Will Smith has revealed why he decided to end The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air after six seasons.
The sitcom, which ran from September 1990 to May 1996, became a launch pad for Smith’s acting career across film and TV.
In his new memoir, titled Will, the actor pinpointed the exact episode when he believed that the show had “jumped the shark”, which contributed to his decision not to renew his contract beyond the show’s sixth season.
“The storylines were becoming increasingly hokey and it was difficult to maintain the ‘Freshness,’” Smith wrote (via Entertainment Weekly).
“Anyone who has ever been on a sitcom can tell you the episode in which their show jumped the shark. Ours was season five, episode 15, Bullets Over Bel-Air, the one in which I got shot and Carlton started carrying a gun.
“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. The show could easily sustain another season; this was my family; I loved them. But a movie career was now a viable option; I was at a crossroads.”
Smith’s decision to leave was encouraged by The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air guest star John Amos, who could relate to Smith’s dilemma after his character James Evans was killed off on sitcom Good Times over a contract dispute. “It is your responsibility to make sure these people get to leave this show with some dignity,” Smith recalled the actor telling him.
Speaking about the impact of the conversation, he added: “I had remembered even as a child being jarred by James Evans’s death on Good Times. As a kid, I wouldn’t have used the word ‘dignity,’ but in retrospect there was a sense of disrespect that my heart sensed.
“As a fan, I felt insulted and abused by the narrative. John’s character was unceremoniously killed off, and almost twenty years later the man himself spoke the word that fit the hole in my heart. The whole shit was undignified.
“I even sensed John’s pain, that maybe he had failed his TV family. The next week, I gathered my cast together. 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.”
Following The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, Smith went onto star in 1996’s Independence Day, 1997’s Men In Black, and 1998’s Enemy Of The State opposite Gene Hackman.
A dramatic reboot of The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air is in development for NBC streaming platform Peacock, which will star newcomer Jabari Banks as Smith.
Bel-Air, which is based on a viral short, has been ordered for two seasons. The first season is set to premiere in 2022.