HBO Max’s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion radiated the same joy that the show did throughout its six season run. It was like no time had passed. I wasn’t ready for my brain to connect so instantaneously with my heart as I watched these brilliant actors reunite to talk about the last thirty years. Producer Rikki Hughes had the pressure on her to deliver a great reunion, but her and her team created some truly great television at the same time.
Watching the cast of Fresh Prince walk back into their living room was surreal. The cast sits down on the couch like a true family would. There isn’t a studio audience and there isn’t a host–it’s intimate and feels like a real family gathering. You can feel the last thirty years in the room.
Producing a reunion this satisfying is no easy feat. It manages to begin unpacking the conflict between Will Smith and Janet Hubert and that conversation can continue after the cameras stop rolling. The moment where Smith and Hubert begin talking about their feelings (with that much hindsight) is incredible television. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion takes on the history of these actors like the flailing of Carlton’s arms. It’s loose, intimate, and merry.
Awards Daily: Do you have a favorite episode of Fresh Prince?
Rikki Hughes: My favorite Fresh Prince episode is “Papa’s Got a Brand New Excuse” This was the episode where we truly saw the dynamics of the Banks family unpacked. So many young black men have had to deal with reconciling their relationships with their fathers and realize that family is who supports you and who is your community.
AD: Describe for me what it was like to see the cast re-enter that living room.
RH: When our director, Marcus Raboy, and I first started ideating about the show we knew we wanted to recreate the living room for the Banks family. Not only did we want to recreate the iconic living room, we also wanted to keep them separate so we could preserve that moment where they would reunite for the first time and have an organic reaction on camera. This was not an easy task, in fact Will [Smith] told me it was going to be impossible because they always find each other if they are anywhere near. Well I’m happy to say we were able to prove Will wrong. What you see on the reunion show is the first time this entire cast had been reunited on the set.
AD: When the gears start turning and everyone is scheduled to come back, how do you parse through what you want to talk about?
RH: When approaching a show like Fresh Prince of Bel Air that is such an important show with so many monumental and culture shifting moments, we knew we need to break it up. First we started going through all of the episodes to ensure we had the coverage. The next step was to speak with the cast and find out were they are now and what moments were the most important for them. After about 3 calls, it was evident that there was so much love within the group and I was going to have to break it up into buckets of topics in common. My first edit was three hours long (laughs).
AD: What was the most important thing you wanted us to see in this reunion?
RH: I wanted to ensure that this was not a typical cast reunion but rather a family reunion.
AD: I actually enjoyed that there wasn’t a host for this reunion. We see the actors sitting down and just having a conversation–it felt like a family reunion!
RH: The decision to have a host or not was not an easy one. As a show runner, I always approach a show with the thought process of how we can keep control of the production at all time. Normally a host is most important as they have to play traffic cop, push story and listen to me in their ear…not easy. I knew it was important to allow the family to have a moment to just re connect and a host (no matter who they are) would always be an outsider and disruptive to the process. After many calls with Will, we agreed to let the moment happen and I would put topics on the screen and he would see them and then effortlessly navigate the family through the important moments of their lives
AD: The moments honoring James Avery are so powerful. How much pressure was it to get that section right?
RH: The pressure to get the James Avery piece right was enormous, he was not just the Banks father, he was America’s father…their Uncle Phil. The set had just done a virtual reunion show where they already did a very moving Uncle Phil tribute, we had a hard act to follow. This one was extremely important to the culture.
AD: The conversation with Will Smith and Janet Hubert is such a special thing because we are watching that conversation in real time. It gives us so much perspective about her departure from the show–hearing her say that she was banished is absolutely heartbreaking. It’s such a pivotal moment of the entire reunion. Tell me all about that.
RH: I don’t think we have enough time to tell this story. Bottom line is I was supposed to stay away from the “Janet” talk but I just couldn’t. I spoke to Will and said, “If we are really having a family reunion, this is part of it. Family members fall out and come back into the fold. We have to try.” Will said, “Rikki, I trust you. If you say its a good idea, talk to her .” That’s all I needed. I went on to track down Janet and have some very real conversation with Janet and she was open to getting this all settled once and for all. I wanted to make sure this meeting was respectful, and fully organic. I made sure we cleared the room , hid the cameras and told both of them that I would be in eye view if they every needed me. I didn’t want to over produce the moment, just set the table and let them eat. It’s was such a magical and honest moment. I was truly in tears. The first moment Will and Janet saw each other after 27 years was what you saw on screen.
AD: If you could produce a reunion of another beloved show, what would you pick?
RH: Love Jones would be my ultimate reunion. We brought the cast together in another show I produce, ABFF but a full show about it would be my dream.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion is streaming on HBO Max.