The Simon Eliot Show was an innovative quiz show for children where contestants played from home via the internet, using webcams. The host was a 2D animated character with blue skin named Simon, who interacted with the players in real-time using groundbreaking technology.
Each week four contestants aged 10-12 were chosen and set up at home with a laptop, headphones, and web camera. They competed to win Simon's "Stash of Coolness" prize pack.
Simon's general knowledge questions are based on the books Everything You Need to Know About the World by Simon Eliot (Four Winds Press, 2004) and 2005 follow-up Even More Things You Need to Know About The World. Simon Eliot was really New Zealand writer Lloyd Jones, better known for adult fiction like Mister Pip, which later became a movie.
The Gibson Group worked with technology company Kordia to develop wireless broadband access technology that enabled seamless, real-time interface between Simon and his contestants.
Early research and development to create Simon's world was funded by NZ's Foundation of Research and Technology (FRST). FRST funding was used to build Simon and his world based on a freeware gaming engine called OGRE, and to research how to build the computer technology to beam live children into an animated world, in real time.
Simon's bedroom world operates according to video game engine principles. The contestants talked to Simon, voiced by Gareth Ruck, whose voice was automatically picked up by a microphone and transferred to the animated Simon. The children saw and heard the 2D Simon, whose movements were operated by a puppeteer using a Playstation-type joystick.
Producer Jeanie Davison explained the production process:
"Simon and his bedroom environment are contained within PCs and we link these up in real time with the four kids who beam in from their homes via the internet. This means the kids really do play the quiz in the heat of the moment with the animated Simon, with all the question graphics, Funky Footage etc being run into the show as it happens. The kids see Simon and all the question elements on their laptops as they play - and we mix and record the combination of live and animation elements as it all unfolds."
The Simon Eliot Show won a 2007 New Zealand On Air Award for Outstanding Innovation in Children's Programmes, and a second season followed in 2008. The format was optioned in South Africa, Norway and Singapore/South East Asia.