According to Will Smith in an interview, the reason for his character being named "Will Smith" was that, during the creation of the show, he and Alfonso Ribeiro were brainstorming names for their characters. Alfonso remarked that Will had to be careful in naming his character, as people would refer to him in public by that name for the rest of his life, and suggested that he name the character "Will Smith".
Despite portraying himself as "Will Smith" on the show as being a charismatic, self-confident playboy, Will Smith has admitted to behaving nothing like the title character he played. Smith said that he was, in reality, a shy, awkward teen who was very insecure about approaching and dating girls.
Jada Pinkett Smith tried out for the role of Lisa but was denied because of the height difference between her and Will Smith and due to a lack of chemistry between the two. Ironically, this is where the two first met and they would get married three years later.
As it required on-location shooting, only one shot of Jazz being thrown out of the house was done (with only a few exceptions). Therefore, to avoid continuity errors, it is made sure that Jazz is always wearing the same shirt in episodes where he's thrown out. Though some minor continuity errors still occured due to the original footage of Jazz showed him wearing dark glasses and on some occasions, he wore regular clear glasses.
The third, fourth and fifth season finales were written to be a respectable farewell in case they didn't get another season. The sixth season finale was written with the full knowledge it would not continue.
According to Alfonso Ribeiro, the whole cast was like one big family, except for Janet Hubert, who was reported as being difficult to work with and changed the mood on set. James Avery corroborated. He recalled that he constantly had to remind Hubert-Whitten that the show was The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, not "Philip and Vivian of Bel-Air."
During the earlier seasons of the show (particularly the first few episodes), Will Smith was placed under scrutiny as he was constantly being ridiculed and dismissed for his lack of acting skills. Executives at NBC noticed this and nearly fired him. However, the creators and producers of the sitcom saw strong potential in Smith, successfully convincing NBC to keep him on the show.
Will Smith's character name in the show is actually different than in real life. In the show, he is "William" Smith, in real life he's "Willard" Smith. This is referred to when one of Will's girlfriend's father calls him Williard as a joke.
The part of Aunt Vivian Banks was portrayed by two different actresses during the series run. Janet Hubert-Whitten portrayed the original Vivian during seasons 1-3, but growing problems between Will Smith, the producers, and Hubert-Whitten caused her to depart in 1994. The producers offered Hubert-Whitten a 12/25 contract for season four, but she declined. Daphne Maxwell Reid replaced her in the role from 1994-1996, seasons 4-6.
During the fall of 1991-92 season, NBC gained two hit television shows to anchor their Monday night line-up ("Blossom" aired after "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air"). To gain popularity between the two shows, Will Smith appeared in an episode as himself under the rap persona of The Fresh Prince. Several episodes later, Karyn Parsons showed up in an episode of "Blossom", as Hilary Banks. Parsons also appeared in the Patti LaBelle sitcom, "Out All Night" as her Fresh Prince character.
May have been the first television series saved from cancellation by pleas from television station managers. The show aired its 1990-1994 episodes in syndication after the fourth season, while running the fifth season on network. At the end of that season, NBC wanted to pull the plug, because the new episodes were getting a mediocre 8.6 rating, but the reruns were drawing a 7.4. The managers of the local stations thought they might have one of those "phenom" series where people religiously watch their favorite episodes and a lot of them. To avoid over-running the shows they already had (about a hundred, already run three times), the station managers agreed to buy the fifth and sixth seasons at a greatly inflated price (adding fifty more shows to their libraries, and helping avoid burning out the audiences) - meaning NBC would NOT lose money by picking up the show after all.
Will Smith, Karyn Parsons, and James Avery are the only cast members to appear in every episode. (Karyn Parsons didn't have any new scenes in the episode "Love in an Elevator," but she appeared in flashback scenes, so she technically was absent from that episode only, although she did appear).
Tatyana Ali is said to have been very doubtful of Will Smith's acting potential during the earliest episodes of the show, saying that he constantly messed up his lines. Because of this, there was slight tension between them while on set.
The show was actually cancelled during its fourth season, with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: The Philadelphia Story (1994) serving as the finale. The overwhelming response, with viewers writing in by the truckload to NBC and Will Smith, convinced the network to go back on this decision, allowing it to run for what became two more seasons.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: Papa's Got a Brand New Excuse (1994) is claimed to be the most emotional episode, due to the fact of how Will Smith felt about his relationship with his father, both in the show and in reality. Although his real-life father was there for him growing up, Will had a lot of friends who never knew their fathers, and his emotions in the final scene came from thinking of all his friends who never had a father in their lives. His hug with James Avery was known to be a hug from man to man, and not them being in character. It is the highest rated episode of the entire series and to have a rating higher than 9.
The Carlton dance was invented by Alfonso Ribeiro himself. When Riberio first read the script, the script read "Carlton Dances" and was not specific. Riberio later stated in an interview that the Carlton dance was inspired by Eddie Murphy's white boy dance and Courteney Cox dancing in the music video of "Dancing in the Dark" by Bruce Springsteen and Riberio very much made the Carlton dance his own.
The character of Vivian Banks was originally named Wendy Banks. The name was changed when Debbie Allen was brought in to direct the pilot episode. Debbie Allen's mother and daughter are both named Vivian, and she changed the character's name when Janet Hubert reminded her of her mother.
Janet Hubert, the original Aunt Vivian, who quit at the end of the third season, has taken to the media to call Will Smith out on his diva-ish behavior, that he acted horribly and bullied people on the set, and had her fired for no reason. Smith has never actually responded to any of this, but Alfonso Ribeiro has called her "cuckoo" in his stand up act and various interviews and has said her claims are baseless. None of the other cast members have really taken sides on this except Tatyana Ali, who said that Hubert's stories about Smith's prima donna-ish behavior are nothing like she remembers.
Real-life game show host Bob Eubanks appeared in an episode as a game show host on the fictitious game show titled 'Double Trouble' where Will, Carlton, and Jazz were all contestants trying to win a Corvette.
Karyn Parsons 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."
The consensus seems to be that Janet Hubert was the better Aunt Vivian, feistier, stronger, more colorful than Daphne Reid's more subdued Aunt Vivian, although the other cast members said Reid got along with the rest of the cast and production crew better.
A one-off 25th anniversary special (2015) which was never considered, with most of the original cast minus James Avery who passed away in 2014, would have been set twenty years after The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: I, Done: Part 2 (1996), and would have followed Will as he reunites with The Banks Family, as he attends Uncle Phil's funeral, and Will reveals he is now happily married, and has kids.
In the UK, the show was exclusively aired in 1991 on BBC Two up until the Summer 2004, originally in the DEF II programming block. The channel edited some of the episodes so that, like the pilot, the titles would comes before the beginning of the episode; this was indicated by the lack of credits in the first scene.
Will and Carlton have full-on mustaches, though they go to a conservative button down prep school, Aunt Vivian and Uncle Phil are their caretakers, and they are supposed to be very strict, and they're both only supposed to be fifteen or sixteen when the series begins.
In the episode "Boyz in the Woods" in season 3 Carlton jokes he needs to stay alive so he can see The Karate Kid 17, Will Smiths son Jaden Smith starred in the remake of the Karate Kid in with Jackie Chan in 2010.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The show was originally canceled by NBC after the fourth season, with the series finale being the episode where Will moves back to Philadelphia. However, fan reaction and letters written to Will Smith and NBC persuaded them to renew the show and it ended up continuing for two more seasons.