Fresh Air with Terry Gross, the Peabody Award-winning weekday magazine of contemporary arts and issues, is one of public radio's most popular programs. Each week, nearly 5 million people listen to the show's intimate conversations broadcast on more than 624 NPR stations across the country, as well as in Europe on the World Radio Network. In 2015, Fresh Air was the No. 1 most downloaded podcast on iTunes.
We look back on the lives and careers of three people who have recently died. First, filmmaker Michael Apted, best-known for his documentary series, 'Up,' which followed the lives of a group of British citizens. He updated their stories with a new episode every seven years, from childhood through their 60s. Apted died last week. We also listen back to our interview with screenwriter William Link, who co-created many long-running TV series, including 'Columbo' and 'Murder She Wrote.' Also we remember Vietnam War correspondent Neil Sheehan. He broke the story of the Pentagon Papers, and wrote 'A Bright Shining Lie,' a Pulitzer-Prize winning book about the war.
David Bianculli reviews 'WandaVision,' the new miniseries on Disney+.
News of the World' is a Western set five years after the end of the Civil War. It stars Tom Hanks as a former Confederate captain who travels from one small poor Texas town to another, reading aloud from newspapers to townspeople who gather, paying ten cents apiece to be informed and entertained by these stories. We talk with director Paul Greengrass, who also directed Hanks in 'Captain Phillips.'
Also, Ken Tucker reviews the new HBO documentary about the Bee Gees, and a new album by the only one of the three Bee Gee brothers still alive, Barry Gibb.
Historian Kerri Greenidge tells the story of William Monroe Trotter, a Black newspaper editor who was a forceful crusader for civil rights in the early 20th century. He built a national following in his time as a fierce advocate for the full citizenship rights that had been promised to former enslaved people after the Civil War. Trotter organized mass protests, confronted presidents, and openly challenged leaders such as Booker T. Washington who took a more cautious approach to Black empowerment. Greenidge's new book is called 'Black Radical.'
Film critic Justin Chang reviews 'Promising Young Woman' and 'Pieces of a Woman.'
Adam Jentleson traces the history of the filibuster, which started as a tool of Southern senators upholding slavery and then later became a mechanism to block civil rights legislation. His book is 'Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and The Crippling of American Democracy.'
The Netflix docuseries 'Pretend It's a City' features Lebowitz's conversations with Martin Scorsese on many topics, Manhattan in particular. "If I dropped the Hope Diamond on the floor of a subway car, I'd leave it there," she says. Lebowitz also talks about getting expelled from school, working for Andy Warhol, and why she loves living alone.
Also, John Powers reviews the book 'The Liar's Dictionary' by Eley Williams.
CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks about how learning new skills can optimize brain health. His new book is 'Keep Sharp.'
Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews 'Outlawed,' a novel by Anna North, which she describes as 'Handmaid's Tale' meets 'Butch Cassidy.'
Journalist Maria Ressa has faced criminal charges and death threats because of her coverage of the populist, authoritarian Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. We talk about her work in the Philippines and the threats she's faced. Ressa is the subject of a new PBS FRONTLINE documentary, 'A Thousand Cuts.'
We remember the award-winning writer Barry Lopez, who wrote evocatively about nature, and in turn shed light on truths about the human experience. He died Christmas day at the age of 75. Lopez lived among the Arctic's Inuit people for five years, and raised a wolf pup for his book about the relationship between wolves and men.
Also, Kevin Whitehead reviews the new album by Chicago bassist Joshua Abrams. Then David Bianculli remarks on the live TV coverage of the insurrection led by Trump rioters on Wednesday.
The U.S. has only 4% of the world's population — and yet it accounts for 20% of all COVID deaths. 'New Yorker' writer Lawrence Wright discusses America's "plague year." We'll talk about the mishandling of the outbreak and his novel 'The End of October,' about a deadly pandemic.
Journalist Maria Ressa has faced criminal charges and death threats because of her coverage of the populist, authoritarian Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. She's covered Duterte's bloody "war on drugs," his expanding grip on all parts of the government and his crackdown on the press. In 2018, she was Time Magazine's Person of the Year. Ressa is the subject of a new PBS FRONTLINE documentary, 'A Thousand Cuts,' directed by Ramona Diaz.
