8 Decades of The Hollywood Reporter

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When Quincy Jones brought the pitch for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to NBC in June 1990, it was not at a high point in Will Smith's career. The Philadelphia rapper in the duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince had run up a $2.8 million IRS debt. Years later, Smith -- who has been in Europe promoting Men in Black 3, which opens May 25 -- would say, "Sometimes in life, you wait for the tow truck to come." Fresh Prince would become his tow truck. The sitcom was loosely based on the life of A-list music manager Benny Medina, who attended Beverly Hills High School, where he met Berry Gordy Jr.'s daughter Kerry and came to live with that family. The story was adapted to have Smith, then 21, playing a Philadelphia teenager who moves in with his aunt and uncle at their mansion. Plots would center on his being an East Coast fish in Bel-Air waters. Then-NBC Entertainment president Warren Littlefield says his only question during the pitch meeting was, "Can he act?" A few weeks later, during a late-night meeting in the basement of Jones' house, Smith did a scene from the Nell Carter sitcom Gimme a Break! "He hit it out of the park," recalls Littlefield. "All I said was: 'That's it. We're in. There's a pilot commitment.' " Fresh Prince's 148 episodes aired over six seasons on NBC and have been in syndication since 1994. After the show's run, Smith broke out as a box-office star in 1996's Independence Day, joined the $20 million-a-movie actor club and garnered two Oscar noms for The Pursuit of Happyness and Ali.

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