30 Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Facts to Prep You for the Reboot
NBC is breathing new life into the iconic "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" sitcom with a more modern and dramatic "Bel-Air" series. There's still a good chance many first-time viewers of the reboot don't know too much about the '90s show.
That's too bad because not only is the "Fresh Prince" a hilarious series, but there are some truly fascinating tidbits and trivia even diehard fans might not know. These surprising facts about the original show will help you welcome a new generation of Los Angeles royalty.
The Show Is Loosely Based on a True Story
No, the TV series isn't about actor Will Smith's life growing up in Philadelphia. In actuality, it's based on the real-life experiences of music manager Benny Medina. Medina initially grew up poor in East Los Angeles, but his luck changed when he met and befriended a wealthy white teen whose family agreed to let him move in.
Medina's life story might have made for a good TV series as is, but thanks to the popularity of shows like "Different Strokes" and "Webster," the idea of a poor black youth raised by a wealthy white family had already been well-worn by the 1990s.
To put a "fresh" twist on the tale, producers decided to have the underprivileged character move in with his upper-class Black relatives — a relatively unexplored premise at that time.
It Was a Comedy That Knew When to Be Serious
One major factor setting "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" apart from other sitcoms? Its ability to be gut-bustlingly funny while also covering issues ranging from classism to gun violence to what it meant to be Black in America during the early '90s.
Though it featured a Black family, the "Fresh Prince" spoke to all of Gen X, going on to be one of the most successful shows in television history.
Music Legend Quincy Jones Was the Man Behind the Music
We may know the words to "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" theme by heart, but did you know that the legendary musician and producer Quincy Jones was the man behind the melody?
Jones has worked with artists ranging from Michael Jackson to Lena Horne. Jones also wrote the tune "Soul Bossa Nova," which you might recognize as the Austin Powers theme song.
It Took Will Smith 15 Minutes to Write the Iconic Theme Lyrics
Will Smith reportedly wrote the catchy "Fresh Prince" theme after reading over the script for the pilot episode in as little as 15 minutes.
It was an amazing feat, considering that decades after the show ended, many people still know the words — even if they weren't born during the series' original run.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Theme Might Be the Biggest Rap Song in History
In fact, many have made the case for the theme song being the most well-known and famous rap song in history.
It does span multiple generations, countries, and has been memorized by people who do not listen to hip-hop at all.
Yet they can tell you what comes after "So this is a story all about how ..."
By The Way, the Theme Song Does Have a Name
Although simply referred to as the theme song from "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," its real title is "Yo Home To Bel-Air," which is one of the featured lyrics.
There Was Still Another Cast Member With Music Chops
Of course, Will Smith was able to enjoy a successful rap career during and after "Fresh Prince." Co-star Tatyana Ali, who played youngest daughter Ashley Banks, also made her foray into the music world during the series.
Character Ashley had a one-hit wonder called "Make Up Your Mind." Meanwhile, actress Tatyana Ali's song "Daydreamin" made it to No. 6 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.
Meanwhile, Hillary Banks Was a '90s Fashion Icon
Years before anyone ever heard of Cher Horowitz of "Clueless", Hilary Violet Susan Banks gave us iconic '90s upper-class teen fashion looks week after week.
Though Will's cousin, played by actress Karyn Parsons, could be a bit of a snob, with a ditzy Valley Girl attitude to boot, one thing you could never accuse her of was failing to be anything but stylish.
Smith's Wife, Jada, Was Almost Cast as His Girlfriend
Incredibly, Jada Pinkett Smith missed out on getting cast as the on-screen love interest to her future husband due to her height. At 5-foot-2, show runners felt she was too short to be Smith's leading lady.
That may have been true for the show, but as the two remain married, it's clear they didn't agree that one could be too tall or too short for true love.
Co-Star Nia Long Had a 'Diff'rent Strokes' Connection
As for Nia Long, who eventually won the role of Will's on-screen girlfriend, it turned out that her acting coach was Betty Bridges, mother of Todd Bridges, who starred on "Diff'rent Strokes" as Willis Jackson.
That's a pretty cool connection with a show that, thanks in large part to its success, forced producers to make the series of changes that led to "The Fresh Prince" in the first place.
Model and Mogul Tyra Banks Briefly Co-starred as a Love Interest
Tyra Banks was briefly on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" during Season 4. She played Jackie Ames, Will's ex-girlfriend from Philadelphia.
The appearance marked her acting debut and showed some genuinely great comedic timing during an argument scene.
In Fact, 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' Was Noted for Its Many Guest Stars
It seemed like everyone wanted to make their mark on the very popular sitcom. About 40 major celebrities appeared on the show during the course of its six seasons.
Notable cameos include Regis Philbin, Zsa Zsa Gábor, Queen Latifah, and Jay Leno among many others.
