The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is an American sitcom television series created by Andy and Susan Borowitz that originally aired on NBC from September 10, 1990, to May 20, 1996. The series stars Will Smith as a fictionalized version of himself, a street-smart teenager from West Philadelphia who is sent to move in with his wealthy uncle and aunt in their Bel Air mansion after getting into a fight in his hometown. However, his lifestyle often clashes with the lifestyle of his upper-class relatives. It ran for 148 episodes over six seasons.
SummaryThe theme song and opening sequence set the premise of the show. Will Smith is a street-smart teenager, West Philadelphia "born and raised". While playing street basketball, Will misses a shot and the ball hits a group of gang members, causing a confrontation that frightens his mother, who sends him to live with his wealthy aunt and uncle in the opulent neighborhood of Bel Air, Los Angeles.
Will's working class background ends up clashing in various humorous ways with the upper class world of the Banks family – Will's uncle Phil and aunt Vivian and their children, Will's cousins: spoiled Hilary, entitled Carlton, and impressionable Ashley.
The premise is loosely based on the real-life story of the show's producer Benny Medina.
Cast and characters
DevelopmentIn 1990, music manager Benny Medina, along with his business partner, real estate mogul Jeff Pollack, decided to market a TV story based on Medina's life. Medina had grown up poor in East Los Angeles but his life changed when he befriended a rich white teenager, whose family lived in Beverly Hills and allowed Medina to live with them. Medina decided to use this part of his life as the main focus of the show. However, given that by then a black character living with a white family was a concept that had been done multiple times on TV, Medina decided to change the rich white family to a rich black family. "That way we could explore black-on-black prejudice as well as black class differences", Medina said in an interview for Ebony magazine.
Medina pitched the idea to Quincy Jones, who had just signed a TV deal with Time-Warner. Jones was impressed by the idea and arranged a meeting with NBC chief Brandon Tartikoff. Will Smith was well known by then as his music career as The Fresh Prince had put him on the mainstream radar, but he had come into debt after failing to pay taxes. At the suggestion of his then-girlfriend, Smith went to a taping of The Arsenio Hall Show where he met Medina by chance. Medina pitched the idea to Smith, but Smith was reluctant, having never acted before. Medina invited Smith to meet Jones at a party that Jones was throwing at his house in December 1989. There, Jones handed Smith a script for a failed Morris Day pilot that he had produced and challenged Smith to audition for Tartikoff on the spot. Smith did so, and the first contract for the show was drawn up that night in a limo outside. Three months later, the pilot was shot.
The pilot episode began taping on May 1, 1990. Season 1 first aired in September 1990, and ended in May 1991. The series finale was taped on Thursday, March 21, 1996, and aired on Monday, May 20, 1996.
The theme song "Yo Home to Bel Air" was written and performed by Smith under his stage name, The Fresh Prince. The music was composed by Quincy Jones, who is credited with Smith at the end of each episode. The music often used to bridge scenes together during the show is based on a similar chord structure.
Crossovers and other appearancesDuring the fall 1991–1992 season, NBC gained two hit television shows to anchor their Monday night lineup. To gain popularity between the two shows, Will Smith appeared in the Blossom episode "I'm with the Band" as himself under his rap stage name, The Fresh Prince. That same season, Karyn Parsons appeared in the Blossom episode "Wake Up Little Suzy" as Hilary Banks. Parsons also appeared in the Patti LaBelle sitcom Out All Night as Hilary.
In the House and Fresh Prince were both executive-produced by Winifred Hervey, David Salzman and Quincy Jones. During the second season's first episode, Alfonso Ribeiro and Tatyana Ali appeared as their Fresh Prince characters in the crossover episode "Dog Catchers". Later that season, James Avery appeared as a mediator in the episode "Love on a One-Way Street".
In the Season 4 episode "My Pest Friend's Wedding", James Avery and Daphne Maxwell Reid guest starred as Dr. Maxwell Stanton's parents. Both Avery and Reid portrayed the parents of Ribeiro's Fresh Prince character. Joseph Marcell, who played the wisecracking Geoffrey Butler on Fresh Prince, appeared as an officiating minister in the same episode.
Celebrity guestsThe show is notable for having a heavy celebrity guest presence with more than 40 celebrities guest starring throughout the series. Seasons 1 and 6 had the highest celebrity participation with over 10 guest stars each.
