In December 1989, NBC approached Will Smith, a popular rapper during the late 1980s. The pilot episode began taping on May 1, 1990. Season 1 aired in July 1990 and ended in March 1991. The series finale was taped on Thursday, March 21, 1996.
The theme song "Yo Home to Bel Air" was written and performed by Smith under his rap stage name, The Fresh Prince. The music was composed by Quincy Jones, who is credited with Smith at the end of each episode. The music often used to bridge scenes together during the show is based on a similar chord structure.
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.
The theme song and opening sequence set the premise of the show. Will Smith is a street-smart teenager, born and raised in West Philadelphia. While playing basketball, Will misses a shot and the ball hits a group of people, causing a confrontation that frightens his mother, who sends him to live with his aunt and uncle in the town of Bel Air, Los Angeles.
Will's working class background ends up clashing in various humorous ways with the upper class, "bourgeois" world of the Banks family – Will's uncle Phil and aunt Vivian and their children, Will's cousins Hilary, Carlton, and Ashley.Will Smith as Will Smith
James Avery as Philip Banks
Janet Hubert-Whitten (Season 1–3) and Daphne Maxwell Reid (Season 4–6) as Vivian Banks
Alfonso Ribeiro as Carlton Banks
Karyn Parsons as Hilary Banks
Tatyana M. Ali as Ashley Banks
Joseph Marcell as Geoffrey Butler
Ross Bagley as Nicholas "Nicky" Banks (Seasons 5 & 6)
DJ Jazzy Jeff as Jazz
Vernee Watson-Johnson as Viola "Vy" Smith
Nia Long as Lisa Wilkes (Season 5)
Tyra Banks as Jacqueline "Jackie" Ames (Season 4)
John Amos as Fred Wilkes (Lisa's father) (Season 5)
During the fall 1991–1992 season, NBC gained two hit television shows to anchor their Monday night line-up (Blossom aired immediately after The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air). To gain popularity between the two shows, Will Smith appeared in the Blossom episode "I'm with the Band" as himself under his rap stage name, The Fresh Prince. That same season, Karyn Parsons appeared in the Blossom episode "Wake Up Little Suzy" as Hilary Banks. Parsons also appeared in the Patti LaBelle sitcom, Out All Night as Hilary.
In the House and Fresh Prince were both executive produced by Winifred Hervey, David Salzman and Quincy Jones. During the second season's first episode, Alfonso Ribeiro and Tatyana Ali appeared as their Fresh Prince characters (Carlton and Ashley Banks) in the crossover episode "Dog Catchers". Later that season, James Avery (Phillip Banks) appeared as a mediator in the episode "Love on a One-Way Street".
In the Season 4 episode "My Pest Friend's Wedding", James Avery and Daphne Maxwell Reid (Vivian Banks) guest starred as Dr. Maxwell Stanton's parents. Both Avery and Reid portrayed the parents of Ribeiro's Fresh Prince character. Joseph Marcell, who played the wisecracking Geoffrey Butler on Fresh Prince, also appeared as an officiating minister in the same episode.
The series was produced by NBC Productions in association with The Stuffed Dog Company and Quincy Jones Entertainment (later Quincy Jones-David Salzman Entertainment in 1993). After the show was released to syndication in 1994, the series has been distributed by Warner Bros. Television, which continues to distribute the show worldwide (although NBCUniversal does own the series' copyright). WGN America was the first cable channel to acquire the series in 1997, TBS acquired the series a year later in 1998; both channels carried the series until the fall of 2003, though TBS reacquired the series in 2007.
The theme song was shown in the original TBS run, but after TBS re-acquired Fresh Prince in 2007, the opening credits were truncated and the theme song removed and replaced with the instrumental version used as the show's closing theme; these versions also re-added portions of scenes cut from the original syndicated prints for some episodes, particularly those from seasons 3–6. TBS continues to air the series today, early in the morning. Reruns also aired on WPIX-TV back to back weeknights at 6 pm & 6:30 pm EST from 1994 until 2000, and as a weekday basis at 5 pm from 2000-2005, sometimes on weekends until 2007. But, the series was still rerunning on The WB's affiliation WPIX-TV until 2006.
The series aired on Nick at Nite from 2004 to 2009, as well as sister network (through Nickelodeon) The N (now TeenNick) with portions of scenes that were removed from other syndicated airings, with parts of scenes kept in other syndicated airings removed due to time constraints; the series was dropped from its schedule in September 2009 after Disney/ABC purchased the rights to the show. The show returned to Nick at Nite on September 29, 2014.
In July 2009, Disney XD acquired the rights to the series, though it was quickly moved from prime-time to late-night airings, and only episodes from seasons 1-3 are aired, mainly because those episodes are more appropriate for young viewers and does not contain as many mature themes, sexual content and strong language as later episodes. But in August 2010, Disney XD stopped airing the show.
ABC Family (now called Freeform) acquired the series in September 2008, though airing all 148 episodes; originally airing exclusively on Saturday nights, the series was added to ABC Family's weekday line-up in late 2009. On September 29, 2014, Disney/ABC rights to the show expired. Viacom Media Networks got the series back.
In October 2014, Viacom Media Networks also gave the series to BET, it also will air on Centric. It was previously aired on MTV's retro block. Also, the series reruns on VH1.
On November 2, 2015, the series started airing on the Family Channel in Canada.
On January 1, 2017, the series was added to Netflix in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Warner Home Video has released the complete series, seasons 1-6 on DVD in Region 1. Seasons 1-4 have been released in regions 2 & 4. Seasons 5-6 have been released in Region 2 in Germany and in the complete series boxset in the UK. The episodes and DVD menus are in English; only the DVD packaging is in German.
On August 13, 2015, it was reported that a reboot of the show was in development by Overbrook Entertainment, with Will Smith serving as a producer. While the original aired on NBC, a network for the reboot has yet to be determined. In August 2016, during a promotional interview with the E! television network for his then-upcoming film Suicide Squad, Smith had denied that a reboot was in development, saying that it would happen "...pretty close to when Hell freezes over."