Behind The Scenes With Linda Marigliano & Dylan Alcott On ABC’s ‘The Set’

A giant anthropomorphic possum drops sick beats in the living room. A drag queen struts around the kitchen, shaking a cocktail maker in time with a Duck Sauce track. Out in the backyard, an ARIA-winning band are set up and ready to play. Needless to say, this is no ordinary house. Its inhabitants are Paralympian and Logie winner Dylan Alcott, triple j presenter Linda Marigliano, a revolving door of beloved Australian musicians and a packed studio audience – and, between the hours of 7 and 10:30pm, the landlords let them make as much noise as they want.

We’re outside Studio 22 – where the aforementioned house can be found – ahead of a taping of The Set. The half-hour ABC program launched in 2018, signalling the much-anticipated return of live music TV to the national broadcaster after well over a decade in absentia. Today marks the filming of episode five of the seven set to air in the coming months, meaning recording has gone past the Bon Jovi point – ie. “halfway there.” Marigliano is amused by this turn of phrase as she lounges in the foyer of ABC’s Sydney building with Alcott by her side in the afternoon before recording. “I think I’ll probably sleep when I’m dead,” she laughs, throwing an additional Bon Jovi reference in for good measure.

She still has her curlers in, right before she heads into make-up for tonight’s taping. Alcott, meanwhile, is sprawled across the side of the seating opposite Marigliano’s, lying on his side – “I’m spread out like this because I’ve been sitting on my bum all day,” he quips, his wheelchair off to the side. “It’s very sexy,” laughs Marigliano. For what can be a very high-pressure job of presenting a show on national TV, both hosts are in good spirits. They’re settled into their roles now, and have both been incredibly happy with the filming of season two.

“It’s simultaneously the smoothest it’s ever run and the most chaotic it’s ever been,” says Marigliano of filming The Set for a second season. On the note of the latter, she points to a recent taping featuring recent Neighbours stars Dune Rats, who riled up the studio audience in a manner hitherto unseen on the show. “They’re there, performing in the kitchen, and they’re completely surrounded by audience members,” she says with a laugh. “There’s a food fight going on, people are banging on pots and pans and I’m going through the audience handing out snacks on a tray – it’s a real house party.”

“We’re both running on such an adrenalin high after we finish a taping, and everyone seems to be really enjoying it,” she continues. “You don’t want it to end!” Alcott agrees: “There’s a lot going on, but we’ve found a way to normalise it,” he says. “It definitely helps when you’re working with your best mate every day – Linda really carries me a lot of the time. She’s a champion.” Marigliano smiles, before deflecting the compliment back to the multiple-time gold medallist: “He’s a literal champion!”

The co-hosts originally met while working at triple j, just an elevator ride away from where they’re currently sitting. Marigliano has worked at the station for over a decade, including stints as a presenter on both the drive show and the morning slot. Alcott, meanwhile, had never been on radio before being introduced as a guest on the breakfast program with hosts Ben Harvey and Liam Stapleton. “When I was filling in on breakfast, I’d throw to Linda,” Alcott explains. “I was so new to all of it, and she really helped me out. We hit it off from there, and we’ve done a lot together over the past couple of years in particular.”

Both will openly admit to the pressures that come with presenting on television as opposed to radio – it can be quite the confronting medium, especially when projecting something that’s somewhat of an experiment to a potentially alien audience. Marigliano, however, is insistent that The Set has been a success on account of the effort put in by the entire team making it happen. “It’s hard work – of course it is,” she says. “When you get a great team around you, though – where everyone is there for the right reason – there’s no greater feeling. Everyone is so passionate, and everyone is so excited to be there. The people that work on The Set are some of the best people I know.”

Each episode sees Alcott and Marigliano presenting performances by three different Australian artists, each taking place in a different part of the “house.” As an audience, we’re taken from the backyard, through to the living room and into the kitchen. As an audience member, you’re given up-close-and-personal access to artists that are more often than not placed in front of a crowd barrier at clubs and theatres across the country. “Everyone is literally one metre away from you,” says Alcott. “When we had Amy Shark in, these girls were freaking out because she was just right there. You could practically feel her breathing on you. Fans don’t get to be that close normally, so it can be such an exciting prospect.”