During One Episode, Will and the Banks Family Appeared on 'Oprah'
As far as cameos go, one of the biggest moments for Will and the Banks family was their guest appearance on what was the hottest talk show at the time, "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
The excitement got to Carlton Banks, who breaks into something other than his signature dance for the occasion.
Cousin Hillary Went on to Host Her Own Successful Talk Show
Hillary must have been subconsciously inspired by the moment because seasons later, she hosted her own successful talk show.
This came after she spent time as a popular TV weatherperson.
The Actress Who First Played 'Aunt Viv' Was Really Pregnant
The baby storyline on Fresh Prince wasn't entirely made up for the show. Actress Janet Hubert, who originated the role of Vivian Banks, really became pregnant during Season 3.
Her pregnancy was soon worked into the series. She would naturally have to take a step back to really give birth, but what followed was one of the strangest exits in television history.
There Were Two Aunt Vivians Thanks to a Shocking Midseason Recast
Although Hubert was supposed to reprise her role, a behind-the-scenes falling-out politely summarized as creative differences led to Daphne Reid stepping into the role of Aunt Viv for the latter half of the series. The recast was sudden and never properly explained at the time.
Still, the show remained decently popular despite the head-scratching shift in actresses.
The Entire Debacle Led to a Massive Off-Screen Feud Between Hubert and Smith
As much as we'd love to believe that the cast is as close off-screen as the characters are on it, the relationship between Smith and Hubert suffered greatly in the aftermath of her departure, with the pair taking hurtful shots at each other off and on over the years.
Thankfully, during "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion" special, it seemed both actors successfully buried the hatchet.
Little Nicky Banks Aged Hilariously Fast
Introduced in the latter portion of Season 3, Nicholas "Nicky" Banks was initially an infant. But within a couple of seasons, the infant mysteriously aged several years.
Will and Jazz did note the bizarre "growth spurt," the writers' way of winking to the audience that the whole thing made no sense.
But otherwise, not much was said about it.
Cousin Nicky Also Caused a Massive Plot Hole
Nicky's age wasn't the only confusing thing about him. The character also messed up the show's timeline thanks to the holiday special "Twas The Night Before Christening," which happened in Season 4 in 1993.
The episode started with a flash-forward to the Christmas of 1998, and Uncle Phil explaining the events leading up to Nicky's christening and why they named him after members of the R&B singing group Boyz II Men. It's a touching story, but there's just one problem. Thanks to the events of the series finale "I, Done," the Banks had vacated their Bel-Air home by 1996.
The most logical explanation is that "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" initially was meant to go on for longer than it ultimately did. Because that wasn't the case, the much-beloved Christmas episode's plot hole rules it noncanonical.
The New Cast Addition Likely Signaled 'Cousin Oliver Syndrome'
Perhaps the writers wanted to bring some new, young energy to replace the void left as Ashley Banks grew from an adorable little girl into a teenager.
When the youngest character ages up, a common habit in such situations is to bring in a new, very young child in a move popularly known as "Cousin Oliver Syndrome." It's named for when "The Brady Bunch" inexplicably added a previously never-mentioned cousin named Oliver to the cast.
Although audiences didn't receive Nicky as poorly as Oliver, one could argue his addition inadvertently signaled that the show's end was near.
'The Fresh Prince' Kind of Had Its Own Cinematic Universe
Before the MCU or DCEU were things, "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" made up an NBC sitcom power-hour alongside fellow '90s smash-hit series "Blossom." On a couple of occasions, characters from each show interacted, when it was extremely rare to do so for properties that weren't related by way of ongoing or planned spin-offs.
And for those of us old enough to remember seeing Will and Blossom interact, we will argue that it was every bit as powerful as the first time the Avengers appeared onscreen together.
We Did Find Out What Became of the 'Guys Who Were Up to No Good'
In the Season 4 finale, "The Philadelphia Story," Will finally comes face to face with Omar, one of the infamous bullies mentioned in the theme song who forced his California move. For the record, he was the one we saw twirling Will in the show's opening credits.
It turns out that a lot can happen in a few years, and Omar, the former bully, has had a change of heart and character. Will tried to fight Omar, in an attempt to regain a bit of the pride he lost when his mother forced him to flee Philly.
But ultimately, Will is forced to make peace with Omar and to grow up a little, letting his past go.
Despite Leaving Philly, Will Still Became a Victim of Gun Violence
In a bit of bitter irony, Will's move out West does not save him from violence, as he and Carlton end up getting held at gunpoint in the Season 5 episode "Bullets Over Bel-Air." Will saves Carlton from a robber but gets shot in the process.
The episode wasn't without its humor, but its overall theme asked tough questions about gun control and violence that were no doubt much discussed by families across the nation long after the program ended.
