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
3:19 pm
Thu June 21, 2012

Branding 'Brave': The Cultural Capital Of Princesses

In Brave, the character of Merida is a skilled archer and sword fighter who rebels against what is expected of her as a princess.
Disney/Pixar

Originally published on Fri June 22, 2012 11:42 am

For little girls, princesses hold roughly the same value that tulips did for the Dutch back in the 1500s, and that princess mania is sure to get a boost with the new Pixar movie Brave, which stars a Scottish princess named Merida.

For a keyhole glimpse into the pink and glittery world of pre-K princess culture, consider the scene at a recent princess-themed birthday party in a suburb of Washington, D.C.

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Monkey See
1:14 pm
Tue June 5, 2012

Aubrey Plaza Takes Quite A Trip In 'Safety Not Guaranteed'

Aubrey Plaza in Safety Not Guaranteed.
Benjamin Kasul FilmDistrict

Originally published on Tue June 5, 2012 5:53 pm

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The Record
6:28 pm
Tue May 29, 2012

Doc Watson, Folk Music Icon, Dies At 89

Arthel Lane "Doc" Watson in the 1960s.
John Cohen Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 5:45 pm

A mountain-born treasure of American folk music, Doc Watson, died Tuesday in North Carolina at age 89.

His manager said in a statement that Watson died at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, after abdominal surgery last week.

Watson was born in Deep Gap, N.C., in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in a three-room house he shared with eight brothers and sisters. He revolutionized not just how people play guitar but the way people around the world think about mountain music.

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Movies
3:49 am
Mon May 28, 2012

NFL Players Learn The Drills To Take On Tinseltown

At the 2012 Pro Hollywood Boot Camp in Los Angeles, former Green Bay Packers running back Ahman Green (left) and free agent fullback Ovie Mughelli hang out on the back lot at Universal Studios.
Johnny Vy NFL Network

Originally published on Mon May 28, 2012 5:26 am

Movie sets are usually sort of surreal — all that make-believe and artifice wrapped in the mechanics of a high-stakes industry. But this particular set, in the Universal Studios back lot, is even weirder. It was built for Westerns, with an old-timey saloon and hitching posts.

Right now, it's overrun by professional football players dressed up as cowboys or working as crew.

"Jackson, you're on the boom!" someone shouts.

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Theater
1:16 am
Tue May 8, 2012

A Test Of Hearts, Minds And 'Hands On A Hardbody'

Hands on a Hardbody
La Jolla Playhouse

Originally published on Wed May 9, 2012 2:04 pm

About 20 years ago, a Texas car dealership started a competition: Contestants had to keep one hand on a brand-new, fully loaded truck; the last person standing got to keep it.

It may not seem like a gripping drama, but it was the subject of a 1997 documentary. And now, it's the basis of a musical.

It's called Hands on a Hardbody, and that hardbody is, yes, the truck. At a rehearsal at the La Jolla Playhouse in California, it's on casters so the actors can spin it around the stage.

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Remembrances
2:36 pm
Wed April 18, 2012

Dick Clark, 'Bandstand' Host, Dead at 82

Pop culture icon Dick Clark died Wednesday at age 82. He started his career as a college disc jockey and went on to shape the way America viewed music, TV game shows and New Year's Eve. Here, he hosts American Bandstand in 1958.
ABC Photo Archive Getty Images

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 12:59 pm

Dick Clark, affectionately known as the "world's oldest teenager," has died. He was 82, and had suffered a heart attack while in a Santa Monica hospital for an outpatient procedure.

Richard Wagstaff Clark became a national icon with American Bandstand in the 1950s, hosting the show for more than 30 years. Clark also hosted the annual New Year's Eve special for ABC for decades. He weathered scandals, hosted game shows and renewed his Bandstand fame with a new generation by producing the nostalgic TV drama American Dreams.

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Television
2:04 pm
Fri April 13, 2012

'Airbender' Creators Reclaim Their World In 'Korra'

Korra demonstrates fire- and water-bending in The Legend of Korra, a new series from the creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender. It premieres April 14 on Nickelodeon.
Nickelodeon

Originally published on Tue January 29, 2013 3:55 pm

When M. Night Shyamalan's fantasy film The Last Airbender — panned by both critics and fans of the wildly popular TV series on which it was based — flopped majestically at the box office, it looked like the end of a valuable franchise.

