Chris Palmer discusses the origin of ’90s sitcom in ‘The Fresh Prince Project’

Writer discusses the cultural impact of the show
Chris Palmer discusses the origin of '90s sitcom in 'The Fresh Prince Project'
Photo credit: Chris Palmer

More than 30 years have passed since “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” premiered, but unlike other family sitcoms of its era, it has remained culturally relevant and beloved by a new generation of fans. Chris Palmer, the author of The Fresh Prince Project, shares a colorful and in-depth cultural history of the beloved ’90s sitcom that launched Philadelphia rapper Will Smith to superstardom.

What should people be looking out for in this book?

You’re going to get the origin story of not just every character in the “Fresh Prince,” but every actor, because there were all these actors that nobody had known. Some people knew about Alfonso Ribeiro, but everyone else in the book nobody really knew about. I just traced all of their stories from the beginning on how they got into acting, where they’re from, how they got to the show, the auditions and everything. You got to learn everything about every single character. I do the same for the writers and the directors. One thing I do is I look at some of the more popular episodes, such as the fatherhood episode, the ones which touch on Blackness and policing, and driving while Black. I go into why those writers wrote those episodes and the stories behind them because every episode has a story. When you watch the show, it seems like a funny sitcom, but in reality, everything is done for a reason. When you read this book, you’re going to see the show differently.

What is something you want people to take away from the book?

Just how this show broke ground, because this was the first show on network prime-time television that was a sitcom and had a hip-hop vibe. You see all of these shows today, including “Bel Air” today that has sort of a hip-hop edge to it, but that did not exist before the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” You had “The Cosby Show” that was definitely not hip-hop. You had “Diff’rent Strokes.” “Family Matters” was out around the same time, but it’s not a hip-hop show. But this show, Will Smith was the main character and he was one of the first people who was a rapper that became an actor. So this had a hip-hop vibe, which is why the show was so important, and it became natural for shows and movies to incorporate hip-hop after that.

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