30 years after Will Smith said “smell you later” to Philly for the sun-dappled streets of Los Angeles, he’s helping breathe new life into The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
The Hollywood Reporter announced Tuesday that Smith is shepherding into production Morgan Cooper’s gritty 2019 fan trailer Bel-Air, a dramatic retelling of the show’s set up. After its premiere last year, Smith hired Cooper to co-write a script to the pilot, direct and be credited as a co-executive producer. Smith will executive produce along original series producers Quincy Jones, Benny Medina and creators Andy & Susan Borowitz. Meanwhile, The Wire story editor and Sons of Anarchy Executive Producer Chris Collins will serve as showrunner and executive producer, co-writing the pilot script with Cooper.
Smith was a rapper for almost five years before Fresh Prince debuted on NBC in 1990. His 1987 sophomore effort with DJ Jazzy Jeff, He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper, won the first ever Grammy for Best Rap Album. But the series launched Smith’s acting career and catapulted him to enormous commercial success.
Bel-Air was far from Morgan Cooper’s first short film. The writer, director, producer and editor developed a steady output of projects before the tribute and short film debuted in March 2019. Smith was one of many to notice its polish and its inventive take on the “mythology” of the series, in which a Philly teenager is transplanted to the privileged enclave of Bel-Air, California in the wake of a fight. Although the show took a lighthearted look at the fish-out-of-water culture shock between the inner-city teen and his affluent relatives, it also explored a number of important social issues that remain vital and relevant today, even cast in a new light.
Given Smith’s close relationship with the cast of the original series, it won’t surprise longtime fans if they make cameos on the new show. (That said, one expects Janet Hubert will not return after being removed from the show after Season 3.) There’s no indication yet where the show will be broadcast, but reportedly Peacock, Netflix and HBO Max are all bidding for distribution rights. Currently, HBO Max is the home for the original Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Todd Gilchrist is a Los Angeles-based film critic and entertainment journalist with more than 20 years’ experience for dozens of print and online outlets, including Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Entertainment Weekly and Fangoria. An obsessive soundtrack collector, sneaker aficionado and member of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Todd currently lives in Silverlake, California with his amazing wife Julie, two cats Beatrix and Biscuit, and several thousand books, vinyl records and Blu-rays.
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