Now this is the story all about what happened behind the scenes of your favorite '90s show. Originally aired on NBC from 1990 to 1996, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air has become one of the most beloved and popular sitcoms of the '90s.
Following the story of a teenager born and raised in West Philadelphia, and his move to the wealthy town of Bel-Air, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air has created memories and moments that will last a lifetime. Everyone today can still recite the theme song word for word, rock out to Carlton’s dance, and fall in love with one of America’s favorite families.
Although the show brings back images of nostalgia, childhood, and family values, it is also littered with secrets just like any other television show. Over the six seasons of the show, the cast and NBC worked very well to hide feuds, gossip, and bad management decisions from the public eye.
It is now time to expose those well-hidden secrets. So, we’d like to take a minute, just sit right there. We’ll tell you all about how they hid the secrets in a town called Bel-Air.
Here is are the 15 Behind the Scenes Secrets You Never Knew About The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
15 The Show Was Based On The Producer's Dark Past
Although the show had many family-friendly values, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air explored some underlying darker issues. The show and Will’s character are based on producer and manager Benny Medina.
Although not from “West Philadelphia, born and raised,” Medina was in between foster homes and his aunt’s house in Los Angeles. He sold drugs and when he was nine years old, his mother died of cancer and his father abandoned him.
Medina eventually met a white television composer named Jack Elliott who took a liking to the kid and asked him to move in with him and his family in Beverly Hills. After high school, Medina met the sons of Motown Records founder, Berry Gordy Jr and moved into their Bel-Air home.
According to Gordy’s son and Medina’s best friend Kerry Gordy, “the Fresh Prince is literally an amalgamation of him going to the Elliotts, then coming to my family, and also another black family in Beverly Hills.” Kerry Gordy ultimately became the inspiration for Carlton.
Fresh Prince of Bel-Air focuses around Medina’s life and the issues of his past. Will Smith also encouraged the show to explore darker themes such as sex, drugs, and alcohol because he was inspired by Roseanne.
14 The Feud Between the Original Aunt Viv and Will Smith
Remember when Aunt Viv became a completely different person? In 1993, a new Vivian Banks entered the town called Bel-Air, and Janet Hubert, the original Viv, was replaced by Daphne Maxwell Reid.
Although creative differences were originally cited as the reason for Hubert’s departure, Hubert says that Will Smith was the real reason for the end of her career. According to Hubert, the Fresh Prince requested that she be fired and Hubert has never forgiven him. She published Perfection is Not a Sitcom Mom in which she bashes Smith and blames him for ruining her career.
The entire cast has taken sides on the feud and many have called Hubert crazy. Smith says that Hubert was fired because she wanted the show to be “The Aunt Viv of Bel Air Show” and that, to her, he will always be the antichrist. Alfonso Ribeiro defended Smith, calling Hubert nuts.
After posting a picture of a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reunion without Hubert, the actress went to Twitter to attack Riberio calling him a “media h**” and “Will’s tampon.” Hubert then went on to say that Will Smith is “still an egomaniac and has not grown up.”
13 Will Smith Only Became the Fresh Prince Because He Was Broke
Prior to his role in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will Smith was a successful rapper named “The Fresh Prince.” With DJ Jazzy Jeff, Smith released hit albums and was a millionaire before he even left high school.
However, Smith forgot about taxes and investing. He spent $6 million on fancy things like necklaces with the words “The Fresh Prince” in diamonds, and also never paid his income taxes. So, at the young age of 19, Will Smith was awakened to the IRS knocking on his door.
Smith said, “they wanted $2.8 million and I had two dollars and eighty-three cents.” According to him, he went from six cars and a mansion one day, to not being able to afford gas the next. Therefore, when Smith was offered the starring role in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, he didn’t have a choice. He happily accepted.
Lucky for Smith, the show was successful and he was able to pay off his debt. For the first three years of the show, 70 percent of his earnings went straight to the IRS to pay off his back taxes.
12 Alfonso Ribeiro was Originally Fired
The names “Alfonso Ribeiro” and “Carlton Banks” are almost synonymous now. Ribeiro brought Carlton and his iconic dance to life and helped make the show as popular as it is today. However, Ribeiro wasn’t originally the producers’ favorite pick.
According to Ribeiro, the president of NBC did not like Ribeiro’s portrayal of Carlton and fired him after the pilot episode. However, six weeks later, he realized he made a mistake and rehired Ribeiro.