To conclude the show, all three collaborate on a cover song known as “the Setpiece.” At tonight’s taping, for instance, the three guest acts – Boy & Bear, Montaigne and Marlon Williams – will team up for a folksy and harmonious rendition of Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody,’ much to the delight of the audience. Marigliano notes that the one to watch out for this season is a Setpiece featuring Kasey Chambers, Adrian Eagle and Middle Kids. “It will give you goosebumps,” she promises. “That’s all I’ll say.”

No matter where you look around Studio 22, there’s something happening – the whole vibe of the room is popping aesthetically, skirting the formalities of your usual television taping. Alcott is particularly enthusiastic about the way the studio has been decorated for the filming of this season – “It looks sick,” he says. “The lighting is perfect, the sound is great. One of the coolest things we’ve gotten to do this time around is let the artists have input into redesigning the part of the set they’re performing in.”

“A few artists completely ran with it – Illy, in particular, completely reworked the look of the backyard. You’ll tune in some weeks and won’t even recognise it from the week before.” He smirks, before adding: “And you will have to tune in to find out!” Both Alcott and Marigliano laugh at the shameless plug. “He’s not a businessman,” says Marigliano. “He’s a business, man!”

The two hosts are particularly aware that purely by being present as hosts of an Australian television program, they are differing from the norm set by the industry. Alcott is a paraplegic, using a wheelchair in his day-to-day life, while Marigliano is of mixed Chinese and Italian descent. When Alcott won the Graham Kennedy Award for Best New Talent at the 2019 Logie Awards, he was vocal about the importance of being able to create visibility for people with disabilities right across Australia. “I wanted to get a job on TV because I love sharing stories but also to show that people with a disability can be talented, funny, humorous, normal people enjoying their lives,” he said during his acceptance speech.

“Diversity and representation are two things that are so, so important to us,” says Marigliano. “With The Set, we’re really hoping that what we do assists in opening the floodgates. That’s not just in relation to Dylan and myself hosting – we want it to reflect in the performers that the show is curating, too. It’s why we do what we do, ultimately.”

Three months on from that night at the Logies, Alcott is exceptionally proud of what he and Marigliano represent as hosts of The Set, with hopes their presence on Australian television will assist in issuing in a new standard. “It’s very cool,” he says. “We definitely wanted to show that you don’t just need to go grab the nearest two white, able-bodied dudes to host something. It’s not something that we take for granted whatsoever. I know that no-one with my disability has ever been in a role quite like this, and I really do hope it’s the start of a real change.”

The Set marks the first time that live music has been the central focus of an ABC program – or, indeed, any program on Australian television – for well over a decade. At 35, Marigliano is in a key demographic that religiously watched shows like Recovery and The 10:30 Slot on ABC as a teenager at the turn of the century. “I idolised everyone on those shows,” she says. “The bands, the hosts… it was my ticket to the world because I was still too young to go to gigs. It made me hungry for music – especially live Australian music. There was such a real, tangible energy in these programs. You can feel it. I knew immediately that it was something I wanted to be a part of.”

Although Alcott is slightly younger at 28, he has memories of Recovery and understands the importance of shows such as them – particularly through the vantage point of someone without immediate access to live music. “The reality is that not everybody lives in Sydney,” he says. “Not everybody lives in Melbourne. Not everybody lives in Brisbane. Even if they do, they might have disabilities like I do, meaning it’s not always possible to get out and see gigs the same way others do.”

“When you’re watching The Set, it doesn’t matter if you’re in one of the major cities or you’re in Kalgoorlie. You’re part of it, and that’s massive. These are huge artists, and they’re playing just for you. For some people, it might be the closest they get to seeing live music that isn’t down at their local pub or something like that. That’s a big deal.” Marigliano agrees: “As fun as it is to do The Set, it feels important as well,” she says. “As important as anything someone in my position is able to do in the music industry.”

‘The Set’ airs Wednesdays on ABC. 

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