At issue is whether Keith Olbermann controls the 8 PM (ET) time slot on Current — or just his show, Countdown With Keith Olbermann, which typically fills the hour. I’m told that the commentator and his powerhouse lawyer Patricia Glaser are reviewing his contract to decide how to proceed after Current preempted his show last night to cover the Republican caucuses in Iowa with Al Gore, Jennifer Granholm, and Cenk Uygur. Olbermann isn’t on board yet to contribute to next week’s coverage of the New Hampshire primary, although Current still wants him to participate. But something would have to give: The control issue was a big deal for Olbermann last year when he left MSNBC and joined Current as an anchor and chief news officer. Current also believes that it has the right to shape its coverage of special events, and has a unique opportunity this year to make a splash by having Gore — a former vice president, and the channel’s co-founder – as part of the mix.

The rift has been building since mid-November when Current president David Bohrman broached the idea of having Olbermann lead the network’s team coverage. The commentator opted to have Countdown run per usual and said on his December 22 broadcast that he’d be back after the holidays “live, live, live” for the Iowa caucus results. Olbermann continued with his plan until yesterday when Bohrman told staffers in a memo: ”There will be NO stand-alone Countdown tonight. For those of you at work who might be preparing a program, I apologize your managers did not communicate this to you.” The memo added that “Keith was asked to be the sole anchor and executive producer of our primary and caucus coverage. He declined.” Olbermann says he was “not given a legitimate opportunity to host under acceptable conditions.”

If both sides dig in their heels, then the dispute will come down to an interpretation of the wording in Olbermann’s contract. And it was crafted in part by someone who’s an expert in TV contract disputes: Glaser not only negotiated for Olbermann when he left MSNBC, she helped Conan O’Brien win a $45M settlement for himself and his staff in 2010 when NBC replaced him on The Tonight Show.

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