NPR: Neda Ulaby

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.

Scouring the various and often overlapping worlds of art, music, television, film, new media and literature, Ulaby's radio and online stories reflect political and economic realities, cultural issues, obsessions and transitions, as well as artistic adventurousness— and awesomeness.

Over the last few years, Ulaby has strengthened NPR's television coverage both in terms of programming and industry coverage and profiled breakout artists such as Ellen Page and Skylar Grey and behind-the-scenes tastemakers ranging from super producer Timbaland to James Schamus, CEO of Focus Features. Her stories have included a series on women record producers, an investigation into exhibitions of plastinated human bodies, and a look at the legacy of gay activist Harvey Milk. Her profiles have brought listeners into the worlds of such performers as Tyler Perry, Ryan Seacrest, Mark Ruffalo, and Courtney Love.

Ulaby has earned multiple fellowships at the Getty Arts Journalism Program at USC Annenberg as well as a fellowship at the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism to study youth culture. In addition, Ulaby's weekly podcast of NPR's best arts stories. Culturetopia, won a Gracie award from the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation.

Joining NPR in 2000, Ulaby was recruited through NPR's Next Generation Radio, and landed a temporary position on the cultural desk as an editorial assistant. She started reporting regularly, augmenting her work with arts coverage for D.C.'s Washington City Paper.

Before coming to NPR, Ulaby worked as managing editor of Chicago's Windy City Times and co-hosted a local radio program, What's Coming Out at the Movies. Her film reviews and academic articles have been published across the country and internationally. For a time, she edited fiction for The Chicago Review and served on the editing staff of the leading academic journal Critical Inquiry. Ulaby taught classes in the humanities at the University of Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University and at high schools serving at-risk students.

A former doctoral student in English literature, Ulaby worked as an intern for the features desk of the Topeka Capital-Journal after graduating from Bryn Mawr College. She was born in Amman, Jordan, and grew up in the idyllic Midwestern college towns of Lawrence, Kansas and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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3:37pm

Tue May 21, 2013
Monkey See

'Arrested Development' Leads The Charge For Old Brands In New Media

Originally published on Tue May 21, 2013 5:43 pm

David Cross and Portia de Rossi in a scene from Arrested Development, which returns on Netflix on May 26.
Sam Urdank AP

Arrested Development returning via Netflix? Just another old-media brand reviving itself on new media.

The TV show, which originally ran on Fox from 2003 to 2006 and unveils new episodes on Netflix next weekend, finds itself in splendid company. Radiohead, Louis C.K., Veronica Mars — all found their audiences with promotion and distribution from big studios and networks. Radiohead was signed to a major music label. Louis C.K. enjoyed HBO specials and TV shows. And Veronica Mars ran on two TV networks for three years.

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3:18am

Fri April 5, 2013
Television

As Audiences Shift To Cable, TV Programming Changes, Too

Originally published on Tue April 9, 2013 1:20 pm

In recent years, high-profile cable TV dramas like AMC's Mad Men have helped to shift audiences and programming across all types of TV networks. (Pictured, from left: John Slattery, Jon Hamm and Vincent Kartheiser)
Michael Yarish / AMC

Mad Men comes back for its sixth season Sunday at an opportune moment for basic cable. Last weekend, 25 million viewers combined watched The Bible and The Walking Dead on basic cable channels. That's more than triple the audience for The Good Wife on CBS that same night.

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3:23am

Tue March 26, 2013
All Tech Considered

Why Are TV Remotes So Terrible?

Originally published on Tue March 26, 2013 10:25 am

The buttons, symbols and signs on many modern TV remotes make for one confusing user interface.
iStockphoto.com

Let's call it the baby sitter's dilemma.

If you go to someone's house and pick up the TV remote, chances are, you won't know how it works. You know the situation's bad when even a tech writer who also majored in physics at an Ivy League school is confused by her own TV remote.

