Goofy sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” was a wacky weekly laugh that showcased star Will Smith’s charming bravado and kick started his impressive Hollywood career. But woven within the light-hearted comedy were examinations of serious social issues like sexism, prejudice, drug and alcohol abuse, and gun violence. The cast’s ability to evoke heartfelt emotions — and nonstop laughter — kept the show on NBC’s prime-time schedule for six seasons and is one of the many reasons it is so popular in syndication today.
Before the show’s 1990 debut, rapper Will “Fresh Prince” Smith had only one acting credit to his name: a minor part in an ABC after-school special. He had no professional drama training, and although he’s a respected actor now, he says he cringes when he watches his early scenes on the show. “I was trying so hard,” Will recalls. “I would memorize the entire script, then I’d be lipping everybody’s lines while they were talking. When I watch those episodes, it’s disgusting. My performances were horrible.”
Although Will was earning a tidy sum with his music career, he was in the hole for $2.8 million with the IRS —Which is why he jumped at the opportunity to star in producer Quincy Jones’ TV venture, playing a character who shared Will’s name and was based on his own life.