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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Pop Culture
1:44 pm
Sat June 29, 2013

Lego Markets New 'Friends' For Girls

Originally published on Mon July 1, 2013 9:35 am

Transcript

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary. Two years ago, 90 percent of kids playing with Legos were boys. You heard that right. Nine-zero. That's partly because Lego had turned from gender neutral buckets of bricks to selling heavily franchised sets such as "Star Wars" or "Avengers." For our series about kids and culture, NPR's Neda Ulaby looked at Lego's recent gamble on girls.

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The Record
4:10 pm
Mon June 24, 2013

Remembering The Multidimensional Music Of Bobby 'Blue' Bland

Bobby "Blue" Bland performs on stage at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, in 1989.
David Redfern Redferns

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Television
3:31 pm
Thu June 20, 2013

'Dome' Luck: On CBS, A Drama About Getting Stuck With Each Other

In the wake of the dome's mysterious appearance, the townspeople are cut off from access to TV, phones and the Internet, and must make do with the people and objects they have at their disposal.
CBS

Originally published on Fri June 21, 2013 2:55 pm

One of the most anticipated shows of the summer, Under the Dome, starts Monday on CBS. It's about a tiny New England town that's suddenly and mysteriously sealed off by an impenetrable dome.

The series is the first on-screen collaboration between two of the biggest Steves in popular culture — Steven Spielberg and Stephen King.

"The Steven Squared, we call it," cracks Neal Baer, an executive producer of the show.

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Monkey See
1:15 pm
Wed June 19, 2013

From Classic Toys To New Twists, Kids Go Back To Blocks

Legos and other interlocking toys are only one kind of blocks that remain popular with kids.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Fri June 28, 2013 11:39 am

I visited Toy Fair in New York City hunting for ideas for our summer series about kids' culture. One of the big takeaways was the increasing popularity of construction games such as Legos. Sales shot up nearly 20 percent last year. Now, it seems, every major toy manufacturer is scrambling to add new games geared toward kids building things.

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Monkey See
12:54 am
Mon June 17, 2013

An 'Adventure' For Kids And Maybe For Their Parents, Too

Finn is in the middle, with the skinny arms. Jake is the dog. Together, they have Adventure Time.
Cartoon Network

Originally published on Mon June 17, 2013 11:27 am

Count plenty of grown-ups among the millions of fans of Adventure Time, a kids' show on Cartoon Network. Some are surely Emmy voters. (It's won three.) Others are very possibly stoners. Still others are intellectuals. Lev Grossman falls in the last category. He wrote two best-selling novels, The Magicians and The Magician King, and he's Time's senior book critic.

Grossman's critique of Adventure Time? "It's soooo smart! It's sooo intelligent!"

Hang on. He's just getting started.

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Monkey See
2:41 pm
Fri June 7, 2013

A Lannister Always Pays His Debts — But Do Too Many Of His Fans Watch For Free?

Peter Dinklage stars as the cunning, charismatic Tyrion Lannister in HBO's hit drama Game Of Thrones. One security consultant suggests that the number of people watching the popular drama through HBO's streaming service HBO Go without paying for it could be high enough to pose a real challenge for providers of such services.
Helen Sloan HBO

Originally published on Fri June 7, 2013 6:29 pm

For today's All Things Considered story about people sharing their Netflix or Hulu Plus passwords, producer Sami Yenigun latched on to what could've been an ordinary entertainment-business story and front-loaded it with snippets of sound from Game of Thrones — attacking dragons, evil kings, treacherous harlots. He made it hilarious.

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Monkey See
2:14 pm
Mon June 3, 2013

Foster Families Take Center Stage

Cierra Ramirez, Teri Polo, and Jake T. Austin star in ABC Family's The Fosters.
Randy Holmes ABC Family

Originally published on Fri June 28, 2013 11:42 am

This summer, NPR is taking a closer look at media for kids, taking it as seriously as what's offered to adults. Our first piece looks at a new show starting Monday night on ABC Family.

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Monkey See
2:44 pm
Tue May 21, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Tue May 21, 2013 3:43 pm

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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Monkey See
3:13 am
Sat May 18, 2013

Working Women On Television: A Mixed Bag At Best

Geena Davis played the president in the 2005 ABC series Commander in Chief. Now, she works on issues involving women in media.
Kent Eanes AP

Originally published on Mon May 20, 2013 11:33 am

When actress Geena Davis was watching children's shows with her daughter a few years ago, she became so troubled by the lack of female representation, she started a think tank on gender in the media. The Geena Davis Institute recently partnered with University of Southern California professors to conduct a study analyzing gender roles and jobs on screen.

The good news? Prime-time television's pretty decent at depicting women with careers.

