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Sean Daly, Michelle Stark and Sharon Kennedy Wynne

Kathy Fountain leaving Tampa Fox affiliate WTVT-Ch. 13 to become full-time mental health counselor

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November

Kathyfountain2 Some might say a local TV anchor-turned-mental health counselor wouldn't have to leave the business to find plenty of clients.

But longtime WTVT-Ch. 13 anchor Kathy Fountain has decided to depart the station on Dec. 31 for full-time work as a counselor, capping a 30-year TV journalism career and 24 years at Tampa's Fox affiliate.

And she makes one thing plain, while discussing her departure from co-anchoring WTVT's 5 p.m. newscast and hosting the noontime talk segment “Your Turn.”

In a media world filled with cutbacks forcing involuntary departures, this exit was entirely her idea.

After earning a master’s degree in mental health counseling and running a support group for women with fertility problems on the side, the 59-year-old anchor decided the time had come to move into counseling work full time.

“I’ve always had an eye toward being in the mental health field … this year seemed like the right time to do it,” she said, acknowledging that husband Frank Robertson’s decision to retire from anchoring at WTVT in June after 20 years may have helped inspire her.

ROBERTSON_FRANK “We talked about having the freedom to travel and explore other opportunities,” Fountain said. “I guess maybe it was the icing on the cake.”

One question which remains unanswered, at least for now: What will happen to “Your Turn”?

The show, currently a 35-minute slab of talk spliced into WTVT’s noon newscast, has a long legacy. Fountain first began hosting a talk show at WTVT in 1989, leading an Oprah-style daytime chat show called Eye on Tampa Bay.

Back then, WTVT was a CBS affiliate and had enormous daytime ratings thanks to powerhouse shows such as the game show The Price Is Right. Fountain’s show became a popular fixture – complete with live studio audience and guests such as Hulk Hogan and Dana Carvey – back in the days when Oprah Winfrey was just making her name nationally.

Eartha Kitt did a handstand on my desk,” Fountain recalled, laughing. “That was incredible.”

Here's a sample of the show, featuring a long-ago interview with Hulk Hogan:

The program became The Kathy Fountain Show in 1994, the same year WTVT switched to a Fox affiliation and daytime ratings began to drop. By 1995, the show was canceled; management would revive it in 1997 in its current format, shielding it from ratings pressure by placing it inside the noon newscast.

Fountain, who always resisted the kind of exploitive subjects which came to dominate daytime talk, enjoyed leading a show which felt more like a local version of Charlie Rose – discussion of substantive ideas in a more news-oriented format.

“I’m most proud of our ability to take emotionally loaded issues and bring people together,” said Fountain, who now assembles the show with producer Anne-Marie Fagler; quite a change from days past when a half-dozen staffers worked on the program. “People at home watching can learn something and not feel they’re being screamed at.”

WTVT officials say they have not decided if they will continue doing the segment, who might host it or who might take Fountain’s place next to anchor Denise White on the 5 p.m. newscast.

“It really requires someone with a great deal of passion…(because) it’s not just a job for Kathy,” said Bill Schneider, WTVT general manager. “We’ll certainly take the opportunity to take a fresh look at things. Whatever we do, we’ll hold the interests of the viewer in mind.”

A Lakeland native who graduated from the University of Florida, Fountain worked for newspapers in Winter Haven and Ft. Myers before transitioning to TV. Her first job at WTVT was reading news bulletins for Ernie Lee’s show Breakfast Beat; before long, she was anchoring the 5 p.m. newscast.

Fountain met husband Robertson at WTVT – two divorcees set up on a date by fellow anchors White and Kelly Ring (she returned the favor by setting up White with her husband Keith Woods, dean of the Poynter Institute, which owns the St. Petersburg Times). The anchor couple was married in 1995 and now move into a new, post-TV life together.

“I’m going to miss that day-to-day intellectual challenge of learning something I didn’t know before or meeting someone new,” Fountain said. “And I’m going to miss the people of this newsroom. But I’ve had an incredible run.”

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 3:03pm]

    

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