeles but his life changed when he made friends with a rich white teenager, whose family lived in Beverly Hills, and Medina went to live with them. He decided to use this part of his life as the main focus of The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. As the trope of a black character living with a white family had been done multiple times on TV, Medina changed the rich white family to a rich black family so they could explore prejudice and class difference in the black community.
3. Quincy Jones Is Executive Producer Of The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air
Benny Medina pitched his idea to Quincy Jones who had recently signed a TV deal with Time Warner. He liked the idea and arranged a meeting with Head of NBC at the time Brandon Tartikoff.
4. Will Smith Was In A Lot Of Debt Before Starring In The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air
Will Smith was already an established music star under the pseudonym “The Fresh Prince” and he was already in mainstream media. He had managed to get into a lot of debt after failing to pay taxes so his girlfriend at the time suggested he go to a taping of The Arsenio Hall Show where he met Medina. Medina pitched the idea to Smith, who was at first reluctant due to never acting before.
The pair later attended a party thrown by Quincy Jones in 1989 and Smith was challenged to audition on the spot using a script for the failed TV show “Morris Day” that Quincy Jones had also produced. Head of NBC Brandon Tartikoff liked his performance so much that the first contract for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was drawn up that same night in a limousine outside. The pilot was filmed three months later.
Reportedly, Will Smith had to surrender 70% of his salary for the first three seasons to the Inland Revenue Service to settle his debts from his music career.
5. The Banks Children Are Based On Quincy Jones’ Daughters
Andy and Susan Borowitz are the writers of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and when coming up with the characteristics of the Banks children, they took inspiration from Quincy Jones’ own daughters. Carlton Banks was named after the screenwriter Carlton Cuse best known for writing Lost.
6. The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air Pilot Was Written And Taped In 3 Weeks
In just three weeks, Andy and Susan Borowitz had written the pilot script for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and the cast had filmed a pilot. Filming began on 1st May 1990 with the first season being aired in September of 1990 until May 1991. The series finale was taped on 21st March 1996 and aired on 20th May 1996.
Janet Hubert and James Avery who played Vivian and Philip Banks have stated in interviews that they'd never heard of Will Smith’s music act “The Fresh Prince” before they signed up for the series.
7. “Yo Home To Bel-Air” Was Composed By Quincy Jones
The theme song to The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air was composed by Executive Producer of the show Quincy Jones who is credited with Will Smith at the end of every episode. Will Smith wrote and performed the song under the name “The Fresh Prince”. The music is then used throughout the show to join scenes together as well as start and end it each week.
The pilot episode includes longer introductory credits with an additional verse of”Yo Home To Bel-Air”. In it Will's Mum is seen packing his suitcases and Will is seen on a plane sat in First Class.
8. Blossom And The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air Crossed Over
In the 1991-1992 TV schedule, Blossom followed The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air immediately on NBC on Monday Nights. As both shows were hugely popular, they decided to crossover some of the characters. Will Smith appeared in Blossom’s “I’m With The Band” as The Fresh Prince and Karyn Parsons who plays Hilary Banks appears as Hilary in the Blossom episode “Wake Up Little Suzy”. Hilary Banks also starred in a crossover with the sitcom Out All Night.
9. In The House And The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air Crossed Over
The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air and In The House had the same executive producers, Winifred Hervey, David Salzman, and Quincy Jones. So during the second season, Alfonso Ribeiro and Tatyana Ali crossed over for an episode. In “Dog Catchers'' the pair star as their Fresh Prince characters, Carlton and Ashley Banks. Later in the season James Avery starred in the episode “Love on a One-Way Street'' as Philip Banks.
After The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air ended, Alfonso Ribeiro joined the cast of In The House in Season Three as Dr. Maxwell Stanton and in Season 4, James Avery and Daphne Maxwell Reid aka Phillip and Vivian Banks starred as Stanton’s parents. Joseph Marcell who plays Geoffrey Butler on The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air appeared as an Officiant Minister in the same episode.
