You might recall, or in fact you might see a rerun of, an episode of SPIKE TV’s television show Deadliest Warrior on which Wabash History Professor Stephen Morillo was a guest expert. It was the Joan of Arc vs. William the Conqueror episode. This past fall, the Scarlet Banner reached out Professor Morillo to discuss his experience on the show. Here’s the result:
(Questions from us are bold)
How did you hear that the show was interested in having you on as an expert?
They called me and asked. I learned from that call that they knew about me from my friend and colleague Kelly DeVries, who has done some History Channel shows and was their original choice as Joan’s expert, though ironically he ended up not being able to film this episode.
It was intriguing, certainly. They were lucky I was in the middle of a sabbatical year, however, or I might not have had the time to agree to do it.
When did you film? Where did you film?
I filed just about a year ago — November 2010, in Los Angeles. Specifically, the studio sections were filmed at the studios of 44 Blue Production in downtown LA and the outdoor stuff was filmed at a ranch way the heck up in the hills of the Simi Valley. I stayed in between the two locations, in beautiful downtown Burbank (that’s a Laugh In reference, by the way, for those of you too youthfully callow to get it).
Did you see a version of the final product before it aired, or did you have to wait for it to air?
I had to wait for it to air to see it. And I didn’t even know how it came out until I watched it — they had us film reactions for both winning and losing on both sides.
Did you know that Joan d’Arc would be the “opposing” side on this episode early on?
I knew from the first call — they explained that this was the match up.
Do you think the Joan would really come out victorious in a match against William I?
Depends on what conditions you set. Would 5000 French soldiers from 1430 led by a competent general with Joan for inspiration beat 5000 Normans from 1070 led by William in a set piece battle? Quite possibly — the differential in technology is fairly steep. The French with cannon would certainly prosecute a siege more efficiently. Would the same side wind in a free-flowing campaign over a large territory? Much less certain — William would have much clearer advantages in mobility and William’s own strategic generalship. Would William beat the living **** out of Joan in hand-to-hand combat? You’re damn straight he would have — the ending of the show’s simulation was absolutely ludicrous.
How did the weaponry and arsenal built for the show compare with what would have actually been used?
Most of it was quite accurate — the cannon was amazing. But their testing of the weaponry was… well, “scientific” is not exactly the word that comes to mind. Let me just say that when things went wrong (and they did — the catapult was so powerful it broke itself after two shots), the response was “let’s make TV!” I’ll let you decide what that means.
Setting off the torsion catapult looked like fun. Was it?
Yes indeed. But see previous answer.
At the time you filmed for the show, you were working on a voluminous world history textbook, correct? Did the show conflict with that or was it a nice pause from authoring?
Yes, and both. It interrupted my writing schedule, but it was also a nice change of pace. And in the end, I got my writing done.
How did this experience compare with others in your career as a leading historian?
Less academic, more fun. I now jokingly call the show “Deadliest Blows To Your Academic Reputation”, but really it was great fun and probably even worthwhile for getting people interested in medieval military history. I’d do it again, if that’s the question.
To read or see more about this episode please visit SPIKE TV’s website