May 12, 2014 at 10:21 AM ET
Puppet mania took over TODAY Monday, with a cavalcade of the colorful creatures crashing the show throughout the morning — starting the week off right with just a little bit of unpredictable nuttiness.
It all began while Matt Lauer heard an unexpected voice through his headset as he tried teasing a segment on the plaza. Turns out that a hairy puppet had forcibly taken over the control room, binding a helpless producer to a chair with yellow caution tape.
"Just smile and look pretty, Lauer," the puppet growled. As always, Lauer kept his cool.
Soon after that, Willie Geist got a visit from a puppet fan carrying an "I Heart Willie" sign. But the meet-and-greet got ugly when Geist failed to recall the puppet's name. She became irate and, well, let's just say security had to be called.
The wackiness "happened" to coincide with a visit from Brian Henson, son of legendary Muppets creator Jim Henson. The younger Henson is a head judge on Syfy's "Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge," a reality series in which designers compete for a $100,000 prize and a contract to work in the Creature Shop workshop.
The first step in winning? Don't confuse Creatures with puppets. "Puppets are like the Muppets," Henson told TODAY. "With puppets, you know that they're felt and ping-pong balls and fur fabric. You know they're inanimate and then you bring them to life through puppetry, and that's fun and that's entertaining. Creatures are different.... They're meant to look like they're alive. They're meant to look like they're living."
He walked TODAY's Savannah Guthrie around three such Creatures, noting that they can take multiple puppeteers to control and often involve sophisticated robotics. Creature creators are "almost like magicians," Henson said. "What they're doing is magical."
Henson noted that his dad — who died in 1990 — would have been proud of the show and the way the Creature Shop has moved forward in the new millennium. "He would love it," Henson said. "He used to love showing how we do the stuff."
"Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge" airs its season finale on May 13 at 9 p.m. on Syfy.