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NOTHING SO EVEL AS KNIEVEL'S NEW SHOW

Turn your back for a few months, and squatters -- notably the Gotti family and "Dog the Bounty Hunter" -- move into the cable-network home of Jane Austen's reluctant lovers Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy.

Bye-bye costume dramas, hello reality TV.

Joining those interlopers at 10 p.m. Tuesday on A&E is a new series which would be of a kind with its predecessors if it weren't for the enigmatic star of the show, second-generation daredevil Robbie Knievel.

Yes, son of Evel, leaper of cars, canyons and such. He smiles broadly, laughs easily and seems to thrive on the attention brought his way by "Knievel's Wild Ride."

"Yeah, they just follow us around," he said by phone from a hotel room somewhere in Manhattan last week. "We don't do anything special for them. They want this to be real, and it is real, if you saw it.

"There's a lot of bleeping."

Indeed, the unscripted conversations, one in particular after a biker bar scrap, are nothing if not long strings of bleeps.

It's all part of the panoply, a pageant that stretches all the way back to the gladiators, Knievel says, "Men needing to prove themselves. The cowboys in the old West, too."

He laughs, then sobers at the thought of his dad, from whom he has been estranged but recently reconciled: "I look at him sitting on his bus before an appearance. He's in pain, he's doing oxygen (the elder Knievel has a debilitating lung disease), and I ask him, 'Dad, why do you keep doing this to yourself?' He says he just loves his fans."

It's not about the mechanics or the engineering or even the achievement, the younger (he's 40-something) Knievel says: "They talk about technology today, but things can still go wrong. You can still black out from G-forces, and it only takes a few seconds. No, it's about the people, and the more the better. I like it when it looks like an ocean of heads. It makes it easier to perform."

Knievel says people always ask him if he considers himself a daredevil, "So I finally looked it up, and I guess I am bold and reckless like it says. I grew up with a pretty wild father -- did my first jump when I was 10 because I just wanted to live up to the name.

"I don't have a death wish, but if I die, I don't want it to be from liver disease."

Knievel will have close to 10 chances to tempt fate this year, most of them on "Knievel's Wild Ride."

Jane Austen must be twirling in her grave.

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