Since the 2010s, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s Alfonso Ribeiro has seen a career renaissance, from winning Dancing with the Stars to hosting America’s Funniest Home Videos (assuming the mantle from former DWTS host Tom Bergeron). But for many kids of the 1990s, the veteran actor will always be Will Smith’s uptight, corny cousin, Carlton Banks. While the series is burned into pop culture, Ribeiro was almost a lead in another hit sitcom.
The role of Carlton was a gamble for the then-18-year-old Alfonso Ribeiro after spending three seasons on the family sitcom Silver Spoons. At the time, he was doing guest spots on other shows along with appearing in television movies. But there was one guest spot that could’ve turned into more. Ribeiro recently revealed an interesting fact to The Ringer about turning down another NBC sitcom for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and explained why he did so:
In the back of my mind, I always felt like if this thing doesn’t go anywhere, it may not be too late to actually come back on A Different World. So it felt like I was kind of leaving myself the best possibility. And as soon as we got on set, we all knew there was something special there.
Before landing the role of Carlton on The Fresh Prince, Alfonso Ribeiro had done a guest spot in a Season 3 episode of A Different World. His character, Zach Duncan, was expected to join as a series regular in the fourth season, but the actor was forced to choose between the two influential NBC sitcoms. It would seem Ribeiro believed that choosing the Will Smith-led show (an unproven series) would still leave him with a viable option in A Different World, should the former sitcom not work out. Obviously, he chose the bigger of the two, as The Fresh Prince has continued to run in syndication and streaming since ending its original run.
But Alfonso Ribeiro’s career doesn’t begin or end with either of those shows. His career spans 40 years, during which he's earned praise for his dancing as the lead role in the Tony Award-winning musical, The Tap Dance Kid. That role led to dancing with Michael Jackson in a Pepsi commercial and later playing Rick Schroder’s best friend, Alfonso Spears, on Silver Spoons (another notable NBC sitcom).
Even then, NBC recognized how talented Ribeiro was and was determined not to let him go. After The Fresh Prince, the actor was a series regular on the NBC/UPN sitcom In the House, starring alongside NCIS: LA star LL Cool J. Throughout the years, the actor has done voiceover work as well.
In recent years, Alfonso Ribeiro has not only hosted AFV but gone behind the scenes to direct some of today’s up-and-coming stars on television series such as Young & Hungry, Shake It Up and K.C. Undercover. All in all, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air may have pushed his career forward, but his talent was able to keep him working in a fickle town like Hollywood. And as evidenced by the recent Fresh Prince reunion, he still cherishes his beloved character.