Why Bel-Air’s Co-Showrunners Said Will Smith’s Involvement Led To ‘Sleepless Nights’ – Exclusive
The new series “Bel-Air,” Peacock’s reboot of the classic “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” started life as a short movie posted to YouTube three years ago. While the clip’s present-day, dramatic retelling of the sitcom’s story attracted a lot of attention, it’s hard to imagine it would have been more than a viral video without the involvement of global superstar Will Smith. The actor kicked off his acting career with “The Fresh Prince,” and decades later he’s helped usher this new version of the tale to the small screen as an executive producer.
As co-showrunners and executive producers T.J. Brady and Rasheed Newson noted, Smith’s involvement was a blessing. However, with so much to decide coming into the project, it’s no surprise that the pair had some concerns about how possessive Smith might be, especially given that the sitcom is still near and dear to his heart.
In an exclusive discussion with Looper, Brady and Newson celebrated the joys of working with Smith while also noting the worries they initially had.
The Will Smith stamp of approval changed everything
When T.J. Brady and Rasheed Newson initially started work on the new series “Bel-Air,” they were worried about how Will Smith might react to some of the casting and storyline choices they and their creative team were making for the show. “There were some sleepless nights as we were casting the show because we were going through dozens and dozens, it felt like hundreds, of auditions,” Newson remembered. “When we came to our final choice, that had to go up the ladder and it had to go to Will. We’re glad he agreed, but there was fear that he could say, ‘Actually, no. No, I don’t see it.’ He has tremendous power to support you. He also has veto power. We are very glad he didn’t exercise that veto power.”
In fact, as Brady noted, “He has never exercised it.” Newson concurred, adding, “It wasn’t always clear to us in the beginning, if he would be protective of it in a way that might stop us from exploring storylines we wanted to explore. I’m happy to say that didn’t happen.”
If anything, Brady observed that Smith’s approval of the show as imagined by director, co-writer, and executive producer Morgan Cooper put them ahead of the game when it came to getting “Bel-Air” off the ground. “The biggest thing [Smith] did was put his stamp on the vision Morgan established,” Brady explained. “Once he said, ‘That’s it, that’s the show,’ there’s not a lot of argument. A lot of first-year shows struggle for an identity. ‘Who are we? What are we going to be like? Are we going to do a little more of this?’ We knew right when we came aboard this project and we had his blessing, that put us many steps ahead.”
New episodes of “Bel-Air” are available on Thursdays on Peacock.