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Movies & TV

13th Feb 2022

The incredible true story behind the gritty new remake of Bel-Air

Rory Cashin

Brought to you by NOW

Someone’s life got flipped-turned upside down, but in a really good way!

Ahead of the release of the new Bel-Air show, which will be available to watch with your NOW Entertainment Membership, we’re doing a deep dive on the history of much-loved show.

Originally airing in 1990, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was an immediate hit for TV viewers at the time, quickly becoming a global success. At the time, there were very few shows that put people of colour front and centre, especially outside of America.

The Cosby Show and The Oprah Winfrey Show garnered worldwide audiences in the mid-1980s, but the 90s was when shows with people of colour really started to gain traction with audiences, including Sister Sister, Moesha and Kenan & Kel, but The Fresh Prince was on a level of popularity all of its own.

The show is actually based on a true story: music manager Benny Medina pitched the idea of his own childhood to legendary producer Quincy Jones, who loved the story. Will Smith was already well-known at the time thanks to his music career as The Fresh Prince, and a chance meeting between Medina and Smith resulted in Smith being cast in the lead role, despite being hesitant due to the fact that he’d never actually acted before.

The show was an immediate hit, running for 148 episodes over six seasons, attracting an unbelievable amount of celebrity cameos from Oprah Winfrey to Zsa Zsa Gabor, Naomi Campbell to (ugh) Donald Trump. The final episode aired in May 1996, just two months before the cinematic release of Independence Day, and Will Smith essentially became the biggest movie star in the world.

And for over two decades, the intellectual property of Bel-Air remained dormant, until March 2019 when a short fan-film titled Bel-Air was released online…

Written and directed by Morgan Cooper, it gives a gritty re-imagining to Will’s tale. In the original show, the extent of his altercations with gang members in West Philadelphia is told during the song in the opening credits. Here, that gang fight has a much more dramatic impact, with Will rushed off to his rich uncle and aunt in an affluent area of Los Angeles.

The short film quickly became viral, doing the rounds around Hollywood, and caught the attention of Will Smith himself, telling Deadline at the time: “Morgan did a ridiculous trailer for Bel-Air. Brilliant idea, the dramatic version of The Fresh Prince for the next generation.”

Smith reached out to Cooper, and the two are now co-developers on the new rebooted version of the show. Initially, there was a bidding war for the new series, with Netflix and HBO both expressing an interest, before Peacock won out, giving the season a two-season order.

Cooper is also writing, directing and co-executive producing the new series, with the role of Will now being played by Jabari Banks, who just like Will Smith back in the day, has never acted before. Once again, someone’s life got flipped-turned upside down, but in a really good way!

The first episode of the new series of Bel-Air will be available to watch with your NOW Entertainment Membership from Monday, 14 February. Check out the trailer for the new show right here:

Clips via Will Smith and Sun Squared Media

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