10. NBC’s Peacock Ordered 2 Seasons Of A Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air Reboot
Will Smith reportedly said that a Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air reboot would be made “pretty close to when Hell freezes over”. However in 2019, after Morgan Cooper uploaded a mock trailer for a dark remake of the show named Bel-Air, Will Smith began working with him on a reboot. In 2020, Netflix, NBC’s Peacock and HBO Max were all bidding for the series with Peacock giving Bel-Air a 2 Season order on 8th September 2020.
11. Jane Hubert and Will Smith Had A Long Standing Dispute
The first actor to play Vivian Banks was Jane Hubert but she did not return to the show in Season 4. Many have speculated that she was fired and that she and Will Smith hadn’t spoken for years afterwards.
In 2020, both Hubert and Smith did an NPR interview in which they clarified what their dispute was about. Hubert revealed that she wasn’t fired from the show and was experiencing many difficulties in her personal life including an abusive marriage at that time so her mind was elsewhere. Will Smith discussed how he was trying to come to terms with his rapidly increasing fame at such a young age and regretted his actions at the time and wishes things would have gone differently.
According to Alfonso Ribeiro, the whole Fresh Prince cast was like one big family, unfortunately he excluded Janet Hubert, saying she was difficult to work with at the time. James Avery, who played Uncle Phil, said he constantly had to remind her that the show was "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air", not "Philip and Vivian of Bel-Air".
12. There Is A Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air Reunion
In November 2020, The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air cast reunited on HBO Max discussing what it was like to work on the show, their auditions, and their chemistry together. The reunion show also featured a tribute to James Avery who played Phillip Banks who sadly passed away in 2013.
13. Jada Pinkett Smith Auditioned For The Role Of Lisa
Will Smith’s now wife Jada Pinkett Smith tried out for the role of Lisa on The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. She ended up not getting the job due to ironically a lack in chemistry with Will Smith and their difference in height. They were married three years later and have two children together, Willow Smith and Jaden Smith.
14. Alfonso Ribeiro Invented The Carlton Dance
In The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air scripts it gives the stage direction, “Carlton dances” with nothing specifically laid out. Alfonso Ribeiro who plays Carlton Banks later said in an interview that the recognisable Carlton Dance was inspired by Eddie Murphy’s ‘White Boy Dance’ and Courtney Cox dancing in Bruce Springsteen: Dancing In The Dark (1984). Funny enough Alfonso Ribeiro is in reality a very accomplished dancer.
15. NBC Cancelled The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air After Season 4
Despite “The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air'' running for six seasons, the network NBC originally cancelled the show after season four with “The Philadelphia Story” as the finale in 1994. However there were so many fan letters calling for its reinstatement to Will Smith and NBC that executives were persuaded to renew the show. It ran for two more seasons and it was only when Joseph Marcell (Geoffrey Butler) spoke of his plans to return back to the UK that it prompted the other cast members to say that they had finished with it too.
The third, fourth, and fifth season finales were written to be farewell episodes just in case the show wasn't renewed again. Then the sixth season finale was written with the full knowledge that the show would not continue. Season Three of The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air had the highest USA ratings, and season six had the lowest.
16. Will Smith Was Inspired By Storylines On Roseanne
Will Smith has stated in interviews that he encouraged the writers ofThe Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air to branch out into more serious and dramatic episodes after being inspired by many of the emotional moments in the sitcom Roseanne. The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air is remembered for having these tough and tender moments including the scene in which Will’s Dad tries to get involved in his life again only to desert him one last time.
17. What’s In A Name?
Geoffrey, the long-suffering housekeeper of the Banks family, ironically has the last name Butler. It was later revealed in the series that his middle name is Barbara!
Vivian and Philip’s youngest son Nicky's full name is Nicholas Andrew Michael Shawn Nathan Wanya Banks. He is named after the four members of the band Boyz II Men, after they performed at his christening.
