It’s hard to fathom how the dynamic between Will and Carlton would have looked, had they opted to follow the network’s directive and made Carlton as cool as his cousin Will. There would have been no yin to Will’s yang. Show co-creator Susan Borowitz talked to TIME for the show’s 25th anniversary in 2015, noting that no one other than the executives at NBC wanted it to happen, either. According to Borowitz, it was Will Smith who eventually convinced the network to let Carlton be a dork:
“The network also would listen to Will. NBC wanted us to make Carlton [Alfonso Ribeiro] cool, and we said, ‘No, he’s a great foil,’ and won on that because Will weighed in and said, ‘Absolutely not, this is what makes the comedy.'”
That wasn’t the only time Smith used his creative weight for decisions that influenced the lasting appeal of the series, either. When the network wanted to cast the late, great Ron Glass — who at the time was best known for “Barney Miller” but these days is perhaps most famous for playing Shepherd Book in “Firefly” — as Geoffrey, the family’s butler, Smith more or less demanded they go in a different direction. While Glass was a known commodity, Joseph Marcell was an unknown in the U.S. According to Borowitz, Smith told NBC he liked “the British guy with the big nose.” And that was that.
Fortunately for us, Smith was able to help shape the show into an all-time great not just with his charisma on the screen, but also his pull with NBC behind the scenes. Ultimately, when it comes to comedy, “Fresh Prince” helped prove that sometimes, network executives just don’t understand.