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3:07pm

Sun March 17, 2013
Architecture

2013 Pritzker Winner Toyo Ito Finds Inspiration In Air, Wind And Water

Originally published on Sun March 17, 2013 7:48 pm

Dome in Odate (multipurpose dome), Odate-shi, Akita, Japan
Mikio Kamaya Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects

Toyo Ito, a 71-year-old architect based in Japan, is the winner of the 2013 Pritzker Architecture Prize. The jury honored Ito for his more than four-decade career, in which he has created architecture that "projects an air of optimism, lightness and joy ... infused with both a sense of uniqueness and universality."

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5:34am

Wed February 20, 2013
Monkey See

From Louisiana To Versailles, Funding 'Vital Stories, Artfully Told'

Originally published on Thu February 21, 2013 6:01 pm

Cinereach aims to support films that tell stories from underrepresented perspectives. The Oscar-nominated Beasts of the Southern Wild was one of those films.
Fox Searchlight Pictures

The movie Beasts of the Southern Wild is a fairy tale of a film. It might not seem to have much in common with documentaries about evangelical Christians in Uganda or the billionaire Koch brothers. But these films were all funded by a not-for-profit group called Cinereach. It was started by a couple of film school graduates who are still in their 20s. And now, with Beasts, it has a nomination for Best Picture at this year's Oscars.

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2:00pm

Mon February 11, 2013
The Two-Way

Toy Fair: Markers That Don't Blot Walls, Sand Without The Mess

Pac-Man joins opening ceremonies at Toy Fair to celebrate the launch of new Pac-Man Toys from Bandai of America.
Fernando Leon Getty Images

Toy Fair 2013 in New York started Sunday and runs until Wednesday. NPR's Neda Ulaby had the tough assignment of sizing up the acres of fun offerings. She brings us this report:

The venerable industry convention Toy Fair celebrates its 110th anniversary this week. But it might as well be the 1970s or '80s within the great glassy expanse of New York City's Javits Center.

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4:56pm

Tue February 5, 2013
The Record

Reg Presley, The Voice Of 'Wild Thing,' Dies

Originally published on Tue February 5, 2013 6:36 pm

Reg Presley in Hamburg, circa 1965.
Petra Niemeier — K & K Redferns

Reg Presley, the founder and lead singer of The Troggs, the rock group best known for the performing the original version of the song "Wild Thing," has died. Presley was 71. He died of lung cancer yesterday at his home in England.

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5:33am

Wed January 30, 2013
Television

Competition, High Bills Hurt Cable Companies

Originally published on Wed January 30, 2013 10:44 am

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

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3:41am

Fri January 18, 2013
Arts & Life

In A Fragmented Cultureverse, Can Pop References Still Pop?

Originally published on Fri January 18, 2013 9:11 am

At Tyler Perry's live performances, his gospel-tinged references aren't meant for everyone in the audience.
Jason Merritt Getty Images

On a recent episode of Saturday Night Live when the comedian Louis C.K. played host, one skit parodied his eponymous show on F/X. It riffed on the theme song and the discursive style of his comedy.

But here's the thing: Fewer than 2 million people watch Louie. About 7 million watch Saturday Night Live. That means even optimistically, at least two-thirds of the audience is missing the joke.

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4:57pm

Thu January 17, 2013
Remembrances

Woman Behind 'Dear Abby' Guided Readers Through Personal Crises

Originally published on Thu January 17, 2013 6:10 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Her real name was Pauline Friedman Phillips, and she was one of the most widely read advice columnists in the world. You probably recognize her as Dear Abby.

Phillips died yesterday at a hospital in Minneapolis. She was 94 and had struggled for many years with Alzheimer's.

NPR's Neda Ulaby has this remembrance.

