When he was a courtside stage manager at the U.S. Open tennis championships, Rob Bruce-Baron tried more stall tactics than John McEnroe nursing a sore ankle. “There was no stipulated agreement between the United States Tennis Association and CBS Sports for official commercial timeouts,” Bruce-Baron recalls of his seven years working the tournament in Flushing Meadows. “Court changeovers were two minutes and we ran four-minute spots.” Dropping change and losing contact lenses were some of his favorite tricks to stretch out the breaks. Australian tennis star Pat Cash once even asked Bruce-Baron to be removed from the court to help speed up play. “I got off with a warning,” laughs Bruce-Baron.
These days it’s Bruce-Baron who’s giving the warnings, usually to talent to prepare for cameras to roll. Working for the same director, Mark Gentile, for the last 18 years, Bruce-Baron has guided talent and crews through a handful of live TV shows, including Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, the Power of 10 and The View. “Mark uses his floor people very much like 1st ADs,” says Bruce-Baron. Along with co-stage manager Phyllis Digiglio, “we’re placing cameras, blocking movements and cueing talent, while the AD is running the control room and building effects.”
Sometimes being on the floor is a trying job in unexpected ways. “On Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, there was no time limit for the contestant to answer the questions,” Bruce-Baron explains. “We were held hostage by one contestant who sat there for an entire hour trying to come up with an answer. I won’t share the headset banter, but suffice to say it was not a very hard question.”
Personality-driven shows like The View present a unique challenge for TV stage managers. Nevermind the backstage turmoil that preceded Rosie O’Donnell’s departure, the show’s hosts rarely, if ever, rehearse segments with their guests. “We have to coordinate stagehands, electric, carpentry, camera and the producers,” says Bruce-Baron. “It’s our job to make sure the segment is perfect when the host sees it for the first time on-the-air.”
Earlier this year, Bruce-Baron switched places to the other side of the headset when he appeared on a segment of The View with two animals from his thriving side business, Rosehaven Alpaca Farms. “My wife and I got into alpaca farming through our attorney,” notes Bruce-Baron. “I’d say the caregiving skills I use in television have been easily transferable.”