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The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is an Americanmarker television sitcom that originally aired on NBC from September 10, 1990 to May 20, 1996. The show starred Will Smith as a street-smart teenager from West Philadelphia who is sent to live with his wealthy relatives in a Bel Airmarker mansion. His lifestyle often clashes with that of his relatives there. 148 episodes were produced over six seasons.

Conception

As part of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Will Smith was a popular and successful rapper during the late 1980s but, having spent money freely and underpayed his income taxes, was assessed to be $2.8 million in tax debt by the I.R.S., who took many of his possessions, and garnished his income. This left Smith nearly bankrupt when, in 1990, he was approached by the television network NBC who signed him on to a contract and built a sitcom around him.

Theme song and opening sequence

The theme song and opening sequence explains the context of the show. Will Smith is revealed as a street-smart teenager, born and raised on the mean streets of West Philadelphia, while the plot of the story is shown and rapped in the theme song.

The theme song was written and performed by The Fresh Prince (Will Smith). Contrary to popular belief, DJ Jazzy Jeff did not compose the music for the opening credits. The music was composed by Quincy Jones III, who is credited at the end of each episode. An additional credit at the end of episodes also reads "Theme song written by Will Smith", in regard to the lyrics, with no reference to DJ Jazzy Jeff. The music often used to bridge scenes together during the show is also based on a similar chord structure to the theme song. This too is the work of Quincy Jones III. The full version of the theme song, telling how he went on a plane to Bel-Air, was used unedited on some earlier episodes. Will Smith recorded this version as an unreleased B-side. The full-length version, which is 2:52", was included on Will Smith's Greatest Hits album and attributed to himself only. A 3:23" version was released in the Netherlands in 1992, and reached #3 on the charts.

For the first few episodes of the show stanzas one to three and stanzas six and seven were used. Beginning with Episode #9 (titled "Someday Your Prince Will Be in Effect (2)"), only the first two and the last two stanzas of the song were used. The change to the theme song allowed for longer episodes to be created.

Seasons 1, 5, and 6 featured an instrumental version of the theme and still photographs from the episode for the closing credits. In Seasons 2, 3, and 4, the music and stills were dropped and closing credits would almost always appear over bloopers and outtakes from the episode.

Cast and characters

Recurring settings

The Banks mansion

The mansion is where the Banks family, as well as Will, live; the address was revealed in the fourth season's "For Sale By Owner" as 805 Saint Cloud Road. A majority of the show's scenes take place in the mansion. Originally, most of the family scenes took place in the living room, with less prominence given to the kitchen. The living room set had archways at either end to hallways, and two doorways at the back of the set to the side yard. The right-side hallway was occasionally shot in, and had a staircase upstairs, and the front door. The kitchen set was not attached to the rest of the downstairs set, and was unconventionally laid out compared to many sitcoms: The left side had counters that continued along the fourth wall (where the audience would be), and had a lot of depth (from the audience perspective), with camera angles frequently shooting almost parallel to the fourth wall. The set had two interior doors; one of which, at the right side of the set, led to the hallway left of the living room (though was not attached on set), and an exterior door to the unseen back yard. There was a dining room also off the hallway left of the living room. The upper floor hallway was shown in Season 1, until the mansion sets were completely rebuilt after the season.

In the second season, the kitchen and living room sets were rebuilt much larger with a more contemporary style (as opposed to the much more formal style of the first season), and were connected directly by an archway, allowing scenes to be shot continuously between the sets, which is where most scenes were shot. The staircase upstairs was incorporated into the back of the living room, with only one rarely-used exit to the side yard beside it. An actual television prop was added at the fourth wall, whereas there had only been one implicitly in the first season. The archway to the right still led to a hallway with the front door. The only element that remained from the original set was the kitchen's left-hand wall and island which were rotated ninety degrees to become the back wall at the right of the kitchen, with some modification to the cosmetics. The archway was the only way into the room, other than the exit at the left to the backyard patio, which was now an existing part of the main house set.

In addition, Will's and occasionally other family members', rooms were shown (sometimes changing looks between appearances) during the series. The pool house was shown in one episode of season 3. A different set was used when it became a main location in season 4 until the end of the series, after Will and Carlton moved in.

Despite the changes, the exterior shot of the Banks house, which is an actual house in Bel-Air, Los Angeles, Californiamarker, was constant throughout the series, usually featured in still shots. A running gag, however, featured Jazz being physically thrown out of the front door using the exterior of the house. Every time he is thrown out of the house, he is shown wearing the same shirt although he does not always wear it when he is thrown out (the producers never shot a second sequence with Jazz being thrown out of the house, only adjusting the original scene for time purposes; an exception is in the episode "Community Action", where Jazz was thrown out along with a lifesize cardboard cut-out of Bill Cosby, complete with a blooper showing Jeff Townes reshooting his flying off the house several times).

Bel-Air Prep

Bel-Air Prep is the high school that Will and Carlton attend in Seasons 1-3. Ashley also starts as Freshman in Season 3. The 3 main sets are the classroom, a hallway and the auditorium (the auditorium was only shown in three episodes: "Def Poet's Society", "Courting Disaster" and "Just Say Yo").

Hospital

A hospital in Los Angeles is seen in several episodes which deal with the Banks family's medical problems. The exterior shot of the hospital is a shot of the VAmarker Hospital in nearby Westwoodmarker

Jazz's apartment in Compton

Jazz lives with a few friends in a run-down apartment complex in Compton, Californiamarker called the Chalet Towers. This setting was seen in every season except Seasons 5 and 6.