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5:52pm

Thu January 10, 2013
Theater

'Adventure Hour' Is A New Take On Old-Time Radio

Originally published on Thu January 10, 2013 6:26 pm

Mark Gagliardi and Autumn Reeser, as aviator Amelia Earhart, perform in The Thrilling Adventure Hour. Actors dress up and read scripts onstage in front of a live nightclub audience.
Jonathan Reilly The Thrilling Adventure Hour

The creators of The Thrilling Adventure Hour proudly call it "fake radio." It's less an homage to old-time radio and more of a clever update. A live monthly performance at Largo, a 200-seat, scruffy-chic Hollywood nightclub is also available as a popular podcast through Nerdist.

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10:35am

Wed January 2, 2013
Television

Who's Gay On TV? Dads, Journalists, Investigators And Footmen

Originally published on Wed January 2, 2013 8:24 pm

Partners Bryan (Andrew Rannells) and David (Justin Bartha) decide to use a surrogate to expand their family in The New Normal.
Trae Patton AP

The pop culture gay flavor of the minute? White gay dads.

"We're having a baby, Bri!" croons one of the leads on NBC's The New Normal. "This is our family. You, me and that kid forever."

It's a mini-boomlet, says real-life white gay dad and sociology professor Joshua Gamson. Not too long ago, he says, pop culture mainly defined gay men as promiscuous and deviant, rather than monogamous and devoted to their families.

"It does seem like a strong counter-stereotype of how gay men have been portrayed over the past, whatever, 50 years," he says.

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3:29am

Thu December 27, 2012
Digital Life

In Rapid-Fire 2012, Memes' Half-Life Fell To A Quarter

Originally published on Thu December 27, 2012 4:34 am

A screengrab from the "Kony 2012" online video about the Central African warlord Joseph Kony, which skyrocketed in popularity after its release in March. It was criticized, then forgotten, just as quickly.
via YouTube

Last June, a young woman in Texas uploaded a Justin Bieber fan video. She seemed a little .... unhinged.

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4:56pm

Tue December 18, 2012
Spirit Of The Season

At A Real-Life Santa's Workshop, Christmas Comes Early

Originally published on Thu December 20, 2012 3:16 pm

Lou Nasti runs a factory in Brooklyn that makes animatronic Christmas displays. He's been at it for almost 44 years.
Neda Ulaby NPR

"Everyone calls me Geppetto," announces Lou Nasti. "I mean, look at me: The glasses, the gray hair — and I play with dolls. Come on."

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3:22pm

Fri November 30, 2012
Pop Culture

That's So Random: The Evolution Of An Odd Word

Originally published on Fri November 30, 2012 6:44 pm

The use of the word random as slang found its way into Amy Heckerling's 1995 hit film, Clueless, starring Alicia Silverstone.
Paramount/The Kobal Collection

Random is a fighting word for young Spencer Thompson. The comedian posted a video to a Facebook page entitled I Hate When People Misuse the Word Random.

"The word random is the most misused word of our generation — by far," he proclaims to a tittering audience of 20-somethings. "Like, girls will say, 'Oh, God, I met this random on the way home.' First of all, it's not a noun."

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4:47pm

Tue November 27, 2012
The Record

R. Kelly's Queer, Campy 'Closet' Reopens

Originally published on Tue November 27, 2012 5:55 pm

R. Kelly (left) as Sylvester, and Eric Lane as Twan, in Trapped in the Closet, which relaunched with new chapters last week on IFC.
Parrish Lewis IFC

There's really been nothing like Trapped in the Closet ever before.

R&B star R. Kelly has been making (and remaking) a series of short music videos that tell a flamboyant narrative in less-than-five-minute installments. The first batch of several dozen appeared online in 2005. Now, there's a total of 40 "chapters" that aired last Friday on IFC, with the latest ones being released online one at a time for the next week.

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8:48am

Wed November 7, 2012
Election 2012

In North Dakota, A Tale Of Two Ticket-Splitters

Originally published on Wed November 7, 2012 10:31 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Voters in North Dakota famously like to mix things up - sending one party to the White House; the other, to Congress. In a closely watched Senate race there, Democrat Heidi Heitkamp narrowly leads the count vote - the vote count. But Republican Rick Berg says he won't concede the race until a recount is complete.

