Yesterday only a few people knew about The Rona Syndrome. Today everyone will know. No one may care , but everyone will know.
It doesn't belong in the annals of journalism, it doesn't even belong in the annals of television, but it must belong in the annals of something . . .
Of course the news hit America like a thunderbolt -- Rona Barrett was stomping off "Tomorrow Coast-to-Coast" because she didn't like playing second fiddle to Tom Snyder's first tuba. Johnny Carson was already on the case in his monologue last night. "Snyder's already found a replacement for Rona," Carson said. "Charles Manson." (Snyder interviewed Manson on "Tomorrow" last Friday.)
Rona also said she might even attempt to bolt the "Today" show, the spot for which NBC lured the Diva of Dizz away from ABC's "Good Morning, America" in the first place. Not since John Davidson replaced Mike Douglas was there such a momentous rite of passage.
But then set in the dread and woefully common Rona Syndrome. It used to be known as biting off more than you can chew, even if you have a very big mouth. Miss Rona reached -- for the stars! And not just Burt Reynolds, either. She wanted more than glamor, more than fame, more than daily morning exposure on television with her tattered Tinseltown tidbits.
She wanted RESPECT. Spelled m-o-n-e-y, which is the way they spell everything in Hollywood. So Fred Silverman came up with a great idea. He would put Rona on the "Tomorrow Show" with Tom Snyder as well as on the "Today Show" with Tom Brokaw. This really was Fred Silverman's own idea -- one that ranks right up there with "Number 96" and Sheriff Lobo. But Snyder and Barrett together was one shrieking peacock too many, even for the peacock network.
There was an enormous public tiff, like the one when Jane Cahill Pfeiffer quit as NBC chairman after first loudly refusing to quit. A new format was arrived at (the talks were not held at Camp David -- but if only Baa Wawa had been there to extend the figleaf of peace). Yesterday, however, Miss Rona told UPI, which was all ears, "I agreed to attempt the new format with Tom Snyder at the request of Fred Silverman, but it's never turned into what I thought it was going to be or what my contract stated."
Barrett and Snyder, Miss Rona sputtered, "are philosophically miles apart." Philosophically miles apart! Not since Trotsky and Stalin. Not since Freud and Jung. Not since Blondie had servant trouble.
Maybe Miss Rona meant that she and Snyder were geographically miles apart. He does the show from New York and she does inserts from L.A., land of the freeze-dried brain.
Apparently the uneasy truce was broken when Snyder declined, one blessed recent night, to "throw it to Rona" -- as they say in TV biz -- out on the Coast for her spot. But Rona also did not like the late hour at which she appeared on this late-night show. When a Broadway Baby says good night, it's early in the morning, as they sing in "42nd Street," but Rona was tired of serenading the lobster shift.
"No matter who I got as a guest, no matter how important, they never put me first up," she said. "I even had Billy Graham as a guest and we didn't get the top spot." But Miss Rona, we don't hear Billy complaining!
Snyder, never comfortable, with Betty Boop for a co-star, left Las Vegas yesterday after taping this week's shows and would not comment. Executive producer Roger Ailes said from Vegas, "I have not spoken with Rona and I don't know what the situation is. I know she's been a little bit unhappy and felt constricted by the format. I deeply regret her leaving but I believe that people ought to be where they want to be in life.
"Rona feels she has paid her dues and earned her stripes and that she should have her own show. She is very good at what she does and I appreciate her point of view." Ailes conceded Snyder and Barrett never developed "a good working relationship."
Miss Rona has overreached before. In 1972 she tried writing a novel, "The Lovomaniacs." It was bombs over Burbank. In 1975, she hawked a mail-order record album, "Miss Rona Sings Hollywood's Greatest Hits" in which she discussed some of the All-Time Greats of Show Business (Judy Garland, et al.) and then proceeded to ravage the tunes they were famous for. Critic Tom Donnelly observed that the album deserved "a place near the bottom of the nostalgia barrel."
But that's television for you. It turns cabbage heads into kings. Or queens. Only in television could a person who ought to be squeezing melons at the Hollywood Ranch Market end up on the air, where one is automatically referred to as "talent." Nosiree-sir, there's never been anything like television when it comes to stretching terms.
A famous author, recently Rona's guest on the "Tomorrow Show," asked Rona what her friends called her. "Ro-Ro," she replied. Ro-Ro? Ro-Ro! rRo-Ro, row your boat, gently down the stream. . .