1. Will Smith only agreed to star in the show because he was in serious debt to the IRS.
Smith gained widespread fame as the rapper The Fresh Prince, and with that fame came a significant jump in income. Unfortunately, Smith didn't manage his money wisely or pay enough in income taxes, and he owed the government a whopping $2.8 million. The IRS seized most of his belongings, including his income. The Fresh Prince almost declared bankruptcy—until producer Quincy Jones picked him to star in a new series, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was born.
2. And he had to pay up.
The IRS forced Smith to pay them 70 percent of his salary over the first three seasons.
3. He was almost a total novice.
Smith only had one other TV production under his belt—as a t-shirt salesman on an ABC after school special—when he accepted a role on The Fresh Prince, and is embarrassed by his earliest performances on the show. He had never been formally trained as an actor, and—in some cases—his lack of experience was painfully obvious. "I was trying so hard," he said. "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."
4. Tyra Banks Made Her Acting Debut on the Show
She played Smith's on-screen girlfriend, Jackie, in a season four episode.
5. The House in the Intro isn't in Bel Air.
Instead, the pictured house is located in the nearby (and similarly affluent) Brentwood.
6. Carlton's Dance was Inspired by Courteney Cox and Eddie Murphy.
"There was a video of Bruce Springsteen and Courteney Cox called 'Dancing in the Dark,' and Bruce Springsteen pulls her up onto the stage and she basically does that dance," actor Alfonso Ribeiro said. "And it was also from Eddie Murphy’s Delirious comedy video where he does 'the white man dance.' And what I did was ultimately take those two dances and combined them and made it my own, and made it my character’s."
7. Geoffrey Had A Last Name.
The ever-snarky butler of the Banks household's last name was ... Butler. (His middle name was Barbara.)
8. Nicky's Middle Names Were Inspired by Boyz II Men.
Audiences were first introduced to Nicky in season three, after he is born to Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv. His full name is Nicholas Andrew Michael Shawn Nathan Wanya Banks. What are the Boyz II Men member names? Michael, Shawn, Nathan, and Wanya. The four-member R&B group performed at Nicky’s christening in a season four episode.
9. Who's the Cabbie?
Many sites (including IMDb) state that that's Quincy Jones driving the taxi cab with dice in the mirror. But according to both Rashida Jones (Quincy's daughter) and Jada Pinkett Smith, the cabbie in the credits is "absolutely not" the Q. Besides, thanks to an auto accident at age 14 in which he was a passenger, Jones has never learned to drive.
10. Smith met his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, during auditions for the show.
She originally auditioned for the role of Will’s on-screen girlfriend. She didn’t get the part, but that didn’t stop the couple from getting married in 1997.
11. Smith contributed stories for some episodes.
Will Smith was more than just the sitcom’s star. He also helped with stories and produced some of the episodes, including “Ain’t No Business Like Show Business” in season three. In this episode, Will’s friend Keith Campbell, a comedian from Philadelphia, visits and makes stand-up look so easy that Will decides to pursue a career in comedy.
12. Two Different Actresses Played Aunt Vivian.
Janet Hubert played the character during the first three seasons; Daphne Maxwell Reid played Aunt Vivian during the last three seasons. Janet Hubert has said that the producers offered her a 10-episode contract that prevented her from doing any other acting work. When she refused, the producers refused to negotiate and recast the role.
13. There were many famous guest stars.
Jay Leno, Queen Latifah, and Hugh Hefner all made guest appearances on the show.
14. The cast kept a "diary."
Earlier this year, Karyn Parsons, who played Hilary Banks, told ABC News about a notebook kept in the drawer of the set's kitchen island, which she took with her after the show went off the air. "Every now and then a camera person or the actors, somebody would just write silly poetry or 'James is getting on my nerves,'" she said. "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."
15. The Show was Canceled and Brought Back
After NBC canceled Fresh Prince in its fourth season, the finale had Smith's character heading back to Philadelphia. After fan outcry, however, NBC decided to bring the show back; its fifth season opens with an NBC executive pulling Smith into a van to drive him back to California, saying "It's called the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, not The Fresh Prince of Philadelphia." Ultimately, the show had six seasons.
16. The Theme Song Caused a School Lockdown.
In 2013, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song caused a school to be put on lockdown. A receptionist from Ambridge Area High School in Pennsylvania called a student to remind him of an upcoming appointment. He didn’t answer, and the receptionist was directed to the student’s voicemail. The student imitated the show’s theme song for his answering message, and the receptionist thought he said “shooting people outside of the school” instead of “shooting some b-ball outside of the school.” The local police brought the student into custody, although he was later released.
17. You probably can't get the soundtrack.
Want to get a CD soundtrack of The Fresh Prince? You might have to take a plane to the Netherlands to get it; it was originally only released in Holland, where an extended remixed version of the title song hit #3 on the singles chart in 1992. The songs are now available online via Spotify and elsewhere for downloading.
18. The Show has been parodied.
There are multiple parodies of the show. Mad TV produced the animated Fresh Prawn of Bel-Air. A pet adoption group produced The Fresh Pup of Bel-Air.
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19. Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay love The Fresh Prince.
In August 2012, the sitcom overtook the Harry Potter series as the entertainment of choice in the prison.
20. The show endorsed a pair of basketball sneakers.