Something You Might Have Missed With the 'Jazz Gets Thrown Out' Gag
A series-long running joke that somehow stayed fresh (no pun intended) had Will's friend Jazz, played by real-life friend and music partner DJ "Jazzy" Jeff, running afoul of the Banks. Jazz would do or say something deemed annoying, and so he would periodically get thrown out of the house.
Despite all of these painful exits, the gag typically featured the exact same footage. There were only a couple notable instances where Jazz is thrown out of the backdoor and wearing a black shirt instead of his trademark patterned one.
While Uncle Phil is usually the one to do the honor, others, such as Hillary and even Will, have stepped up to show him the door. Though one time Jazz did exact his revenge by throwing out Uncle Phil after seemingly finally finding love with Hillary, his long-time crush.
'The Carlton' Is Actually Two Dances in One
Carlton's iconic dance is one of the most memorable from any TV show, but it's actually two dances in one.
It is reportedly a combination of a dance performed by comedian Eddie Murphy during a stand-up routine and actress Courtney Cox, who danced on stage with singer Bruce Springsteen in the music video "Dancing in the Dark."
Either way, actor Alfonso Ribeiro so made it his own that it was a must-see part of his season-winning stint on "Dancing With the Stars."
Carlton Did (Sort Of) Meet His Icon
There are quite a lot of people who never heard of Sir Tom Jones, but instantly recognize "It's Not Unusual" as the song that Carlton Banks dances to on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."
Eventually, Jones does get around to becoming one of the show's many celebrity guests, seemingly uniting Banks with his hero in the Season 6 episode "The Alma Matter."
Jones appears as a guardian angel meant to help Banks cope with his college application woes.
Speaking of Dance, Janet Hubert Killed Her Choreo Despite Being Rusty
In one of many standout moments on the "Fresh Prince," Aunt Viv No. 1 killed it to "Gonna Make You Sweat" by C+C Music Factory, much to the comical chagrin of some ageist haters.
But it turns out that Hubert had a background in dance. Indeed, the Julliard graduate has studied many forms of dance during the course of her career.
That didn't stop her from being a little nervous. By the time she busted a move for Season 2, Episode 7, "The Big Four-Oh," the actress admitted feeling a little rusty.
Despite the initial struggle, Hubert got her groove back just in time to show off some amazing moves.
Will's Heartbreaking Monologue After His Deadbeat Dad Left Was Indeed Scripted
This powerful scene from Season 4, Episode 24 ,"Papa’s Got A Brand-New Excuse," is inarguably one of the most moving moments in television history. It's no wonder that as raw and emotional as Will Smith's acting is at this moment, many fans believed it to be largely ad-libbed.
The popular myth goes something like this. After Will's father walks out of his life for a second time, he was meant to play the entire thing off. But Smith allegedly related too much to the situation and genuinely breaks down in a moment that got kept in the show.
However, this wasn't true at all.
First, Will Smith confirmed that his own father was an active part of his life. Also, it's since been revealed that the scene was tightly scripted. Smith actually credits James Avery for helping him dig deep to find the emotive quality necessary to deliver the scene's lines with a realistic weight.
So, no, despite all the internet stories, this isn't an improvised scene. It's an unforgettable combination of great writing paired with amazing acting.
The Banks Sold Their Home to the Jeffersons
As one part celebrity cameo, one part tribute, Sherman Hemsley and Isabelle Sanford, known as George and Louise from "The Jeffersons" portrayed the couple that ultimately bought the Banks' Bel-Air home.
"The Jeffersons" celebrated Black upward mobility in the 1970s, an era where such a topic was far from common. Bringing in the pair to usher out the upper-class Banks could be seen as a way of bringing things full circle.
'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' Ended Because Cast Was Ready to Move On
Although fans probably would have loved to see "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" go on for several more seasons or even decades, it's true all good things must indeed come to an end. By the time Season 6 rolled around, a general fatigue had set in among cast members.
Actor Joseph Marcell, who portrayed the family's butler Geoffrey, wished to return home to England or move to a different network, and so quit. At the same time, Smith's star had risen far beyond the show, and he wanted to expand his burgeoning acting career.
NBC was also hesitant to renew, as there was talk of a defection to a rival network. So the series wrapped up with the two-part finale, "I, Done." The very last episode was the second-highest rated of the show, after "Papa's Got a Brand-New Excuse."
Will the Reboot Do the Original ‘Fresh Prince’ Justice?
As you can see, there is a lot to know and love about the original sitcom, "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." That isn't to say the "Bel-Air" reboot won't bring some of its own refreshing point of view to the table. This series was revamped, with major input from Will Smith himself, for a modern era.
Hopefully, you can now spot the many Easter eggs throughout the series, grasping references to a past vision that many millions of people loved and look forward to each week.