Over the past three-plus decades, I’ve done thousands of interviews with TV stars, and no one was more enthusiastic, positive and upbeat than Sloane Morgan Siegel, the star of BYUtv’s “Dwight In Shining Armor.”
He was still 16 when they filmed the pilot in late 2016, and, boy, was he ever excited about the show back then. He turned 20 just after they finished filming the fifth and final season in November, and he’s still pumped.
(Season 5 begins airing Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on BYUtv.)
“There have been so many challenges along the way to complete the series,” he said. “So to finish it, it was like this incredible, extraordinary triumph. … As soon as they yelled ‘Cut!’ on that last take, we all just kind of took a breath. And then everyone was cheering, everyone was clapping, everyone was crying. It’s sad, but it’s ultimately a triumphant feeling.”
The half-hour family comedy features Siegel as Dwight, a rather nerdy teenager who, in the first episode, falls into a hole and lands in an accidental lip-lock with Princess Gretta (Caitlin Carmichael), who’s been in an enchanted slumber for 1,000 years. Gretta is a warrior princess, not a damsel in distress, and she, Dwight and a wizard by the name of Baldric (Joel McCrary) are soon battling a long line of monsters, witches and demons in suburban 21st century America.
Siegel felt entirely comfortable as Dwight, and he’s sad to say goodbye to the character.
“I’ve spent the last three to four years cultivating this character’s personality and memories and quirks and timing and ideas,” he said. “ ... I even have a different speech pattern when I’m doing it. It’s as close to a character voice as I think I’ve ever done. … And it’s like leaving a friend behind.”
Despite his enthusiasm at the start, Siegel admits he was a little bit worried about playing Dwight, who was sort of the audience’s surrogate in the scripts, experiencing all the weird, magical happenings for the first time.
“And I thought that wouldn’t be the most fun,” he said. “I mean, I’d love to run around with a sword and do magic and stuff. But then I realized how fun it was to react to this stuff.”
“Dwight” turned out to be a perfectly charming show that entertained kids — and which their parents could watch with them and not be bored. It’s been one of the flagship programs of BYUtv, nicely incorporating the channel’s goal of appealing to families.
It was not without its difficulties. The series had a rough coming out at a Television Critics Association press tour, when questions were raised about its primarily white cast and white producers/writers.
“I was telling Brian and LeeAnne [Adams], the show runners, since day one, ‘We need more diversity. We need more diversity on the show,’” Siegel said. “Anytime a role would pop up, I would propose a multitude of different actors. And, at the end of the day, it’s not my choice. I just did what I could to do the right thing.”
And after producing first two 10-episode seasons in a bread factory in West Valley City, the show could not obtain the tax rebates it needed to remain in Utah and moved production to Georgia. The change appears seamless, “but looks can be deceiving,” Siegel said with a laugh. “It was sort of a bumpy transition.”
(According to BYUtv managing director Michael Dunn, “There were the expected complications we had to work through because of the location move. But it was all more than worth it because of the much more robust and guaranteed tax credits Georgia offered.”)
And then the COVID-19 pandemic delayed production on the fifth and final season. The show was among the first to go back into production, only to take a quick break to retool its coronavirus precautions and protocols, with testing and distancing in place. It was like the NBA bubble — there was a “Dwight In Shining Armor” bubble for cast and crew.
“That just goes to show you how much the crew and the cast love this show,” Siegel said. “They love it so much that we basically put our entire lives on hold to only work on that for fear of exposing ourselves to something that could put everyone at risk. … We worked for three to four months, filmed 10 episodes and we didn’t have a single positive case.
“I just can’t wait for people to see the fifth season of the show and the end of the story.”
“Dwight In Shining Armor” won’t leave its fans hanging. The final episode does wrap up the narrative in a satisfying way, producers promise. And Siegel confirms that.
And those 50 episodes will be repeated for the foreseeable future. “Dwight” is one of those shows that won’t look dated in a year or two. And if, in a decade or two, somebody approaches Siegel and says, “Hey, aren’t you Dwight?” — he says he’ll be as enthusiastic as ever.
“It makes me really happy when I know the people are enjoying the show,” he said. “I really hope that it has a long-lasting effect.”