KFPB Channel 8 News station

This setting was seen throughout Season 3 because Hilary was hired as a weather girl and fell in love with Trevor Collins, who died in a bungee accident in Season 4. Due to his death, the setting was written off towards the end of the 4th Season. The setting returned in Season 6 because Hilary's own talk show was produced there.

ULA Student Store

The ULA Student Store, also known as "The Peacock Stop" for the school mascot, is where Will, Carlton, and Will's friend Jackie Ames work. In Season 4, Jackie is the manager, Carlton is the assistant manager, and Will is the cashier. When Jackie leaves ULA in the middle of Season 4, Carlton takes over as manager and Will becomes assistant manager and cashier until Season 5.

Awards and nominations

Awards Outcome Recipient(s) Year
ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards:
Top TV Series Won Quincy Jones
Will Smith
DJ Jazzy Jeff

1994
Emmy Awards:
Outstanding Individual Achievement in Lighting Direction for a Comedy Series Nominated Art Busch 1996
Golden Globe Awards:
Best Performance by an Actor in a TV-Series - Comedy/Musical Nominated Will Smith 1994
Best Performance by an Actor in a TV-Series - Comedy/Musical Nominated Will Smith 1993
Image Award:
Outstanding Comedy Series Nominated 1997
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series Won Alfonso Ribeiro 1996
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series Nominated Will Smith 1997
Outstanding Youth Actor/Actress Won Tatyana Ali 1997
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated Nia Long 1996
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated Daphne Maxwell Reid 1996
Kids' Choice Awards:
Favorite Television Actor Nominated Will Smith 1996
Favorite Television Show Nominated 1996
Favorite TV Actress Won Tatyana Ali 1996
NCLR Bravo Awards:
Outstanding Television Series Actor in a Crossover Role Nominated Alfonso Ribeiro 1996
TP de Oro:
Best Foreign Series (Mejor Serie Extranjera) Nominated 1996
Best Foreign Series (Mejor Serie Extranjera) Won 1994
TV Land Awards:
Best Broadcast Butler Nominated Joseph Marcell 2004
Favorite "Fish Out of Water" Nominated Will Smith 2004
Young Artist Awards:
Best Performance by an Actor Under Ten - Television Won Ross Bagley 1996
Best Performance by an Actor Under Ten in a TV Series Won Ross Bagley 1995
Best Youth Comedienne Nominated Tatyana Ali 1994
Best Young Actor Guest Starring in a Television Series Nominated Larenz Tate 1993
Best Young Actor Guest Starring or Recurring Role in a TV Series Nominated Tevin Campbell 1992
Best New Family Television Comedy Series Won 1991
YoungStar Award:
Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Comedy TV Series Won Tatyana Ali 1997


U.S. television ratings

Seasonal rankings (based on average total viewers per episode) of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air on NBC.

Note: U.S. network television seasons generally start in late September and end in late May, which coincides with the completion of the May sweeps.

Season Episodes Season Premiere Season Finale TV Season Rank Viewers

(in millions)
1 25 September 10, 1990 May 6, 1991 1990–1991 N/A N/A
2 24 September 9, 1991 May 4, 1992 1991–1992 #22 13.2
3 24 September 14, 1992 May 10, 1993 1992–1993 #16 13.6
4 26 September 20, 1993 May 23, 1994 1993–1994 #22 12.9
5 25 September 19, 1994 May 15, 1995 1994–1995 N/A N/A
6 24 September 18, 1995 May 20, 1996 1995–1996 N/A N/A


Syndication and DVD releases

The series was originally an NBC production in association with The Stuffed Dog Company and Quincy Jones Productions (later QDE, or Quincy Jones/David Salzman Entertainment). After the show was released to syndication, the rights reverted to Warner Bros. Television, which continues to distribute the show worldwide (although NBC Universal does own the series' copyright). Currently, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air airs on various local television stations around the U.S. including TBS, BET, and ABC Family. It aired on Nick@Nite from 2004 to 2009, as well as The-N (now TeenNick), but was removed in September 2009 after Disney/ABC purchased the rights to the show. It is also currently being aired on the UK digital TV channel Virgin 1 and in Canada on YTV, TVtropolis and Crossroads Television. Disney XD started airing the show on September 19, 2009 and will start airing on Disney Channel in the United Statesmarker by the end of 2009.Warner Home Video has released the first four seasons of the series on DVD. It is currently unknown whether Seasons 5 and 6 will be released due to conflicts over music rights costs.

DVD Name Ep # Release dates DVD Extras
Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
The Complete 1st Season 25 February 8, 2005 February 21, 2005 April 13, 2005 "Back-to-Bel-Air: A Fresh Look" featurette.
The Complete 2nd Season 24 October 11, 2005 November 21, 2005 March 1, 2006 Best Bits of Bel Air and Bloopers from Season 2
The Complete 3rd Season 24 February 14, 2006 June 26, 2006 August 9, 2006 Best of the Upper Bel-Air Crust (Season 3 highlights) and Bloopers from Season 3
The Complete 4th Season 26 August 8, 2006 January 22, 2007 December 6, 2006 No extras are available in the boxed set of season 4.
The Complete 5th Season 25 TBA TBA TBA
The Complete 6th Season 24 TBA TBA TBA


References

  1. Episode List for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
  2. DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince: B-Side Lyrics
  3. http://www.sitcomsonline.com/blog/2009/08/fresh-prince-comes-to-disney-xd-fall.html
  4. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air - The Complete First Four Seasons
  5. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Season 1, 2, 3 Boxset, DVD features


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