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Primary issues for Olbermann, Current

Newsie will skip New Hamphire, but net says he'll be in on other primaries

After a very public falling out with MSNBC last year, Current TV hired Keith Olbermann at great expense (reportedly $50 million over five years, including a stake in the tiny cabler). But last Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses came and went without Olbermann weighing in for Current.

Now, Olbermann is deferring participation in the New Hampshire primary as well, citing a “preplanned vacation” during one of the biggest political events of the primary season. David Shuster is filling in on “Countdown” this week, the network said.

Olbermann, who communicated with both the press (and apparently his colleagues at Current) largely through Twitter, said he was “informed Countdown will not be on tonight” on Jan. 3. “I must defer on all questions to @JoelHyatt @AlGore and @Current.” Olbermann was invited to participate in the caucuses but appeared to have declined to do so without informing the staff of his show.

For followers of the journo’s career, the story sounded awfully familiar. Last year saw Olbermann’s abrupt departure from the Peacock’s news cabler, where the network had more or less built its primetime schedule around “Countdown” — a schedule that can now stand on its own but depended heavily on Olbermann’s rabble-rousing commentary in its early years.

Current, obviously, hopes to replicate that success — no mean feat, considering that the network doesn’t have a wealthy parent company to absorb any missteps. And, until recently, things looked good. The show brought viewers from MSNBC and sparked new growth in a network that has been batting cleanup on the Nielsen ranker more or less since its founding.

With Olbermann drawing attention, Current hired David Bohrman, formerly chief innovation officer at CNN, to help the network build a larger news operation. Many have questioned whether the hire rankled with Olbermann, who was announced last June in a managerial role at the network in addition to his on-air position.

According to sources at both other publications and in the cable news world, however, Olbermann has grown unhappy with frequent technical glitches that plague “Countdown” in its new home.

Current, for its part, seems anxious to let everyone know that tensions eased over the weekend, but the network is now in the position of having to ask nicely, at least if it wants further participation from its flagship show’s leading personality.

“Keith has agreed to host future special election coverage on Current,” the net said on Monday via a spokeswoman. “We hope that this will start after New Hampshire. We’re looking forward to insightful and impactful 2012 election analysis.”

Olbermann confirmed (on Twitter, of course) that he’ll continue to cover the election for the net, but it’s not clear what form that coverage will take.

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