The title character in BYUtv’s new series “Dwight in Shining Armor” isn’t the one wearing the armor.
Dwight (Sloane Morgan Siegel) is a somewhat nerdy teenager whose life suddenly changes when he falls through a hole in the ground ... and lands on a princess who’s been magically slumbering for 1,000 years.
Their accidental lip-lock awakens Princess Gretta (Caitlin Carmichael), who is no damsel in distress. While Dwight talks his way out of trouble, she wears armor and wields a sword at it.
“I’ve always wanted to play a princess,” Carmichael said, “but never did I think I would get the opportunity to play such a tough princess who is used to saving herself.”
The show, which premieres Monday at 7:30 p.m., is the newest offering from BYUtv and was produced mostly in Utah. It’s an amusing — sometimes even laugh-out-loud funny — fish-out-of-water comedy, with medieval characters adjusting to the modern world.
Dwight has also awakened Baldric (Joel McCrary, “The Princess Diaries”), the wizard who cast the spell to protect the princess, and a variety of magical foes — evil knights, ogres, dragons, witches, demons and more.
And he has unwittingly signed on as Princess Gretta’s champion, despite his lack of martial skills.
“My favorite thing about the character,” Siegel said, “is that he’s thrown into this ridiculous situation with wizards and warrior princesses and witches and everything and his reaction to everything is just, like, OK ... He almost doesn’t believe it’s really happening, but it is.”
Co-creators and executive producers Brian J. Adams and LeeAnne H. Adams came up with the idea eight years ago, and they originally conceived of it as an animated show.
They admit they were hesitant when BYUtv — which is owned by Brigham Young University, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — expressed interest. And that ownership has led to unusual accommodations.
“They have really let us do what we want to do with the story, but they’ll say, like, ‘That skirt’s too short!’ And ‘You can’t use spaghetti straps!’” Brian Adams said. “And you can’t say ‘God.’ Notes that you would never get from a network.”
He added: “And if you didn’t have some sort of background, it would be harder to understand.”
But the couple are Latter-day Saints, married for 18 years after meeting at BYU. So they get it. “And we haven’t found that those things inhibit our storytelling at all,” Brian Adams said.
‘It’s intended to be fun to watch’
To be clear, “Dwight in Shining Armor” is not a religious show. If you just happened across it, you’d never guess that there’s anything even vaguely LDS about it.
“There are no praying scenes. … There’s no secret, slip-a-Book of Mormon in the background or anything like that,” Brian Adams said with a laugh.
They’ve never been asked to insert anything LDS into the show, they said. “And if it were that way, well, we wouldn’t want to be involved in it,” Brian Adams said.
“It would be contrary to our goal and our mandate to have any religious content in this show,” LeeAnne Adams said. “It’s not about that. … It’s intended to be fun to watch. And something you can come together as a family to watch.”
The show’s three stars aren’t Latter-day Saints. Siegel had never heard of BYUtv; Carmichael said she “wasn’t very familiar” with the channel; McCrary thought he was auditioning for Nickelodeon.
“But I thought, ‘This script is different.’ I guess they’re going in a new direction because it was subtler,” McCrary said. “It wasn’t as silly and over-the-top.”
But “Dwight” wouldn't be out of place on Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel. The production values are good; the cast is talented; the writing is better than a lot of shows aimed at young viewers.
And, despite criticism BYUtv has received for the perceived lack of diversity in its programming, there is ethnic diversity in the supporting cast. There are no gay characters, but then there are no gay characters in the vast majority of shows aimed at teens and tweens — the made-in-Utah “Andi Mack” is a notable exception.
The Adams both said they went out of their way to avoid being “preachy.”
“There might be the occasional moral lesson in the show,” LeeAnne Adams said, such as messages about friendship and loyalty and standing up for what’s right.
BYUtv managing director Michael Dunn said he ordered “Dwight” because it fits into the audience the channel is targeting: kids ages 8 to 15 and their parents. It’s aimed at young viewers, but it’s not one of those shows that entertains kids and drives parents out of the room.
“We’ve tried to create a world here that is big and broad and open and full of adventure and mystery that people want to continue coming back to explore,” LeeAnne Adams said.
“Obviously, it has kids for protagonists,” Brian Adams added. “But we really don’t view this as a kids’ show.”
A second season, but an unknown location
The pilot for “Dwight in Shining Armor” was filmed in Georgia, but production moved to West Valley City for the remainder of the 19 first-season episode — into a working bread factory.
“I don’t know if that’s fun and quirky and cool or just too weird,” Brian Adams said.
“It is amazing to smell fresh, warm bread. That’s a nice welcome on an early call time,” Carmichael said with a laugh.
And a nice change. The pilot was shot in an abandoned drill-bit factory in Augusta, Ga., that was covered in oil, had no working restrooms and “holes in the ground you could actually fall in,” LeeAnne Adams said.
BYUtv has already ordered a second season of “Dwight in Shining Armor,” though there’s no guarantee the production will return to Utah because of the scarcity of state film and TV incentives. (No final decision has been made, but “Dwight” could be headed back to Georgia. Or, possibly, Canada.)
“As far as expectations of coming here, I had none,” Siegel said. “I knew nothing about the state. Nothing about Salt Lake itself. And I was delightfully surprised.
“We’d love to come back. But we’re looking forward to making more episodes no matter where that is.”