Behind The Scenes History Of 'The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air' Most People Don't Know
In 1990, NBC took a chance on the young, Grammy-winning hip-hop artist Will Smith and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Though the show worked its way into everyone's hearts with its thoughtful plot lines, infectious theme song, and Smith's raw charisma, the cast of Fresh Prince were decidedly not chilling out, maxing, relaxing all cool. They were busy writing petty notes in a Mean Girl's-style "Burn Book" and feuding with their fellow actors.
Much of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air's behind-the-scenes drama dealt with the cast's grievances involving the actor playing the original Aunt Viv. Over three seasons, Janet Hubert failed to see eye-to-eye with the show's biggest stars and had her hand in the juiciest tidbits of Fresh Prince drama. A whopping 22 years later, most of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air's biggest secrets have already been aired. But these dark Fresh Prince stories also paint a picture of a rap star who struggled with his newfound TV stardom amid feuds with his onscreen family, record label, and even the US government.
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Will Smith Was Forced To Star In 'The Fresh Prince' Because He Had $2.8 Million In IRS Debt
If Will Smith never got into major financial trouble, we might not have the critically acclaimed movie star version of Will Smith we love today (you know, the one that delivered such blockbuster greatness as Men In Black and Independence Day).
Smith rose to fame with his work in the hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. The duo landed Grammy awards for their hits "Parents Just Don't Understand" and "Summertime." And with great fame came lots of money, which Smith poorly managed. After failing to pay sufficient income taxes, Smith owed the government $2.8 million. The IRS seized his belongings and his income.
With bankruptcy looming over his head, Smith had no choice but to star in Benny Medina's semi-autobiographical The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, a role he was picked for by producer Quincy Jones. For the first three years, he paid 70% of his salary from Fresh Prince to the IRS.
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Will Smith Made The Whole Audience Cry, Which Started Rumors About His Relationship With His DadVideo: YouTube
"Papa's Got A Brand New Excuse" was undoubtedly the single most emotional episode of the series. It's often misreported that Smith ad-libbed the ending's gut-wrenching monologue after channeling the real-life experience of being abandoned by his father. The truth is, Smith and his dad had a loving relationship. In fact, he described his parents as rather typical (they wanted him to go to college instead of become a rapper - whoops!).
The reason the scene is so gut-wrenching is because of Smith's raw acting talent. He definitely ad-libbed it, but not for the reason everyone thinks. And according to a former audience member, the monologue was so emotional that it had the entire audience in tears:
I was actually at the taping. The entire show was quiet, even during the funny parts, and I could not figure out why. Before this scene, Will Smith disappeared. He showed up, did this scene in one take, then disappeared again. You might notice his hat coming off. Usually, the director would retake the scene, but really, nothing could replace this moment. People were crying for a long time when it was over, doing their best not to make noise before the director said 'cut.' I was ten years old. Will never, ever, forget.
And to think, Smith never even had any formal acting training.
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'Fresh Prince' Was Originally Cancelled During Season 4
Fresh Prince almost didn't have the glorious six-season run for which it's known. NBC wanted to wrap up the show after Season 4. The series ending was supposed to be the Season 4 finale, where Will goes back to Philadelphia and decides to stay there with his mother. Fans were absolutely outraged.
When NBC canceled the sitcom, the network was hit with thousands of angry fan letters. Shockingly, they listened, and the show was renewed for two more seasons.
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The Cast Had A 'Mean Girls'-Style Burn Book Filled With Juicy Gossip
The cast on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air wasn't short on gossip. They kept a Mean Girls-style "Burn Book" hidden in a drawer in the set's kitchen island. Actors and crew would regularly write gossip about fellow cast members, like "James is getting on my nerves." They'd also fill it with less juicy content, like silly poetry and notes.
Actor Karyn Parsons (who played Hilary Banks) kept the diary after the show was canceled. "I need to pull that out, especially now that James has passed, because I know he's written in there," Parsons told ABC about the gossip-filled relic. "I know he was written about."
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Jada Pinkett Smith Lost The Role Of Will's Girlfriend Because She Was Too Short
Back in the early '90s, Jada Pinkett Smith was an unknown actor vying for the role of Will's girlfriend on The Fresh Prince. We all know how that story plays out: they got married in 1997 after meeting on set and went on to become one of the most well-known A-list families to ever grace Hollywood. Onscreen was a totally different story, though, as Pinkett-Smith didn't win her paramour's heart.
According the actor, she was told she was too short to be his girlfriend. "They told me I was too short… to play Will's girlfriend…only for me to become his wife," she said.
Years later, after she did A Different World and became a bona fide movie star, production asked her to come back, but she told them, "No, I'm a movie star. I don't have time." Burn, Jada. Good burn.
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'Fresh Prince' Was Based On The Life Of Benny Medina, A Producer And Manager Whose Dad Was Involved In A Drug Cartel
Will Smith's dad was missing for the majority of The Fresh Prince. Only later was he introduced and the reason he left Will revealed (he wasn't ready to be a father). The truth is that the real Fresh Prince had a father who was deep into drugs, but he wasn't absent because he wasn't ready to have kids: he was in prison.
Smith's character was inspired by Benny Medina, a producer and manager who was in and out of foster homes with brief stints at his aunt's house in Watts, a neighborhood in South Los Angeles. When he was 9 years old, his mother died of cancer and his father left after numerous stints in prison for using and dealing drugs. In an interview with The Marshall Project, Medina's father (also named Benny Medina), spoke about his struggles as a drug-dealing parent.
I kept all five of my kids the best I could but I was involved with a cartel dealing drugs, so I could supply myself with money for a babysitter and drive a nice car and have drums.