The race hinged on voters like those our reporter Neta Ulaby found.

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4:43pm

Fri October 26, 2012
Remembrances

Cultural Historian Jacques Barzun Dies At 104

Originally published on Fri October 26, 2012 5:57 pm

Pioneering cultural historian Jacques Barzun was the author of dozens of books and essays on everything from philosophy to music to baseball. He died Thursday in San Antonio at the age of 104.
Eric Gay AP

Jacques Barzun, one of the most influential historians, educators and thinkers of the 20th century, died Thursday, just one month shy of his 105th birthday. Barzun seemed to have a limitless capacity to understand and translate complex ideas — about the evolution of Western culture, what it means to be free, and even the value of American baseball. He shared his observations in numerous books and magazine articles and at Columbia University, where he held forth for half a century.

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4:33am

Mon October 22, 2012
Television

Ratings Success? It's All In The (ABC) Family

Originally published on Tue November 27, 2012 5:09 pm

Broadway veteran Sutton Foster stars in the ABC Family show Bunheads, which, while focusing on adults, is still popular with ABC Family's demographic.
Adam Larkey ABC Family

In a sterile white boardroom in ABC Family's headquarters in Los Angeles, two young women are assiduously ignoring a spread of cookies in favor of two more important things: their laptops and a live broadcast of the show Pretty Little Liars playing on a large flat-screen TV.

Dalia Ganz, 28, is the show's social-media manager. She's patiently teaching one of the beautiful young actors on the show how to live-tweet this episode.

"Include #prettylittleliars in your answers," she instructs. That is a literal transcription of her words.

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3:34pm

Wed October 17, 2012
Television

Jessica Lange, Back In Black For 'Horror Story'

Originally published on Wed October 17, 2012 7:09 pm

Jessica Lange plays Sister Jude, a stern nun running an insane asylum, in the second season of American Horror Story.
FX

To speak with Ryan Murphy about his show American Horror Story is to hear this declaration repeatedly: "She classes up the joint."

Murphy is referring to his star, Jessica Lange, who recently won an Emmy for her role in the show's first season. If you've been a fan of Lange's film career, from Tootsie to Frances to Blue Sky, you might wonder why this treasure of the American theater, this two-time Oscar winner, is slumming in a lurid cable TV horror show.

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11:13am

Mon September 24, 2012
Monkey See

Making A Comedy Pilot? You Might Want To Call James Burrows

Originally published on Wed November 6, 2013 3:41 pm

In a 2001 photo, actress Debra Messing and director James Burrows pose together after Burrows won a Directors Guild of America award for directing the pilot of Will & Grace.
Chris Weeks Getty Images

"It's staggering."

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8:51am

Fri August 31, 2012
Monkey See

Hey, I Know That One: How SongPop Got Millions Of Players Naming That Tune

Originally published on Fri August 31, 2012 11:16 am

SongPop

Today, four million people all over the world will log on to Facebook — or take out their phones — and play SongPop. This summer, it's become the fastest growing social game on Facebook, taking a run at old standards such as Farmville and Words with Friends.

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8:33am

Tue August 28, 2012
Monkey See

YouTube Trends: Politics And Pop, Yes, But Education And Science, Too

Originally published on Tue August 28, 2012 9:32 am

4:36pm

Mon August 27, 2012
Monkey See

'2016: Obama's America' Shows Up Strong When Most Box Office Is Weak

Originally published on Tue August 28, 2012 3:53 pm

A promotional poster is seen at the Rave Fairfax Corner movie theater in Fairfax, Virginia, announcing the new movie "2016: Obama's America" that opened in theaters across the US, August 24, 2012.
Paul J. Richards AFP/Getty Images

The movie 2016: Obama's America just did something that's hard for any political documentary to accomplish: it took seventh place on the list of this weekend's highest grossing movies. Usually, when any documentary pulls in more than five million dollars, it's about, say, Katy Perry. But 2016 looks at the ideologies and global movements that it says helped intellectually mold the President of the United States from a critical, conservative perspective. And the ending imagines an America economically undone by four more years of an Obama presidency.