Lisa's real name is Beulah which is revealed in Season 5 episode, "For Whom The Wedding Bells Toll".
In Season 6, the character Werner is the producer of Hilary's talk show. He is named after Werner Walian who co-produced every episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
18. Uncle Phil’s Law Firm Is Called Firth, Wynn, and Meyer
Uncle Phil works at a law firm called Firth, Wynn, and Meyer, which is an excellent play on the band Earth, Wind & Fire. Executive Producer Quincy Jones was apparently a big fan of the group.
19. The ULA Peacock Was In Homage To NBC
The mascot used at Will and Carlton’s College ULA is a peacock in reference to the fact that the channel NBC has used a peacock as its logo for many years.
20. Only Three Cast Members Appear In All 148 Episodes
Will Smith, Karyn Parsons, and James Avery are the only cast members to appear in every episode of The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. Parsons was technically absent from “Love in an Elevator”; she had no new scenes, but appeared in flashbacks. DJ Jazzy Jeff technically appears in every episode because he plays basketball during the theme song, but he is only credited for 46 episodes.
21. Karyn Parsons Kept A Secret Fresh Prince Prop From The Banks’ Kitchen
Karyn Parsons told ABC News about a notebook kept in the drawer of The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air set's kitchen island, which she took with her after the show finished. She said, "Every now and then a camera person or the actors, somebody would just write silly poetry or 'James is getting on my nerves… We would make little notes, so I took that. I need to pull that out, especially now that James has passed, because I know he's written in there. I know he was written about."
22. Vivian Was Originally Named Wendy
Vivian Banks was originally named Wendy Banks. The name was changed when Debbie Allen was brought in to direct the pilot. Debbie Allen's Mother and Daughter are both named Vivian so she changed the character's name when Janet Hubert reminded her of her Mother.
23. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Writer’s Room Was Notoriously Difficult
In a 2017 profile of writer Jenji Kohan, New Yorker contributor Emily Nussbaum claimed the The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air writers' room was a very difficult work environment calling it a “toxic mess.” She went on to say that the staff included Will Smith's bodyguard and his cousin and they worked crazy hours while fighting non-stop. She also mentioned there were cruel pranks, “someone peed in a colleague's bottle of tequila.” Kohan was one of two female writers, and the only white woman. She was given a nickname that played on her race and religion.
24. Will Smith Would Lip Sync Each Character’s Lines On Set
Will Smith has said in interviews that as an inexperienced actor, he would memorise the entire script for each episode instead of just his lines. In order to help him remember his own part, he would lip-sync the lines of the other actors during filming. There is evidence of this on camera in early episodes of the series. There was some tension on the set between Tatyana Ali and Will Smith at the beginning due to this!
25. Will Smith’s Mum Was Played By Two Actors
The actor playing Will's Mother in every title sequence in the shower cap was allegedly never paid for her appearance. She auditioned for a part and was either cut out of the pilot or her audition reel was used in the opening credits. When Will's mother appears alongside the cast in The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air for a total of 15 episodes, she is played by a very different actor, Vernee Watson Johnson.
Despite playing Mother and Son in The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, Vernee Watson-Johnson is only 14 years older than Will Smith. Janet Hubert was only 12 years older than Will Smith and 10 years older than Karyn Parsons, who played her daughter Hilary Banks.
26. The Mowry’s Both Auditioned For Ashley Banks
Tia and Tamera Mowry both auditioned for the role of Ashley Banks but Tatyana Ali was ultimately cast. The pair went on to play roles in the sitcom Sister Sister.
27. The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air Gave Queen Latifah Her First Acting Role
Queen Latifah appears in The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air twice as two different characters. In the season 1 episode, "Working It Out," she plays Marissa Redman, a demanding celebrity who hires Hilary as her personal assistant. This was her first acting role besides her music videos.
In the season 2 episode, "She Ain't Heavy," she plays Dee Dee, Will's potential love interest who is shown as overweight.
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