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, the 59-year-old anchor decided the time had come to try working in the field full time.
"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 may have helped inspire her.
One question that 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 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 Price Is Right. Fountain's show became a popular fixture — complete with live studio audience and celebrity guests such as Hulk Hogan and Dana Carvey.
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 only to be revived in 1997 with its current format, shielded from ratings pressure inside the noon newscast.
Fountain, who always resisted the exploitive subjects that came to dominate daytime talk, enjoyed leading a show which felt like a local version of Charlie Rose — discussion of substantive ideas in a newsy format.
"I'm most proud of our ability to take emotionally loaded issues and bring people together," said Fountain, who pulls together the segment with producer Anne-Marie Fagler, a change from the old days, when a half-dozen staffers helped produce the show. "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 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," said Bill Schneider, WTVT general manager. "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 Fort Myers before transitioning to TV.
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 White up with her husband, Keith Woods, dean of the Poynter Institute, which owns the St. Petersburg Times). The anchors 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," Fountain said. "I've had an incredible run."