Paul Monte is a professional -- he wouldn't be general manager of the venerable Gurney's Inn in Montauk if he weren't. So when he showed up a half-hour late for a meeting with hotel consultant Anthony Melchiorri on the premiere of "Hotel Impossible" (Travel Channel, Monday night at 10), a sort of "Kitchen Nightmares" for hotels, it doesn't exactly ring true when he gives the excuse that he's "on Montauk time."
And, indeed, Monte knew better. He also knew that nothing stirs up interest in a reality show than a little drama. The occasional peeling paint and water-damaged ceiling tiles at Gurney's, or the messy front desk or a receptionist who wipes her nose with her sleeve isn't as dramatic as restaurant owners who yell at Gordon Ramsay to get the hell out.
"They were running around here for over a week, trying to create and find drama," says the 54-year-old Monte, referring to Melchiorri and the production crew. "They thought they were coming into a family-run operation to find people backstabbing and backbiting, and they didn't find any of that stuff," says Monte, who has managed Gurney's since 1989. "So one of the things we did was create some drama for them. They wanted me to be there at 10, I showed up at 10:30. I knew that would drive Anthony crazy," he adds, cheerfully.
And it did, right down to the excitable Melchiorri's expletive-filled reaction.
It also was a way to tweak the premise of the show, which, Monte said, "was not pitched to me the way it's being aired. I have a long relationship with the Travel Channel, and when I was approached, it was with the working title 'Mr. Hospitality' and it was about great hotels working with an expert who would make the great hotel greater."
It wound up being as much about slow restaurant service and a dated lobby in need of renovation as it was about the good food and spiffy spa. But Monte is sanguine. "If we have to open the kimono a little bit and expose some of our flaws, we're doing it in an atmosphere of learning and making things better for our guests."
"Hotel Impossible" came about, says Melchiorri -- a 20-year industry veteran who founded the consultancy Argeo Hospitality in 2010 -- by way of a TV movie. While climbing the industry ranks, the Sheepshead Bay native, 46, became an executive producer of the Lifetime mobster film "Wisegal" (2008), starring Alyssa Milano. Through fellow executive producer Leo Rossi, whom he'd met in the hotel business, Melchiorri sold his idea for a hotel-improvement show.
Melchiorri insists the show "is basically a hundred percent as you see it. Sometimes I'll say to a guest, 'What you just said, can you say it again?' but what you're seeing is really what happened."
Still, Monte cautions that despite how the premiere makes it seem, "The Monte family doesn't own the property. It's a timeshare co-op overseen by a board of directors. There really are five family-members" -- he and brother Chip, sister Phyllis and their spouses, Candice Monte and John Lomitola -- "but there's another dozen or so of the executive management team that's not family-related."
One thing definitely not faked: Melchiorri's passion for the business. "One reason I wanted to do this," he says, "is that when a hotel goes out of business, it's not just 10 people who lose their jobs, but potentially hundreds if it's a very big hotel. I take this," he says, "really, really seriously."