Will Smith knew his hit sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” was coming to an end well before the last curtain call.
In is new memoir, “Will,” the actor said he could recall exactly when he knew the show had begun taking a turn for the worse. “The storylines were becoming increasingly hokey and it was difficult to maintain the ‘Freshness,’” wrote Smith.
BEVERLY HILLS, CA – MARCH 04: VARIETY ARCHIVE: Will Smith (R) and Alfonso Ribeiro arrive at the 4th Annual “Night Before” Party held at the Beverly Hills Hotel on March 4, 2006 in Beverly Hills, California. The event raised 6.1 million for the Motion Picture and Television Fund. (Photo by Variety/Variety)
His memoir details moments from childhood well into adulthood that shaped the mega star’s life and outlook on his journey of personal evolution. In it, he also details career benchmarks, such as recognizing that the “Fresh Prince” was becoming less of a conversation starter and more of a 30-minute space filler with each script.
“Anyone who has ever been on a sitcom can tell you the episode in which their show jumped the shark. Ours was season 5, episode 15, ‘Bullets Over Bel-Air,’ the one in which I got shot and Carlton started carrying a gun,” said the actor-rapper. He goes on to explain at that point, he found himself at a career crossroads where he could finish the sixth and final contracted season of the show, or he could go on to make blockbuster movies, leaving the sitcom in his past.
It was then that Smith found the sage advice on moving forward he needed from “Good Times” family patriarch James Evans, played by actor John Amos. Years earlier, Amos found himself written out of the popular ’80s sitcom when he disagreed with the direction of the show. Smith recalled Amos telling him to take care of his family of co-stars, and most importantly to allow them and himself to walk away with dignity.
“I had successfully fulfilled a promise to myself that I would never get caught in a cycle of deterioration without having the next thing on tap,” wrote the first-time author. So he made the decision to pull the cast aside. “I told everyone that season six would be our final season and that they should take the year to make whatever plans or preparations they felt necessary. I promised them that we would go out with style and grace.”
The show ended in 1996, and while Smith and Alfonso Ribeiro, who played Carlton, maintained a publicly close friendship, it would not be until 2020 that fans would see the entire cast reunite.