'Hotel Impossible' on Travel Channel just returned for its fifth season, on October 7 at 9/8 central. It's one of those reality shows where an expert is called in to fix something. In this case, the expert in question is Anthony Melchiorri (pronounced Mel-Cur-Re), a New York hospitality expert who renovated the Plaza and Algonquin Hotels in NYC. Since August 2012, Anthony travels the U.S. and occasionally the world--he's been as far as Greece--responding to requests from privately-owned hotels to bail them out because they're in deep trouble.
I assume the show is popular, as it's on its fifth 13-episode season in two years. There's also been several retrospective specials where Anthony goes back to see how the hotels that he advised are now doing. So presumably people are watching it.
Anthony himself is a short balding man who looks like an Observer from 'Fringe' on amphetamines. His big thing is "passion", as in having passion for the job and for the property. He's pugnacious and Italian (if that isn't redundant) in a Joe Pesci kind of way. At least in the staged encounters, Anthony's not afraid to take on people. However, Anthony also has a softer side and if there's a family issue involved, he can go all warm and gooey.
I don't watch these kinds of shows as a rule of thumb, but since I have a pretty good knowledge of hotel management, I tune in regularly for 'Hotel Impossible'. So I don't know if it follows the same format as other such fixer-upper shows. However, after five seasons, the format of 'Hotel Impossible' is as ritualized as Kabuki theater. According to the press releases, Anthony gets a request for help. He'll send his designer in two weeks in advance. However, he himself arrives at a property "cold," takes a look around the exterior, inspects a room, then talks with the owner and analyzes the problems that he's found.
Anthony only takes on privately owned hotels, so no Holiday Inns or Marriotts. He allots four days to improve the hotel, for no apparent reason other than that it make good drama. They have a budget of $10,000, but Anthony uses his contacts in the industry to get companies to donate goods and services. Presumably in return for name mention onscreen. After a few episodes, you'll start to hear the same national names over and over. However, the local contractors probably get a good one-shot boost as well.
If there's a family issue affecting the business, Anthony will step in and use his version of "tough love" to resolve it to the point where the hotel is running again. If the owner knows nothing about hotel management, Anthony will provide them with some instruction. Since the hotels are usually in lousy condition because of poor management, inexperienced managers are the norm.
Anthony then brings in one of several attractive female designers that he apparently has on retainer. Blanche Garcia appears to be the most popular, probably because she's game for anything. Anthony sets them a deadline and a budget based on the factors above, with instructions to remodel at least one room. Often he'll have them work on more rooms, or the lobby, or the breakfast area as well. They grouse for a bit about how impossible it is, go to work, and get the job done anyway. Meanwhile, Anthony tours the property and finds some other problems, and adds those to the list.
There's usually some dramatic crisis/cliffhanger at the 30- or 45-minute commercial breaks. A designer drops something or injures her back, or Anthony learns some shocking piece of news about the owner that forces a confrontation. After the break, there's a brief resolution, then Anthony takes the owner to see the renovated rooms, calls in the designer to take a bow, and then Anthony makes some brief inspirational speech. Roll a "here's what happened since" card, and they're done for the week. Along the way, Anthony will usually visit some local attraction that involves physical participation, dragging the owner along with him. It can be the Richard Petty Driving Experience in Daytona, or a bed-racing competition at a snow festival in Colorado.
The entertainment value of the show is the comedy. Anthony usually tosses in a few quips, and his reaction to the usual horrendous condition of the hotel is a highlight of the first 15-20 minutes. He'll go into a room, sometimes scanning it with a UV light, and point out all the spots that the housecleaning staff missed. If he finds something dangerous, he'll demolish it rather than leave it for a guest to risk. At least once every couple of episodes, he'll find something so filthy or dangerous that it's the worse he's ever seen.
If it's not comedy, then it's horror. You wonder if some of these hotels deserve to stay in business. Or why anyone would go there after 'Hotel Impossible' does an episode about them. Anthony has found rats in the walls, bed bugs in the beds, and caterpillars in the sheet. One hotel had a spa where the walls were covered with black mold and the air conditioning filters were filled with dust.
Pretty much every episode ends on a positive note. The happy endings happen in part because Anthony is pretty non-confrontational about some of the stuff he finds. And he's mellowed from the early seasons. There's typically one staged conflict, so if he finds a lousy room, he'll gloss over it and focus on the "big" problem. And (very) occasionally he finds a hotel that actually passes his inspection, but has other problems.
The one exception was season 4, when they had one hotel in New Jersey where Hurricane Sandy hit the area, and the owner may or may not have had a bunch of money tied up in other property that he wasn't willing to cut loose to make repairs. Anthony and his crew left and helped three more hotels in the area: the owner claimed that the whole thing was a set-up and the camera crew left the place worse than when they arrived.
Other than that, Anthony unsurprisingly has a perfect track record. But there's really no way to tell. He leaves the place better than when he arrived, but then again, his people edit the show. You'd have to check hotel review sites to see if they stayed that way.
The season premiere on October 7, "Crash Course in Daytona," follows the above format to a T. (They've been using cutesy titles since season 3.) Anthony arrives and discovers that until recently criminals were renting rooms by the month and using the place for their nefarious activities. The front desk clerk admits that she wouldn't stay there. The lobby bathroom has an open hole in the ceiling with rust pipes and rotting wood supports. The room is a mess with an open access panel in the ceiling and an air conditioner about to fall out.
However, rather than go after the maintenance man, Anthony takes on the owner, a newbie who has hired his friend to be the General Manager. While a designer and her crew gut the room, Anthony takes on the owner to shut down the hotel during the renovation for safety reasons, and fire his friend because he isn't handling maintenance or housekeeping very well. The big dramatic commercial-break moment is when Anthony learns that the GM secretly said that he'd punch Anthony in the face. Apparently the guy forgot he was wearing a mike, which is one of the times when you wonder if a person is really that dumb, or if the filming crew set him up.
Anthony confronts the guy, the guy says he was just blowing off steam, and... that's it. The guy gets laid off eventually, a room is redecorated, and once again the day is saved by the Powerpuff Gi... I mean, Anthony Melchiorri.
So, should you watch 'Hotel Impossible'? Heck if I know. The first 15-20 minutes are almost always good if you like watching disasters. The show tends to drag a bit in the back half, which is probably why they toss in the phony cliffhanger/commercial break. The directing and music isn't exactly subtle, with a lot of shots of Anthony starring at an owner is disbelief while they play wah-wah "whoops!" music in the background. And the "Anthony wins again" endings can be a little grating after a while.
And of course, the real question is how much Anthony Melchiorri can you stand? Because it's his show. He usually keeps things moving, and he or his writers come up with enough quips to entertain. Anthony's an acquired taste, but if nothing else you can watch just to see if someone finally does punch him in the face.
So if you've ever had a bad hotel stay, you can certainly find something to enjoy here. Check it out: Tuesday at 9/8 central on The Travel Channel, for the next twelve weeks or so.