In an interview with Digital Spy, Ribeiro said, “I auditioned for the character, and got the role – then, after we did the pilot, he decided that my character should be recast. So there was a moment where essentially I was hired and rehired… There was a large chance that the Carlton character would have been played by somebody else.”
11 The Show Eerily Predicted the Michael Brown Shooting
“Hands up, don’t shoot” was the call of protestors in Ferguson after the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer. This message is eerily identical to one that was developed in an episode of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, 23 years earlier.
On November 11th 1991, an episode called “Cased Up” aired on television screens across the United States. In the episode, Jazz appears in court after a car accident. While in court, he jokes around, refusing to lower his arms in fear that the bailiff will empty “six warning shots” in his back.
It’s an eerie coincidence that Michael Brown was shot exactly six times by police officer Darren Wilson. To many, the episode highlights the racial profiling and tensions during the '90s and how not much has changed in the past 23 years.
10 Donald Trump Was a Diva Backstage
Fresh Prince of Bel Air had many cameos, including President Donald Trump. However, Trump was not one of the show’s favorite guests.
Donald Trump appeared in an episode called “For Sale by Owner”, which aired in May 1994. In the episode, the Donald looks cool and collected, but according to some members of the crew, he was a huge diva backstage.
While holding his script, Trump got annoyed and threw a tantrum. He motioned as if to hand the script off to ex-wife, Marla Maples, but when she reached for them, he threw the papers all over the floor.
An anonymous crewmember said, “It was such a really rude thing, the way he did it. So terrible. So disrespectful… He just wasn’t pleasant.” Gary H. Miller, the producer of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, also recalled being summoned to Trump’s room because Trump didn’t think his lines were funny enough.
When Miller arrived, he told Trump, “with all due respect, I would never think of giving you any advice about real estate because I don’t know about real estate. But I do know comedy – and trust me, you’ll get a laugh.”
9 The Show's Links to Guantanamo Bay
According to the Miami Herald, Guantanamo Bay houses a diverse entertainment collection of 28,000 books and videos, but when the prisoners are “chillin’ out, maxin’, relaxin’ all cool” they tend to breakout episodes of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
In September 2012, the '90s sitcom surpassed Harry Potter books as Gitmo prisoners’ entertainment of choice.
Although the family-friendly show may sound like an odd choice for prisoners, the inmates actually have a lot in common with Will. Both Will and the Gitmo prisoners have had their lives “flipped, turned upside down," they were both relocated after getting into “one little fight," and they are both in a struggle to free themselves from a controlling uncle – Uncle Phil for Will and Uncle Sam for the prisoners.
These values resonate with the prisoners, making Fresh Prince of Bel-Air a popular and fun choice of entertainment.
8 Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff Weren't NBC's First Choice
Originally Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was not developed for Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff, but another hip hop duo – Kid ‘n Play.
According to Christopher “Kid” Reid, “we were talking about doing a sitcom over at NBC. We backed out of that because they canceled our cartoon series. So, we… were like ‘eh we’re not working with you.’ And then Will got that slot – ‘Fresh Prince’ became that. So that stuff kind of evens out.”
It evens out because Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff were actually offered roles in the movie House Party but turned it down, allowing Kid ‘n Play to star in their iconic movie. Imagine, though, if different decisions were made, we could have seen Kid ‘n Play starring in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and the Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff in House Party.
7 The Show Was Resurrected From the Dead
Fresh Prince of Bel-Air ran for six seasons, but it was only supposed to make it to four. NBC originally canceled the show after season four, with the series finale being the episode where Will moves back to Philadelphia.
However, fans didn’t agree with NBC. They flooded both the studio and Will Smith with letters and persuaded them to bring back their favorite show. Every season finale since the fourth was written to be the end, though, as the writers didn’t know if the series would be extended.
Ultimately, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air ended at Will Smith’s request. Despite great ratings, Smith believed that the show had run its course and that the actors needed to move on to greater roles.
In an interview, he said, “you become a family. On some weeks you spend more time with your TV family that you do with your real family. It’s hard to say goodbye to that atmosphere, but we felt like it was time. We’ve all grown as actors and as people, we had an incredibly talented cast, but the show is just limiting.”
6 The Theme Song Caused A School Lockdown & Originally Had An Extra Verse
If you’re reading this, you can most likely recite all the words to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air song, but do you know some of the secrets attached with the hit theme song? One dark secret is that, in 2013, the song led to the lockdown of schools in Beaver County, Pennsylvania.
