NEW YORK (AP) _ During a lull in the arguing, moderator Hal Bruno warily surveyed the three vice presidential candidates in Tuesday night's debate.

''I was a little bit worried that there might not be a free-flowing discussion tonight,'' said Bruno, ABC's director of political coverage. That got a laugh from the Georgia Tech audience.

For 90 minutes, Bruno had his hands full orchestrating a free-for-all between Vice President Dan Quayle, Sen. Al Gore, D-Tenn., and James Stockdale.

Good debating? Hmmmm. Good TV? Definitely.

''Who am I? What am I doing here?'' asked Stockdale, introducing himself. Perhaps he meant it. Ross Perot's running mate at times seemed quite out of phase with the TV show. Quayle and Gore went after each other ferociously.

Perhaps it was the single moderator format that let them question each other. Or perhaps it was Quayle and Gore trying to score a knockout with every verbal blow. Something got them in each other's face.

Quayle and Gore were pumped for the occasion. Quayle was smiling and seeming to be enjoying himself. Gore was cool, poised and faintly scornful of the vice president.

''You know what you're doing?'' Quayle demanded of the Democrat, accusing Gore of misrepresenting his own record. ''You're pulling a Bill Clinton on me 3/8'' All told, Quayle accused Gore of pulling three Bill Clintons.

Quayle chided Gore: ''Lighten up here, Al.'' Then, later: ''Take a breath, Al 3/8 Inhale 3/8''

''Let me talk now 3/8 It's going to be a long evening if you go on like this,'' Gore said a bit more than an hour into the exchange.

''I'm out of ammunition on this one,'' Stockdale said, after Quayle and Gore squared off on health care legislation.

During back-and-forth on abortion, Quayle and Gore simultaneously accused the other of avoiding the question. ''I feel like I'm an observer at a ping pong game,'' Stockdale complained. ''Let's move on to something substantive.''

The debate was the first in the format the Presidential Commission on Debates had wanted all along: A single moderator asks each question, each candidate gets 75 seconds to respond, followed by five minutes of open debate.

In the next debate, a single moderator will solicit questions from the audience and ask ''appropriate'' followup questions. The final debate will have a single moderator for the first half and a panel for the second half.

Bruno seemed to like Tuesday's format. ''We throw out the topic and have a tendency to drift,'' Bruno told the candidates midway through. ''But I think it makes for a healthy exchange.''