But now, with The Legend of Korra, which premieres Saturday on Nickelodeon, the creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender have been given a rare chance to rebuild a world that was taken away from them.

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Monkey See
1:45 pm
Wed April 4, 2012

Fred Savage: A Child Star Makes Good, With Less Than Wholesome Comedies

The face you may remember: Fred Savage cuddles up with a puppy on The Wonder Years, in a photo from December 1989.
ABC Photo Archives Getty Images

Originally published on Wed April 4, 2012 4:05 pm

Former Child Star Fatigue. Many of us have suffered it, given the drug problems, the meltdowns, the awful nude photos.

But then there's Fred Savage, who starred in the ABC show The Wonder Years from 1988 through 1993. Now he's a successful, slightly offbeat 35-five-year-old television producer and director. He works on wicked, slightly warped comedies including Party Down, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia and as of today, Best Friends Forever. His first network sitcom premieres tonight on NBC.

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Monkey See
10:01 pm
Fri March 30, 2012

Snow White Rising: Why This Princess, And Why This Moment?

Lily Collins plays Snow White in Mirror Mirror opposite Julia Roberts as the vain Queen jealous of Snow's beauty.
Jan Thijs Relativity Media

Originally published on Tue April 3, 2012 12:44 pm

Snow White is having a moment.

The new movie Mirror Mirror stars Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen. In June, another Snow White movie opens starring another Oscar winner, Charlize Theron, in the same role. And Disney is working on a new animated film loosely based on Snow White set in 19th-century China. So what makes Snow White so right for right now?

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Monkey See
1:00 pm
Fri March 23, 2012

Niecy Nash Puts Her Blended Family In The Reality Spotlight

Niecy Nash is the star of the new family "docu-sitcom," Leave It To Niecy, on TLC.
Robert Ector TLC

If you know the actress and comedian Niecy Nash, you're probably either excited about her new reality show, Leave It To Niecy, or you're cringing just thinking about it. Nash does not do things halfway. Her new show starts Sunday, and it's intended to be something like a real-life Modern Family.

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Business
2:00 am
Wed March 14, 2012

Wal-Mart Backs Hollywood's UltraViolet System

Wal-Mart announced an online video partnership with most of the major Hollywood movie studios on Tuesday. The idea is to make it easier for people to legally watch and share movies digitally.

The Salt
1:46 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

Panda Express Takes Sweet And Sour Beyond The Food Court

An employee packs a customer's takeout order at a Panda Express restaurant in Los Angeles.
Fred Prouser Reuters /Landov

Originally published on Wed February 22, 2012 5:29 pm

Not all that long ago, many Americans thought of Chinese food as fried rice, chow mein and orange chicken. And one reliable place to find it was at the mall, at places like Panda Express.

But food court mainstay Panda Express is now in the midst of a major transformation. That means moving from mall basements to stand-alone restaurants and keeping pace with an increasingly sophisticated American palate.

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Monkey See
10:01 pm
Sun February 19, 2012

'Awake': Can A Risky New Drama Break A Streak Of Bad Luck?

Jason Isaacs as Michael Britten in NBC's Awake, from writer Kyle Killen.
Lewis Jacobs NBC

Originally published on Tue February 21, 2012 7:16 am

This piece was not my idea. It was Linda Holmes'. If you're reading this blog, you probably share my regard for her take on popular culture. So my ears pricked up when she suggested I look into doing a radio piece on Kyle Killen.

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Monkey See
7:01 am
Fri February 17, 2012

Is There Hope In Friday Night Television's 'Timeslot Of Death'?

The Wild Ranger crew of Bering Sea Gold: Steve Riedel, owner Vernon Adkison and Captain Scott Meisterheim.
Ryan Rude Discovery Channel

Originally published on Fri February 17, 2012 11:52 am

Call it the resurrection of the time slot of death.