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5:00pm

Fri August 10, 2012
Remembrances

David Rakoff Saw The World In All Its Dark Beauty

Originally published on Fri August 10, 2012 7:04 pm

David Rakoff, the author of Half Empty, Don't Get Too Comfortable and Fraud, was a frequent contributor to This American Life. He died Thursday at the age of 47.
Larry Busacca Getty Images

When writer David Rakoff died Thursday at the age 47, he was barely the age he said he was always "meant" to be. In his 2010 memoir, Half Empty, he wrote, "Everyone has an internal age, a time in life when one is, if not one's best, then at very least one's most authentic self. I always felt that my internal clock was calibrated somewhere between 47 and 53 years old."

Rakoff died in New York City after a long struggle with cancer — an ordeal that he wrote about with sobering honesty and biting wit.

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5:32am

Thu August 2, 2012
Destination Art

Marfa, Texas: An Unlikely Art Oasis In A Desert Town

Originally published on Thu August 2, 2012 6:36 pm

In the 1970s, minimalist artist Donald Judd moved to Marfa, Texas, where he created giant works of art that bask beneath vast desert skies. In the years since, Marfa has emerged as a hot spot for art tourism.
Art (c) Judd Foundation Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

This tiny town perched on the high plains of the Chihuahua desert is nothing less than an arts world station of the cross, like Art Basel in Miami, or Documenta in Germany. It's a blue-chip arts destination for the sort of glamorous scenesters who visit Amsterdam for the Rijksmuseum and the drugs.

"They speak about Marfa with the same kind of reverent tones generally reserved for the pilgrimage of the Virgin of Lourdes," notes Carolina Miranda, a writer who covers the art world.

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4:56am

Wed August 1, 2012
Dead Stop

The Ghostly Grandeur Of A Desert Graveyard

Originally published on Thu August 2, 2012 7:31 am

A couple celebrates Dia de los Muertos at the Concordia Cemetery in El Paso, Texas.
Stacy Kendrick Concordia Cemetery

It's a raggedy moonscape; no lush green grass or tranquil arbors here. Concordia Cemetery in El Paso, Texas, just a few blocks from the Mexican border, is stark and dusty. It's overrun with crumbling concrete markers and old wooden crosses gone askew. And it goes on ... and on ... and on.

"It's 52 acres," says Bernie Sargent, chair of the El Paso County Historical Commission. "Sixty thousand people buried here. And they're all dead."

The Grave Of A Wild West Legend

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3:48pm

Thu July 26, 2012
Monkey See

It Was All A Dream (Or: Turns Out Spoilers Are Good For You)

Originally published on Thu July 26, 2012 6:24 pm

Chances are, if you're a regular reader of this blog you've read (or perhaps even posted) an incredibly vitriolic comment or two accusing the writer of the despicable crime of spoilers.

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6:06pm

Mon July 16, 2012
The Record

Kitty Wells, Pioneering Country Singer, Dies

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 7:29 pm

A studio portrait of Kitty Wells in the mid-'70s.
Frank Driggs Collection/Getty Images

Kitty Wells revolutionized country music by becoming its first big female solo star. Wells died today at home in Nashville, Tenn., of complications from a stroke. She was 92 years old.

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6:06pm

Wed June 27, 2012
Around the Nation

Pieces Of AIDS Quilt Blanket Nation's Capital

Originally published on Wed June 27, 2012 7:06 pm

People view the AIDS Memorial Quilt at the National Mall this week.
Ebony Bailey NPR

The AIDS Memorial Quilt is too big to display all in one piece. Since 1987, it has grown to more than 48,000 panels that honor the lives of more than 94,000 people who have died of AIDS. The last time the whole quilt was shown together was in 1996, on the National Mall. Now it's back in Washington, D.C., for its 25th anniversary.

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