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Technology
5:07 am
Mon April 22, 2013

Video-Streaming Firms Attract Customers With Exclusive Shows

Originally published on Mon April 29, 2013 2:46 pm

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Now online streaming is playing a bigger and bigger role in news events. Many people listened and watched the Boston bombing coverage on their laptops. And on Friday as the manhunt came to a close, tens of thousands of people were listening to police dispatches live online. In the entertainment world, video streaming is also having a big impact.

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Television
1:18 am
Fri April 5, 2013

As Audiences Shift To Cable, TV Programming Changes, Too

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

Originally published on Tue April 9, 2013 11:20 am

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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All Tech Considered
1:23 am
Tue March 26, 2013

Why Are TV Remotes So Terrible?

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

Originally published on Tue March 26, 2013 8:25 am

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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U.S.
2:56 pm
Fri March 22, 2013

FCC Chairman Had Trouble Pleasing Interest Groups, Industry

Originally published on Thu March 28, 2013 5:17 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The head of the Federal Communications Commission gathered his staff this morning, 1,700 people, to tell them this...

JULIUS GENACHOWSKI: I'm announcing that I'll be stepping down as chairman of the FCC in the coming weeks.

BLOCK: The FCC regulates your cell phone, your television and the companies that bring you the Internet. Here's NPR's Neda Ulaby.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: In this morning's speech to his staff, Julius Genachowski talked about how their work affects ordinary people.

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Architecture
1:19 pm
Sun March 17, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Sun March 17, 2013 5:48 pm

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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Monkey See
3:34 am
Wed February 20, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Thu February 21, 2013 4:01 pm

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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The Two-Way
12:00 pm
Mon February 11, 2013

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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The Record
2:48 pm
Tue February 5, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Tue February 5, 2013 4:36 pm

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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Television
3:33 am
Wed January 30, 2013

Competition, High Bills Hurt Cable Companies

Originally published on Wed January 30, 2013 8:44 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK. In the next few days, cable companies announce how they did financially in 2012. Most industry watchers expect some negative trends to continue. More people are canceling their cable subscriptions. They are called cord cutters, because they are getting TV from the Internet and over the air, not their cable cords. But they're not the only problem the cable industry needs to worry about. NPR's Neda Ulaby reports.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Meet Comcast's worst nightmare.

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Arts & Life
1:41 am
Fri January 18, 2013

In A Fragmented Cultureverse, Can Pop References Still Pop?

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

Originally published on Fri January 18, 2013 7:11 am

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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Theater
3:52 pm
Thu January 10, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Thu January 10, 2013 4:26 pm

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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Television
8:27 am
Wed January 2, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Wed January 2, 2013 6:24 pm

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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Food
2:20 pm
Thu December 27, 2012

'Dirt Candy': A Visual Veggie Cookbook With A Memoir Mixed In

Amanda Cohen is the chef-owner of Dirt Candy, a vegetable-focused restaurant in New York City.
Clarkson Potter

Originally published on Thu December 27, 2012 7:40 pm

The Ones That Got Away series: There were so many good arts and entertainment stories in 2012 that we couldn't get around to reporting on everything as it was released. So this week, our arts reporters are circling back to look at books, movies, TV shows and trends that we should have paid more attention to.

Amanda Cohen's Dirt Candy is a graphic novel, vegetarian cookbook and memoir. But because it's all of those things, it's also not exactly any of them — so it fell between the cracks.

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Digital Life
1:29 am
Thu December 27, 2012

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

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

Originally published on Thu December 27, 2012 2:34 am

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

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Spirit Of The Season
2:56 pm
Tue December 18, 2012

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

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

Originally published on Thu December 20, 2012 1:16 pm

"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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Pop Culture
1:22 pm
Fri November 30, 2012

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

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

Originally published on Fri November 30, 2012 4:44 pm

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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The Record
2:05 pm
Tue November 27, 2012

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

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

Originally published on Tue November 27, 2012 3:55 pm

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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Election 2012
6:35 am
Wed November 7, 2012

In North Dakota, A Tale Of Two Ticket-Splitters

Originally published on Wed November 7, 2012 8:31 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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Remembrances
3:57 pm
Fri October 26, 2012

Cultural Historian Jacques Barzun Dies At 104

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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How We Watch What We Watch
6:43 am
Tue October 23, 2012

The Afterlife Of A TV Episode: It's Complicated

Despite having aired its final episode in May, the medical drama House lives on, in reruns and on digital services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime. But not every episode is available in all formats.
Adam Taylor AP

Have you ever seen a rerun episode that made you want to watch more of a show — even a whole season? With so many TV channels and so many shows to keep up with, it's possible that some of them could completely pass you by.

But there are also many ways to watch a show, even if it's no longer on the air. Take the medical drama House, which ended its run on FOX in May.

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Television
2:33 am
Mon October 22, 2012

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

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

Originally published on Tue November 27, 2012 3:09 pm

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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