African American entertainer Will Smith graduated from rap-music stardom to TV sitcom superstardom in the long-running NBC series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Co-produced by Quincy Jones, the series starred the twentysomething Smith as streetwise West Philadelphia teenager Will Smith (they must have stayed up nights thinking of that character name!), whose mother sends him to the West Coast to live with rich relatives in the cloistered California community of Bel-Air (mom felt that things were getting too dangerous for Will in his own neighborhood). The breezy, jive-talking Will proved to be quite a contrast to his upper-class relations, but despite obvious cultural and attitudinal difference, everyone got along quite well. Among Will's fellow occupants in the Bel-Air mansion were his uncle Philip Banks (James Avery), a prosperous attorney; Philip's wife Vivian (played first by Janet Hubert-Whitten, then by Daphne Maxwell Reid), a likeable lady who could simultaneously puncture Philip's pompousness and curb Will's ghetto-bred capriciousness; the couple's prissy, preppy son Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro), whose attempts to emulate Will's freewheeling behavior always landed him in hot water; Carlton's sisters, the spoiled and somewhat airheaded Hilary (Karyn Parsons) and the lovably sardonic Ashley (Tatyana M. Ali); and the Banks' haughty butler Geoffrey (Joseph Marcell), who generally got all the best "put-down" punchlines. During the series' third season, Aunt Vivian gave birth to another child named Nicky (who, through the miracle of TV sitcom scriptwriting, became five years old within two years [played by Ross Bagley]). And in season four, Will and Carlton matriculated from high school to the University of Los Angeles, moving out of the mansion and into the pool house (all of a few yards away!). Making recurring appearances were Will Smith's musical partner Jeff Townes (aka "Jazzy Jeff") as Will's onscreen pal Jazz; Tyra Banks as Will's girlfriend Jackie Ames, who also hailed from West Philly; and Will's later sweetheart Lisa (Nia Long). Debuting September 10, 1990, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air lasted six seasons, becoming the nation's 16th most popular series during season three. The series ended on September 9, 1996. In the final episode, the Banks moved out of the mansion, though Will fully intended to remain a permanent Bel-Air resident.
by Hal Erickson synopsis