For years, Friday nights have carried a grisly reputation — where shows on broadcast networks are sent to die. But a certain kind of cable show has recently performed well — even really well — on Friday nights.

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Television
2:00 am
Fri February 17, 2012

How Friday Night TV Started Producing Hits

Fridays used to be infamous as the worst night for TV ratings. It was where shows went to die. Now, between DVRs and people not going out because of the lousy economy, Friday has become a perfectly respectful night to have a certain kind of show on TV and even become a hit.

Music News
9:40 am
Fri January 20, 2012

Remembering Etta James, Stunning Singer

Etta James rehearses a song before recording at Fame Studios circa 1967 in Muscle Shoals, Ala.
House Of Fame LLC Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 12:03 pm

The "Matriarch of the Blues" has died. Music legend Etta James died Friday morning at Riverside Community Hospital in California of complications from leukemia. She was 73.

She was born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles in 1938. Her first manager and promoter cut up Jamesetta's name and reversed it: Etta James.

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Monkey See
10:01 pm
Thu January 19, 2012

Stephen Colbert Wants You To Know: That's Definitely Not His SuperPAC

Comedian Stephen Colbert appears before the Federal Election Commision in Washington, June 30, 2011. The FEC granted Colbert's request to form a political action committee.
Cliff Owen AP

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 9:06 am

Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert is running for president. He's parodying the process — including, now, superPACS — in the same way he has parodied cable news. He's getting plenty of attention, but to really look into his political practical joke, I needed to go upstairs and find Peter Overby, NPR's man on campaign finance. I warned him it would seem like a dumb question, but I needed his help. What, exactly, is a superPAC?

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Monkey See
2:00 pm
Thu January 19, 2012

Fox International Finds That Not Everyone Wants To Buy What Hollywood Sells

Stephanie Sigman as Laura, a beauty queen drawn into a Mexican drug gang, in the film Miss Bala.
Eniac Martinez Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Originally published on Thu January 19, 2012 8:16 pm

Remember that movie Sarah's Key? Did you miss it? It was last year's highest grossing foreign-language film, but it made less than eight million dollars. The fact is that selling foreign language films to U.S. audiences is a notorious challenge. Nevertheless, Fox, one of the world's most powerful media conglomerates, is beefing up its investment in foreign films.

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Movie Interviews
1:42 pm
Wed December 28, 2011

Coming Out, Coming Of Age As A Teen 'Pariah'

Adepero Oduye planned to be a doctor, but after her father died suddenly, she decided to change course and pursue an acting career.
Focus Features

Originally published on Wed December 28, 2011 5:32 pm

When the new film Pariah opens nationally, it's safe to say it will not be competing with any other movies about a black teenager coming of age as a lesbian in Brooklyn.

"It's not so much coming out, but coming into," clarifies director Dee Rees. "Alike, the main character, knows she loves women. That's not her struggle. Her struggle's more how to be in the world."

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The Record
10:00 am
Mon December 26, 2011

Skylar Grey: And The Hits Keep Coming

Skylar Grey.
P.R. Brown Courtesy of Universal Music Group

Originally published on Tue December 27, 2011 12:41 pm

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Remembrances
3:36 pm
Wed December 7, 2011

Harry Morgan, M*A*S*H's Col. Potter, Dies At 96

Col. Sherman Potter (Harry Morgan) was a father figure to Cpl. Radar O'Reilly (Gary Burghoff).
CBS/Landov

One of television's most beloved commanding officers died Wednesday. Harry Morgan, who played Col. Sherman Potter on M*A*S*H, brought an avuncular authority to a show about the absurdities and horrors of war. He was 96.

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Remembrances
10:03 am
Mon November 28, 2011

Controversial Film Director Ken Russell Dead At 84

Central Press Getty Images

The acclaimed, eccentric, and very polarizing British film director Ken Russell has died, after a series of strokes at the age of 84.

The director of Tommy, Women In Love and Altered States, Russell was known for a florid style and fascination with sadomasochism that earned him condemnations and a cult following. His adaptations of classic literature and over-the-top biopics ranged from perverse to merely provocative — and an indelible nickname: "Kinky Ken Russell."

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