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Not one but two showrunners have moved out of Bel-Air.
Peacock’s drama update of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air has parted ways with original showrunner Chris Collins as sources say the Will Smith-produced series is going in a slightly different creative direction. Collins, who departed in December, was replaced earlier this year by Diane Houston (Empire), who has also departed the series. Taking over as Bel-Air’s third showrunner is writing duo T.J. Brady and Rasheed Newson, who were brought in under Houston and exec producer Malcolm Spellman. The latter — who served as head writer on Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier for Disney+ — boarded Bel-Air alongside Houston earlier this year and remains as an exec producer alongside showrunners Brady and Newson. Bel-Air becomes the first showrunning job for Brady and Newson, whose collaborations have also included USA’s Shooter, Lifetime’s Army Wives and FX’s Lie to Me.
Peacock landed the dramatic reboot inspired by Morgan Cooper’s viral video in September with a two-season order following a fierce bidding war that included bids from Netflix and HBO Max, originally planning a premiere this year. The series, which is now expected to bow in 2022, has not yet begun casting. Sources say Brady and Newson — a writing duo whose credits include Showtime’s The Chi and The CW’s The 100 — are taking over after The Wire and Sons of Anarchy alum Collins — and later, Houston — mutually parted ways with producers including Smith, Quincy Jones, Benny Medina, and original series creators Andy and Susan Borowitz. Sources note that Peacock is looking for a broad-skewing network-style show, while Collins Collins wanted to deliver an edgy, premium series. It’s unclear what Houston’s vision was for the series, which has undergone some rewrites.
Peacock and producers Universal Television declined comment.
Collins was set to co-write the scripts alongside Cooper, whose four-minute clip went viral in March 2019 and caught Smith’s attention. Cooper, a Fresh Prince superfan, created and directed the trailer that reimagined the series as if it were a drama. He remains on board as a writer, director and co-executive producer.
Sources say Collins had been among those who were quietly prepping Bel-Air for more than a year for Universal Television before news of the project became public in late 2020. Despite the split, sources note that producers remained happy with the material Collins delivered, though he will no longer be involved with the series moving forward. It’s unclear how much of Houston’s work remains given her months-long tenure with the drama.
Peacock’s Bel-Air is described as a dramatic take on the beloved ’90s comedy that catapulted Smith to stardom over six seasons starring as the street-smart kid who moved from West Philly to the tony Los Angeles neighborhood. With a reimagined vision, Bel-Air will dive deeper into the inherent conflicts, emotions and biases of what it means to be a Black man in America today, while still delivering swagger and fun nods to the original show.
“We have just officially closed the deal with Peacock with an unprecedented two-season-order from a pitch,” Smith told Cooper and Collins after surprising them with the news about Bel-Air in an announcement posted to YouTube in September. “I’ve been in this business for 30 years and that does not happen. They ordered two full seasons of Bel-Air based on the quality of the pitch and the work that you guys have done. So I want to say congratulations. I am hyped.”
Bel-Air is a co-production between Smith’s Westbrook Studios and original producers Universal TV. Original series producers Smith, Jones and Medina, as well as creators Andy and Susan Borowitz, all exec produce.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air ran from 1990-96 on NBC and was produced by Jones, Warner Bros. TV and what became Universal Television. Smith starred alongside James Avery, Alfonso Ribeiro, Karyn Parsons, Tatyana M. Ali, Joseph Marcell and Janet Hubert-Whitten/Daphne Maxwell Reid. Smith has remained close with the cast and recently reunited with his former onscreen family for a reunion on HBO Max, where all six seasons of the original are available to stream.
Updated 6:10 p.m. to reflect the second showrunner has come and gone.
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