|Richard Roundtree||Season 1, Episode 3||Dr Mumford, father of Will's love interest. Also played Rev. Sims in Season 6.|
|Don Cheadle||Season 1, Episode 5||Ice Tray, Will's best friend from Philly.|
|Bo Jackson||Season 1, Episode 9||Himself.|
|Heavy D||Season 1, Episode 9||Himself.|
|Quincy Jones||Season 1, Episode 9||Himself.|
|Al B. Sure||Season 1, Episode 9||Himself.|
|Kadeem Hardison||Season 1, Episode 9||Himself.|
|Naomi Campbell||Season 1, Episode 10||Helen, Geoffrey's date.|
|Isiah Thomas||Season 1, Episode 11||Himself.|
|Evander Holyfield||Season 1, Episode 15||Himself.|
|Vivica A. Fox||Season 1, Episode 19||Janet, Jeff's sister and Will's date.|
|Jasmine Guy||Season 1, Episode 21||Kayla Samuels, Will's girlfriend.|
|Tevin Campbell||Season 1, Episode 24||Little T, Teen idol.|
|Queen Latifah||Season 1, Episode 25||Marissa Redman, Hilary's Boss. Also played "Dee Dee" in season 2.|
|Malcolm-Jamal Warner||Season 2, Episode 9||Eric, Hilary's love interest.|
|Zsa Zsa Gabor||Season 2, Episode 10||Sonya Lamor, Uncle Phill's celebrity client.|
|Bell Biv DeVoe||Season 2, Episode 11||Themselves.|
|Brandon Quintin||Season 2, Episode 12||Bryan, Ashley's friend. He returns as Bryan in season 4.|
|Allen Payne||Season 2, Episode 15||Marcus, Will's basketball rival.|
|Milton Berle||Season 2, Episode 18||Max Lakey, Will's hospital roommate.|
|Riddick Bowe||Season 3, Episode 3||Himself.|
|Sherman Hemsley||Season 3, Episode 6||Judge Carl, Uncle Phill's rival.|
|Oprah Winfrey||Season 3, Episode 9||Herself.|
|Vanessa Williams||Season 3, Episode 11||Danny Mitchell, Will's idol.|
|Naya Rivera||Season 3, Episode 16||Cindy|
|Kim Fields||Season 3, Episode 17||Monique, Will's girlfriend.|
|Tom Jones||Season 3, Episode 18||Himself.|
|DL Hughley||Season 3, Episode 22||Keith Campbell, Will's comedian friend from Philly.|
|Michael Rapaport||Season 4, Episode 1||Mike|
|Hugh Hefner||Season 4, Episode 9||Himself.|
|Robin Quivers||Season 4, Episode 12||Judith, one of the ghosts playing cards.|
|Boyz II Men||Season 4, Episode 13||Themselves.|
|Branford Marsalis||Season 4, Episode 14||Himself. Also plays "Duane" a repair man in the same season.|
|Stacey Dash||Season 4, Episode 17||Michelle Michaels, a famous singer/celebrity.|
|Robert Guillaume||Season 4, Episode 19||Pete Fletcher, Will's boss.|
|Ben Vereen||Season 4, Episode 24||Lou Smith, Will's father.|
|Donald Trump||Season 4, Episode 25||Himself.|
|Marla Maples||Season 4, Episode 25||Herself.|
|Dick Clark||Season 4, Episode 26||Himself.|
|Quincy Jones||Season 5, Episode 1||Himself.|
|Brad Garrett||Season 5, Episode 5||John "Fingers" O'Neill|
|Kareem Abdul Jabbar||Season 5, Episode 6||Himself.|
|Don Cornelius||Season 5, Episode 8||Himself.|
|Ken Griffey Jr.||Season 5, Episode 9||Himself.|
|Jay Leno||Season 5, Episode 10||Himself.|
|Isaac Hayes||Season 5, Episode 18||The Minister, who happens to be an Isaac Hayes impersonator, assigned to officiate Will's express wedding.|
|Robin Givens||Season 5, Episode 23||Denise, Will's love interest.|
|Chris Rock||Season 6, Episode 2||Maurice, a famous actor. Also plays Maurice's sister in the same episode.|
|B. B. King||Season 6, Episode 4||Pappy, the bar's blues player.|
|Jaleel White||Season 6, Episode 7||Derek, Ashley's boyfriend.|
|Wayne Newton||Season 6, Episode 8||Himself.|
|Regis Philbin||Season 6, Episode 21||Himself.|
|William Shatner||Season 6, Episode 22||Himself.|
|Conrad Bain||Season 6, Episode 24||Phillip Drummond, open house attendee.|
|Gary Coleman||Season 6, Episode 24||Arnold Jackson-Drummond, open house attendee.|
|Marla Gibbs||Season 6, Episode 24||Florence Johnston, open house attendee.|
|Sherman Hemsley||Season 6, Episode 24||George Jefferson, open house attendee.|
|Isabel Sanford||Season 6, Episode 24||Louise Jefferson, open house attendee.|
SyndicationThe series was produced by NBC Productions in association with the Stuffed Dog Company and Quincy Jones Entertainment. After the show was released to syndication in 1994, the series was distributed by Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, which continues to distribute the show worldwide.
Currently, the series airs reruns on MTV2, BET, and VH1, while previously airing reruns on WGN America, TBS, Nick at Nite, TeenNick, Disney XD, ABC Family, Centric, MTV, and CMT.
The series developed significant popularity in the United Kingdom, where it aired on BBC Two between 1991 and 1996 with reruns airing on the network between 1996 and 2004, and was shown alongside The Simpsons and was later repeated on Trouble, Bravo, Channel One, Living, Sky Living Loves, Viva, MTV, Nickelodeon and currently Comedy Central, Comedy Central Extra, and 5Star.
The series became available to stream on HBO Max on May 27, 2020.
Home mediahas released the complete series, seasons 1 to 6, on DVD in Region 1. Seasons 1 to 4 have been released in Regions 2 and 4. Seasons 5 to 6 have been released in Region 2 in Germany, and in the complete series boxset in the United Kingdom.
Awards and nominations
Possible rebootOn August 13, 2015, it was reported that a reboot of the show was in development by Overbrook Entertainment, with Will Smith serving as a producer. In August 2016, during a promotional interview with the E! television network for his then upcoming film Suicide Squad, Smith denied that a reboot was in development, saying that it would happen "...pretty close to when Hell freezes over."
In 2019 a mock trailer titled Bel-Air was uploaded on YouTube, written and directed by Morgan Cooper, for a darker, more dramatic re-imagining of the sitcom. Will Smith subsequently heavily praised the fan film, commenting that "Morgan did a ridiculous trailer for Bel-Air. Brilliant idea, the dramatic version of The Fresh Prince for the next generation." expressing interest in expanding the idea beyond the short film into a full Bel-Air reboot series.