Nathan Lieberman considers a particularly tasteless photo op and wonders aloud: “Would André Balazs do this?”
The haute hotelier whose properties include The Standard Hotels probably would not pose in a hotel bathroom with three staff members, and after some consideration, Lieberman — an owner of The Catalina Hotel and co-executive producer of a new reality show set there — decides to avoid the restroom.
It’s an apparently unusual act of restraint for Lieberman, who celebrated his 33rd birthday Thursday promoting The Catalina in advance of its debut at 8 p.m. Tuesday on the CW.
During the first episode alone, Lieberman and his employees spray guests and each other with champagne, flaunt cleavage, flirt with other employees and hotel visitors, get wasted during a pool party, and make more than a few suggestive comments.
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“The headline,” Lieberman suggests for this story, “is ‘Monkey business at The Catalina.’ ”
Key word being business.
“Listen, I’m just trying to sell hotel rooms,” Lieberman said.
The Catalina, which has rooms starting at $174 a night for the first weekend in June, is the 192-room flagship of the hotel company South Beach Group. Lieberman and his father, Alan Lieberman, are partners in the company, which has 10 properties and counting.
“I’m excited to death,” for the first episode, said Alan Lieberman, who said he tunes in to the CW for promos. “This is huge. It’s a network show.”
Both Liebermans say they expect the show to cause Catalina’s popularity to surge, though it frequently sells out already,and prompt interest in the company’s other hotels.
By now, the company knows what to expect from reality television.
Two years ago, Snooki and her Jersey Shore crew made a temporary home at the Metropole, another South Beach Group hotel. Crews from multiple television shows have stayed at other properties. And Nathan Lieberman is a partner in Beach Pictures, which has pitched several other shows.
It was while the production company was shopping other ideas to TV networks/ that The Catalina caught the interest of the CW, Lieberman said.
The network was putting together a strong slate of reality programs for the summer for the first time, said Kristen Vadas, the CW’s senior vice president for alternative programming. At the same time, she and a co-worker had long wanted to do a hotel reality show.
“I think hotels are really interesting,” Vadas said. “I’ve always been curious about what goes on behind the scenes there: What are the people who work there like? Do they date each other? What do they really say about the guests after they check them in? What kind of weird calls do they get at the concierge?”
Production crews found answers to all those questions when they started filming the show eight weeks ago; six weeks later, they were done.
During the shoot, the employees had to balance their roles as cast members with their actual jobs as bartenders, restaurant manager, general manager, cocktail server, and front-desk worker. Guests were sometimes inconvenienced. Other employees were unhappy to be excluded.
“We think this was worth it because in the end, I think The Catalina’s going to be the most famous hotel in the world,” Nathan Lieberman said. “I think people are going to come here to not only experience the good time that this place has to offer, but also to hang out with the staff that are really the heart and soul of the place.”
Those include Nancy Sayegh, 22, a spitfire of a pool bartender with an eye on an acting career; front-desk clerk Karina d’Erizans, 26, who fields baffling guest requests; restaurant manager Morgan More, a drill sergeant-type from Poland whose droll delivery provides some of the show’s best moments; and general manager Stephanie Andron, 35, who keeps everyone else in check.
“There’s a lot of times when [the staffers] went crazy at pool parties and they’re wasted and then they still have to do a 5-hour shift,” she said. “So was I happy? No, I wanted to beat every single one of them.”
Other hoteliers say they don’t think they’ll find much “reality” in the show — but expect to see entertainment targeted at The Catalina’s key demographic.
“The South Beach group has chosen their niche as quirky, sexy hotels and there’s a market in South Beach for quirky, sexy hotels,” said Jeff Lehman, general manager of The Betsy Hotel in South Beach.
Wendy Kallergis, president and CEO of the Greater Miami & The Beaches Hotel Association, said the group is “always delighted when local hotels are in the spotlight.”
She added: “This TV show is just another example of how our destination continues its growth as a premier location for TV and film production.”
While The Catalina is only slated for six episodes now, the CW’s Vadas said good ratings could merit another season — something Nathan Lieberman said he would welcome.
“The ideal end result is that everybody has a good time,” he said. “And we all make a little money.”