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Rap's Prince Soon to Be TV Royalty?

The New Season: A Look Ahead. One in a series.

July 17, 1990|DANIEL CERONE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Medina and Pollack contacted Smith, who hooked into the project immediately. "It was real," Smith said. "That's what everyone's missing on TV. You've probably seen that Tide commercial where the kid stands up on the washing machine and starts rapping, 'Mom my clothes are dirty/Gotta get some Tide/Go get some.' America needs to see that there are intelligent, articulate black people, and what better place to see them than on television?"

The producers took their idea to Quincy Jones, who they knew was meeting with NBC to develop TV projects of his own for Warner Communications. "I'm not a big fan of TV at all," said Jones, who is also working on a syndicated talk show with Jesse Jackson, which will air on KCAL-TV Channel 9 this fall. "But blacks have been repressed on TV for so long. When I was young, there was nothing on the radio for blacks. It was like black people didn't exist.

"Now there's such a vibrant new culture, in all its different hues, that has never been dealt with before. Everyone always thought of blacks in a sharecropper situation. A white person isolated in Iowa sees blacks on the TV set and thinks that's what black people are like, and they're always wrong. I want to change that."

"Fresh Prince" was in line with NBC's fall goal of more youth-oriented programming. But by this time it was mid-March--late to get a new fall show going--and there was no script, no cast and no Fresh Prince. Their future star was in Indiana on a concert tour.

NBC wanted to see Smith--"Now!"--to find out if he could act. So he traveled 17 hours by bus and plane to make it to Los Angeles. A screen test was arranged at Jones' home on his 57th birthday, the same night he received a lifetime achievement award from "Soul Train."

Smith emerged from an upstairs bedroom, where he was studying a scene from an old sitcom pilot that was developed for singer Morris Day. NBC's Littlefield described the scene: "You gotta know, if you're a network programmer and it's late in the pilot season and you're looking for a hit show, my heart starts to pound at this point. Will says, 'OK, so I'm just going to, like, read this scene, huh? Now, who are the guys from the network?'

"Then he did a couple of little scenes from this failed sitcom script, and he just hit it. If he's a ball player, he hit a home run. We stood up, hugged him. I kissed Quincy and said, 'Thank you. Let's go to work.' "

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