Alfonso Ribeiro Had to Choose Between ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ and Another Popular Sitcom

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air has held a spot in fans’ hearts for over three decades. Will Smith joined the show as a young rapper with no acting experience, and it became one of the most beloved TV shows of the ’90s. Other characters such as Smith’s goofy cousin Carlton made The Fresh Prince the iconic show that it is today.

Alfonso Ribeiro as Carlton Banks
Alfonso Ribeiro as Carlton Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air | Chris Cuffaio/NBCU Photo Bank

‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ was a unique show since the beginning

After The Cosby Show premiered in 1984, a wave of sitcoms starring Black actors began to take over the airwaves. Shows such as A Different World, Family Matters, and Martin became increasingly popular for their stories and for their characters.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air arose from this period and brought something entirely new to the table. It was the middle of the golden age of hip-hop, and no show had brought on a rapper in a significant role.

Enter Will Smith, a.k.a. The Fresh Prince, a young rapper from West Philadelphia. He had no acting experience, but show producer Quincy Jones knew he was perfect for the role.

Alfonso Ribeiro, Will Smith, and Karyn Parsons in 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'
Alfonso Ribeiro, Will Smith, and Karyn Parsons in ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ | Ron Tom/NBCU Photo Bank

Alfonso Ribeiro was in a sitcom before ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’

Years before he took on the timeless role of Carlton Banks, Ribeiro starred in another sitcom in the ’80s. He joined the cast of Silver Spoons in its third season and starred alongside Ricky Schroder and Joel Higgins.

After Silver Spoons ended in 1987, Ribeiro decided to take a step back from Hollywood. He talked about his experience at the time in a recent interview on The Tamron Hall Show.

“I’d kinda walked away from the business a little bit,” Ribeiro recounted. But he noted that when he came back, he was presented with an opportunity to appear in two sitcoms: the popular Cosby Show spinoff A Different World and a “presentation” — a half-formed idea that wasn’t even a pilot — with his friend Will called The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Alfonso Ribeiro attends Wendy's Brings #BBQ4Merica on September 11, 2014 in Los Angeles, California | Lester Cohen/Getty Images for Wendy's
Alfonso Ribeiro attends Wendy’s Brings #BBQ4Merica on September 11, 2014 in Los Angeles, California | Lester Cohen/Getty Images for Wendy’s

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Alfonso Ribeiro almost didn’t take the role of Carlton in ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’

“I had to actually make a choice as to which one I wanted to do,” Ribeiro recalled.

Ribeiro said he easily made up his mind when he took a trip to Disneyland with Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff. “I picked the role of Carlton because I had hung out with Will and Jeff,” Ribeiro reminisced. “Having spent time with them, I felt there was some sort of magic there. There was something special about them.”

Ribeiro expressed that even though he and many other people involved with the show in the beginning didn’t know if Smith could pull off acting, he knew that he was going to be a part of something that would last generations.

“I had to make a choice,” he remembered. “One was on the air for several seasons. This was a presentation that wasn’t even maybe a real pilot. But something in my gut said that Will was going to be special.”