As Smith recalls in a YouTube video, following his IRS issues and losing millions on frivolous spending sprees, he was encouraged by his girlfriend at the time to, “just go stand around at ‘The Arsenio Hall Show.'” That unlikely tactic worked. Smith met record executive Benny Medina at the show, who pitched him the idea for “The Fresh Prince” and introduced him to legendary music producer Quincy Jones. Jones was set to produce the series and clearly saw Smith’s potential as a non-threatening rapper who could bring hip-hop culture to the masses in a family-friendly form.
That all led to one night when Smith’s life would change. In his memoir, “Will,” (via Vanity Fair), the actor recalls attending a party at Jones’ house before “The Fresh Prince” had been greenlit. The producer had invited the top brass at NBC, including then-network head Brandon Tartikoff and his second-in-command, Warren Littlefield. As Smith remembers it, Jones literally came up with the idea to base “The Fresh Prince” on Smith’s background on the spot:
“‘Where you from?’ Quincy said. ‘Philly,’ I said with the requisite swag and pride that Philadelphians use to make sure you know that our city is better than yours. ‘Ah, man, I love Philly!’ […] ‘OK, that’s it, it’s perfect: Your character’s from Philly. Will from Philly! Then he goes to Bel-Air!'”
Jones then introduced Smith to Tartikoff before announcing, “Can I have everybody’s attention? […] We gon’ have a audition. Clear the furniture out the living room!” To Smith’s surprise, he was now being asked to audition for the head of NBC in the middle of a party with zero prep time. Unsurprisingly he was taken aback and asked Jones for some time to prepare. But the producer wasn’t having it.