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Keith Olbermann rejoins ESPN with late-night sports show

By Eric Kelsey

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Keith Olbermann and ESPN are going to try it again, this time with a late-night show that will steer clear of the liberal political commentary that gained him a following on U.S. television, the Disney-owned sports network said on Wednesday.

Olbermann, 54, who is as famous for his acrimonious departures from ESPN, MSNBC and Current TV as for his sharp tongue and wit, vowed to make amends for any bridges he burned during his first split with the network in 1997.

"I don't want that to be in the obituary. I don't want that to be the end of the story," Olbermann said during a media conference call.

"We can't go back and undo everything that was done 20 years ago in those environs," added Olbermann, who also appeared on ESPN Radio between 2005 and 2007.

Olbermann's 11 p.m. ET show, which will be called "Olbermann" and debut on August 26 on the network's sister channel ESPN2, will feature guests and commentary on sports, ESPN President John Skipper said, adding that the show will not delve into politics.

"If politics happens to intersect with sports ... we would expect Keith to have some point of view there," he said.

Bringing Olbermann back into the fold at the network is a low-risk move, especially at such a late hour on lower-rated ESPN2, Sports Illustrated media writer Richard Deitsch said.

"The time slot on the network he's going to has been the graveyard of a lot of late-night programs," Deitsch said. "It's not like he's replacing '60 Minutes' or 'American Idol.'"

ESPN, which gets the bulk of its audience during live sporting events, often pushes secondary programming to ESPN2.

Olbermann last had his own program on little-watched public affairs cable network Current TV for about a year before being fired in 2012 for breach of contract.

Current TV, which has since been purchased by Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera and rebranded as Al Jazeera America, claimed Olbermann had tried to sabotage the network and had taken several unauthorized absences. Olbermann and the network later settled dueling lawsuits over his departure.

Olbermann, who helped Comcast Corp's MSNBC rise in the ratings with his liberal commentary, left the network in 2011 shortly after a suspension for not gaining the network's prior approval before making political donations.

"It's a very big name for that place (ESPN) and he draws a lot of attention, good and bad," Deitsch said. "They could use someone who could create some conversation."

Olbermann began at ESPN in 1992 and rose to prominence for his catchphrases and banter with co-anchor Dan Patrick on the network's flagship sports news show, "SportsCenter."

He left for the first time in 1997 after a suspension by the network and later feuded publicly with ESPN.

Olbermann has also hosted sports shows on NBC, Fox and will host a studio show on baseball later this year for Time Warner's TBS.

(Reporting by Eric Kelsey; Editing by Patricia Reaney and Eric Beech)

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