A receptionist at Ambridge Area High School called a student to remind him of an appointment. She got his voicemail, which was the student’s own rendition of the Fresh Prince theme song. However, she misinterpreted the words and thought the student said “shooting people outside of the school” instead of “shooting some b-ball outside of the school.”
The receptionist immediately called the police and all Beaver County Schools were put on lockdown while they searched for the student. He was taken into custody but eventually released when the police took a closer listen to the voicemail.
Another fact about the theme song is that there is a secret extra verse that was scrapped. The verse says, “is this what the people of Bel-Air livin’ like?” It was ultimately taken out of the song because Smith couldn’t get it to fit the beat, despite his rapping skills.
5 Geoffrey's Dark Past
Geoffrey is the Banks’ sarcastic and cynical butler. Although he’s featured in many episodes, most fans don’t know his dark back story and why he is so cynical. With a name like Geoffrey Barbara Butler, Geoffrey seems to have been born for a career as a butler. However, he wasn’t always in this field.
The character spent his early life as an Olympic runner for his home country of England until he was caught cheating in a race. The scandal brought shame to his nation and he was even slapped by Queen Elizabeth II. In an episode titled “The Butler’s Son Did It”, it is even revealed that Geoffrey has a tattoo of the queen on his buttocks.
Geoffrey’s disgrace and severed relationship with the queen ended his athletic career and got him into the butler business. He was hired by Led Zeppelin in the 1970s and Chuck Norris in the '80s as their butlers, and ultimately started working for the Banks shortly after.
4 Smith was Constantly Fighting For His Role
It’s hard to imagine the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air without Will Smith. However, that’s exactly how NBC executives originally wanted for the show. Will Smith was very inexperienced and had no training as an actor when he landed the role of the Fresh Prince.
He constantly messed up his lines and would memorize everyone else's lines in order to help him remember his own. You can even see him mouthing his co-stars’ lines in early episodes of the show. NBC executives noticed this and nearly fired Smith on multiple occasions.
However, the show’s producers recognized his potential and constantly fought with the executives to keep him on the show. Guess the producers were right – they helped jump start the career of one of the most famous and richest actors today.
3 Jazz Was Bruised After Being Thrown Out of the House
Jazz was constantly thrown outside the Banks’ house and, if you look closely, he’s always wearing the same clothes. Many people thought this scene was shot only one time to save money, but it was actually shot multiple times originally and the same clip was used to prevent further bruising to DJ Jazzy Jeff, aka Jeffery Allen Townes.
Townes told the Huffington Post, “every time you shoot it to get a take you probably have to do it about 40 times. Literally, black and blue by the time they say, ‘We got it.' And it got so bad the last time, and I was like, ‘I can’t do this. I’m not a stuntman. I can’t do it.’”
According to Townes, his bruising was the real reason they used the same clip over and over again. He said that eventually “it became a joke."
2 Smith's Most Emotional Scene and the Father that Abandoned Him
Fresh Prince of Bel-Air tackled many deep issues, but the most emotional episode was “Papa’s Got a Brand New Excuse."
In this episode, Will's father Lou comes to spend time with his son after being absent in his life for 14 years. Will gets excited at the chance to reconnect with his father, but is crushed when Lou walks out on him again. Will brushes it off at first, but ultimately breaks down and asks Uncle Phil why his father doesn’t want him.
However, the part where Will breaks down wasn’t scripted. Will was supposed to simply walk away. However, Will Smith’s real father left him when he was younger, and remembering these emotions, the actor fell apart on set.
Smith went off script, swelling up with real tears and James Avery (Uncle Phil) went off script to give him a hug. The audience was sobbing, which you can hear it in the background of the episode.
Will Smith’s hat also falls off at the end of the scene, and normally a director would have re-shot the entire take. However, there was so much raw emotion that they decided to keep the scene as is.
1 The Cast's Burn Book
After the death of James Avery in December 2013, Karyn Parsons, the actress who played Hilary Banks, revealed that the cast kept a burn book on set that they used to write little notes and gossip about the other actors.
She said, “in the kitchen, there was a drawer in the island that had a little diary," she says. "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."
Parsons is now in possession of the book and keeps it as a reminder of her on-screen father.
Do you know any other behind-the-scenes secrets about Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? Let us know in the comments!