Angelenos know and love Fritz Coleman as the broadcasting icon who enlivened weather reports on NBC4 for nearly four decades. Savvy fans are aware of his even longer career as a standup comedian who’s performed regularly in comedy clubs, one-man shows, specials and even The Tonight Show. In Toluca Lake, he’s the elder statesman bringing warmth and gravitas to neighborhood events and supporting community causes as honorary mayor for the past 27 years. But since the summer of 2020, Coleman has been showing yet another side of his multifaceted personality with a weekly podcast called Media Path.
Although the format is a new one for Coleman, it’s based on a 30-year friendship with his co-host, Louise Palanker. “We’ve been involved in various projects — she produced my first two one-person shows — and we’ve always seen eye to eye on all things pop culture and political,” he explains. “When I retired and my contract lapsed with NBC, which had precluded me from doing any outside work like this, she said, ‘Let’s do a podcast. Let’s just do an extension of these great conversations we always have with one another and share it with other people.’” Palanker is a multitalented broadcasting veteran herself, as a writer, director, producer, filmmaker, author, photographer, comedian, podcaster, musician/songwriter, teacher and co-founder of Premiere Radio Networks (now a division of iHeartMedia). “She’s wildly successful and she’s been in the communication business for a long time, and was in the podcasting realm at the very beginning,” Coleman says.
Appropriately for such a pair of polymaths, Media Path is a wide-ranging podcast whose hosts investigate their own obsessions while helping listeners navigate the increasingly vast worlds of film, TV, books, music, history and pop culture. “People don’t have time to either research or consume all the new content that comes out,” Coleman says. “We like to think we sort of cherry-pick. We walk down the media path, and then we wander off on tributaries.” Every episode begins with Coleman and Palanker each sharing a show, book, podcast or other piece of media they’ve recently enjoyed. Coleman clarifies that “it’s not a review, it’s a suggestion,” and they’ll often research the creators’ previous works to offer further recommendations for interested listeners. The bulk of each episode is devoted to interviewing “all kinds of interesting guests from all walks of life — politicians, authors, filmmakers, actors,” he says.
Palanker and Coleman describe Media Path’s core audience as “woke boomers,” or, as he elaborates, “people in our age group who are slightly more on the liberal side, on the progressive side, in that we entertain all forms of thought.” As you might expect, the podcast’s focus has gravitated toward the mid-to-late 20th century from its debut, where the hosts discussed their passion for Turner Classic Movies. A treasure trove for nostalgia fans and history buffs, the list of more than 100 episodes includes shows on the Beatles, Elvis and Mary Tyler Moore, as well as interviews with Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers, Saturday-morning TV puppeteer Marty Krofft, and Laverne and Shirley star Cindy Williams. But there are plenty of contemporary topics in the mix as well, including conversations with Representative Adam Schiff and comedian Maz Jobrani, as well as installments about reality TV and TikTok.
No matter the topic, the hosts delve deep in search of the unexpected. “I’m just a naturally inquisitive person,” Coleman says. “I have so much fun when I’m talking to somebody that’s broaching a topic that I don’t know anything about. I put myself in the shoes, or in the ears, of the listener and try to probe what I think they would be interested in hearing, and we both learn something.” As an example of one of his favorite types of episodes, he points to the pair’s interview with Christopher Knight, who played Peter on The Brady Bunch: “He was one of the smartest, most complex persons that I’ve ever known. He’s a computer genius, he had his own computer company, and it was a great revelation and a great discovery to find out that this guy had a great soul and was so much bigger than the part he played on television. I love those, when there’s a surprising aspect to the guests.”
Given Coleman’s longtime connection with Toluca Lake and the neighborhood’s historic popularity as a home to famous entertainers, it’s not surprising that a number of episodes have a local connection. Among the interviewees are Studio City resident (and past Toluca Lake Magazine cover star) Ed Begley Jr. and longtime Toluca Lake resident Henry Winkler, the podcast’s only repeat guest and one of the hosts’ all-time favorites. “I love people who are enormously talented but who are comfortable in their own skin,” Coleman says. “They’re not condescending when they talk to you; they appreciate you as a real human being. Henry is maybe the nicest person in show business. He goes up to every single person and pays attention, looks them in the eye, talks to them, relates to them on an equal level. He’s really the greatest example of how you treat fans and how you appreciate your stardom.” Locals will get an extra kick out of the recent interview with Martha Bolton, Bob Hope’s first female full-time staff writer and the author of a new book with Linda Hope about the great entertainer’s correspondence with soldiers during World War II. Not only does Bolton share a wealth of stories about her 15 years of writing jokes for Hope, but both hosts also reveal their own personal and professional connections to him. Palanker relates how attending a taping of a Bob Hope special at age 11 inspired her career in show business, and how she later went on to visit Hope’s Toluca Lake home dozens of times to interview him during her radio career. Coleman describes seeing Hope’s Christmas show while in the Navy, aboard the USS John F. Kennedy in 1971, and how amazing it felt to have the opportunity to perform in a Bob Hope show himself 17 years later — coincidentally, one that Bolton had co-written.
Coleman and Palanker take Media Path seriously, thoroughly researching their topics and reading every guest author’s book in its entirety — a refreshing rarity among interviewers, he notes. “As soon as they realize that we have done the work and we have a genuine interest in what they have to say, then people tend to loosen up. They relax and they can trust us, and they’re a little more forthcoming. They understand that we’re sincere.” That diligence has helped build their credibility and, in turn, attracted increasingly prominent guests: “One noteworthy person will tell another noteworthy person, ‘We did that podcast, they were excellent, it was a great conversation, they really did their homework,’ and the word spreads.” Coleman sees the podcast gradually building momentum, with a growing audience throughout the U.S. and even into Europe. But he emphasizes that the approach is slow and steady, and tne goal is fun, not profit. “There are 150,000 podcasts in America, and it takes a long time to carve out an audience. We’re not trying to make money; we haven’t monetized this in any way.”
Even as an experienced pro with 15 years of radio and 40 years of television work under his belt, not to mention decades of live performance, Coleman says it’s taken some adjusting to adapt to the podcast medium. Yet the change has also been liberating: “It’s not the old-school broadcasting where it’s important to have a big voice and everything has to be perfect. What I’m learning to do is relax and just be conversational, and make it more intimate and free-form. And honestly, as it turns out, that’s what people connect to, just the intimacy of it.” At the suggestion that the show allows fans to see more of the real Fritz Coleman, just as it reveals surprising aspects of its famous guests, he jokes, “I hope they say, ‘Oh my god, this guy’s a genius, how come I didn’t know?’” Ultimately, however, it’s clear that the hosts’ genuine interest and enjoyment is key to the growing success of Media Path. “All we’re doing is having a good time,” Coleman says. “But we think that if we have a good time and have interesting guests, eventually the public will find us, and it seems like they are.”
You can find Media Path at mediapathpodcast.com and on all major podcasting platforms, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify.