HUDSON — After a five-day reality show intervention, Car Lot Rescue claimed to turn around Micco Motors, portrayed as a U.S. 19 dealership where filthy vehicles and lazy employees put the business on the brink of closing.
At the end of the episode called "The Worst Little Car Lot in Florida," which aired Feb. 17 on Spike TV, producers brag the lot "is averaging nearly 100 vehicle sales per month."
Actually, the dealership has been out of business for more than a year.
Micco Motors closed about a month after the episode was filmed in October 2011. The sign out front now advertises Motorsports Unlimited, an unrelated Tarpon Springs dealer that was going to sell cars on the property, but backed out. The phone number now belongs to Paladin Auto Service, another unrelated business that does not sell cars.
"It was all bull- - - -," said Johnny DeMicco, an employee and son of Micco Motors owner Gary DeMicco. "A lot of it was staged, to be quite honest."
Gary DeMicco said he persuaded the film company Five by Five Media to feature his business after he heard the network was looking for material.
"I thought it was going to be about the excitement of my job, but they whittled it down to Bar Rescue," he said, referring to another Spike TV show that features struggling nightclubs.
"They reflected us as a bunch of idiots," he said. "Three days later, we were superstars."
He said Micco Motors never sold 100 cars a month. Employees said the peak number was closer to 30.
"We didn't have 100 cars a month to sell," said Gary DeMicco, who now is a general manager at Advanced Auto Sales in Tampa, where son Johnny works in sales.
Employees said what closed Micco Motors was the sour economy and the fact that dealers have to pay the bank more money per car if they don't move cars fast enough, a process called "curtailment'" that is tough on independent dealers.
Brian Dreggors, Micco Motors' Internet sales manager, said the show made it look like the lot had an inventory of junk cars, when, in fact, a mechanic was working to fix up those cars for auction. And the crash course offered by Tom Stuker, the cowboy hat-clad auto sales expert featured in Car Lot Rescue, consisted of the brief snippets filmed for the show, Dreggors said. The employees received training manuals from 1987, he said.
The final day of filming, when the lot supposedly received a big sales rush, "was dead," Dreggors added. The people shown looking at cars, he said, were actually production crew members.
But Dreggors said the surprise makeover the building received was real.
"I still have the chair from Ikea," he said. "It was fun, but I'm not sure I'd do it again."
Representatives from Spike TV said they understood there was an uptick in sales after Stuker did the show. Spokeswoman Shana Tepper said a producer said Micco Motors' policy was to not fix cars until they were sold. And they said the dealer reopened under a new name right after it closed, so producers didn't feel the need to mention the closing in an epilogue.
Tepper said the Hudson episode drew 713,000 viewers. A March 17 episode will feature another Tampa Bay area dealer, Park Auto Mall in Pinellas Park.
John DiThomas, a producer at Rough Waters Films, a Boston documentary company that has been critical of reality TV, said networks care little about truth and more about ratings.
"The car lot is more of a character in their story line," he said. "The success of the car lot is inconsequential to them."
Car Lot Rescue isn't the first show accused of fakery. Storage Wars got sued by a former star who claimed producers faked scenes and planted items in lockers. The stars of The Hills told Us Weekly they staged fights.
In a Dec. 17 article in the New York Times, Stuker admitted Car Lot Rescue episodes were "ramped up" for TV.
"Within each 42 minutes, you see me go in there, beat the heck out of everybody, shake up the place, uncover problems, get everybody to hate me, fix the problems, get everybody to love me — and at the end, I save the world and we all sing Kumbaya," he told the New York Times.