Also book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews 'Outlawed,' a novel by Anna North, which she describes as 'Handmaid's Tale' meets 'Butch Cassidy.'
German journalist Kai Strittmatter says the Chinese state has amassed an astonishing amount of data about its citizens, which it uses to punish people for even minor offenses. We talk about facial recognition, a citizen point system, and the widespread use of barcodes. Strittmatter's new book is 'We Have Been Harmonized.'
Also, David Bianculli reviews 'Mr. Mayor,' a new sitcom on NBC starring Ted Danson.
CNN's chief medical correspondent says it's never too late to develop new brain pathways. Even small changes, like switching up the hand you hold your fork with, can help optimize brain health. We talk about the importance of learning new skills, good sleep, and how stress affects the brain. Dr. Gupta's new book is 'Keep Sharp.'
Nina Totenberg is widely regarded as the dean of legal journalists. She started covering the Supreme Court in 1971 and became NPR's legal correspondent in 1975. We talk about breaking the Anita Hill story, her friendship with the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and being a pioneer for women in journalism.
The HBO series 'Watchmen' uses sci-fi and action heroes to examine American racism. We talk with show writer Cord Jefferson, who wrote the episode of the series in which the main character narrowly survives the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, when white supremacists destroyed a prosperous Black community.
Coppola was 29 years old when he signed on to direct a film. "I was young and had no power," he said. "So [the studio] figured they could just boss me around." But Coppola fought back. He recalled the making of his masterpiece in a 2016 interview with Terry Gross.
We close out the year with music from singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III and Nighthawks bandleader Vince Giordano. They collaborated on the 1920s and '30s style music for the series 'Boardwalk Empire' and the film 'The Aviator.' Now they've gotten together again on the new album, 'I'd Rather Lead a Band,' a collection of songs from the Great American Songbook. They talk with Terry Gross about their new record and the music of the era.
Luker died last Wednesday of ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease. She was 59. She had a beautiful singing voice, and received Tony nominations for her performances in 'Showboat,' 'The Music Man,' and 'Mary Poppins.' She also starred in a revival of 'The Sound of Music.' We listen back to excerpts of several Fresh Air interviews.
Also, Kevin Whitehead remembers some jazz greats we lost his year.
Even Stephen King is feeling like he's living in a Stephen King novel these days. The author of the 1978 pandemic novel 'The Stand' says he understands why fans have said the COVID-19 pandemic feels like something out of his books. King says he doesn't feel panic or terror, but rather, a "gnawing anxiety."
Patrick Stewart is back as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in the CBS All Access series 'Star Trek: Picard.' He says he's changed as an actor over the years: "I am not averse to risk-taking and I don't judge myself." Stewart spoke with 'Fresh Air' producer Sam Briger about 'Picard,'
One of the most popular shows of the year is the Netflix limited series 'The Queen's Gambit,' which has been streamed by more than 62 million households. It's about an orphaned girl who becomes a chess prodigy, then a chess pro in a male-dominated world. We hear from Scott Frank, the co-creator, executive producer and director of the series. He spoke with guest contributor Arun Venugopal.
John Powers reviews the new psychological thriller 'Elizabeth Is Missing' starring Glenda Jackson, which airs on PBS Masterpiece. And Clint Smith reads a poem about growing up in the shadows of Confederate statues.
COVID upended the movie, TV and music industries. Concerts were canceled and movie theaters were mostly closed. Still, our critics say there was some really good stuff to watch and listen to this year, and many people had more time than usual to do it. We'll hear from our TV critic David Bianculli, our rock critic Ken Tucker and our film critic Justin Chang. Also, we lost a lot of great musicians this year, our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead will pay tribute to some of them.
On a Christmas that has many of us wishing for the familiar comforts and pleasures of a holiday with family and friends, we turn to two singers whose performances have been a pleasure to return to over the years. We'll hear a 2005 interview with Rebecca Kilgore in which she sang some classic Christmas songs, and we have an excerpt of our onstage concert and 1997 interview with Rosemary Clooney.