Fresh Prince’s Original Plan Was Will Smith vs Uncle Phil

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air special reveals that the original focus was Will Smith vs Uncle Phil. Here’s why it shifted to Will and Carlton.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air special reveals that the show’s original focus was the friction between Will Smith and Uncle Phil. Directed by Marcus Raboy, the 30th anniversary celebration features commentaries from several main cast members, all of whom express their gratitude for the late James Avery, who portrayed the series’ patriarchal figure. Will Smith also discusses what he learned from his adoptive on-screen father, and how the show evolved over the course of six seasons.

Now streaming on on HBO Max, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion includes several notable reveals about the series’ production process. In fact, the special includes a special appearance from the original Aunt Vivian, Janet Hubert-Whitten, who left the show after three seasons because of a contract dispute and a reported clash with the cast and crew. The actress meets with Smith for the first time in 27 years during the The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air special, and they resolve their conflict on-camera while reflecting about the legacy of their creative partnership.

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Early in the special, though, Smith explains the timeline for his casting in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, along with the show’s original premise. He recalls being recruited by Quincy Jones without actually auditioning, and then being urged to spontaneously perform in front of executives who eventually green-lit the series. When discussing the chemistry amongst The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air cast members, Smith notes that he and Avery were originally the narrative focus, given their different perspectives, with Will being a street-savvy kid from Philadelphia and Uncle Phil being a wealthy man living in a posh Los Angeles neighborhood. It soon became apparent, however, that the dynamic between Will and Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro) had more comedic potential:

“The initial focus of the show was going to be Will/Uncle Phil collisions. We started to see the dynamics between the other characters. And Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv were holding the base, and Will and Carlton being able to run wild.”


Smith also discusses one of his most famous shared scenes with Avery in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. In the season 4 episode “Papa’s Got a Brand New Excuse,” Will’s estranged father returns after 14 years and subsequently leaves. Incidentally, Smith and Avery’s characters share a powerful moment together while bonding over their unorthodox father-son relationship. In the HBO Max special, Smith recalls wanting to prove himself as an actor during the scene but lost focus after messing up his lines. In response, Avery asked Smith to look him in the eyes, and to use him as direction for the big character moment. After the young actor delivered his best performance to date in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Avery whispered in his ear and said, “Now, that’s acting.”

Even though Avery and Smith do indeed have strong on-screen chemistry, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air become so culturally relevant by addressing timely issues through sequences involving Will and Carlton. As Ribeiro acknowledges in the HBO Max special, he mostly plays the comedic “straight man” in contrast to Smith’s “stooge” during the series, which makes their shared dramatic moments so impactful. Whether it’s Carlton deciding to buy a gun or Will passing out in a graveyard after driving while intoxicated, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air always found a way to complement the comedy with powerful commentaries about the darkest aspects of American culture.

Next: Why Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air Ended After Season 6 (Was It Cancelled?)

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Updated: November 20, 2020 — 1:38 am

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