Imagine P.T. Barnum on a motorcycle, a flying Elvis and Elmer Gantry rolled into one, then broadcast on "ABC's Wide World of Sports," and you have dare-
devil exhibitionist Evel Knievel. He's the subject of the hourlong profile "Pure Evel: American Legend" (10 p.m., Discovery, TV-14).
"Evel" interviews childhood friends, former colleagues and business associates to paint a portrait of a singularly driven huckster and cunning showman who knew that spectacular failure and the prospect of maiming or even death could sell more tickets than the ele-
gant completion of a daring jump.
After badgering the management of a Las Vegas casino to allow him to jump over its signature fountains, Knievel parlayed his subsequent crash into fame, milking reports of his hospitalization, near-death and coma for maximum exposure.
As "Evel" makes clear, Knievel not only had a dark side, but he exploited the unconscious bloodlust of the highway rubbernecker in his audience. He knew that many fans attended races to see the fatal crashes, and he tried to give them their money's worth.
For all of his motorized stunts and televised spectacles, Knievel's chief source of income was from licensing his image to toy companies. Children loved his seemingly indestructible nature. He was like a Road Runner cartoon come to life. Parents admired his anti-drug bromides and his star-spangled patriotic image.
Around the time of his infamous 1974 Snake River Canyon jump, reports of Knievel's excesses started to emerge.
private hedonist of enormous appetites, he began to lash out in public, upbraiding his staff and beating up reporters on his tour bus.
After a former colleague wrote a tell-all book, Knievel pummeled him with a baseball bat, sending him to the hospital. A jail sentence followed, toy companies dropped him, and Knievel the exhibitionist suffered the greatest punishment of all: obscurity.
Like many a public scoundrel, Knievel would try to turn his redemption into an extravaganza, appearing before a glitzy televangelist in his 60s to announce his "born again" ways. According to one colleague, Knievel even saw this sacred ceremony as showbiz. Just months later he was dead.
Like many infamous showmen, Knievel's "legend" survives him. He is continually referenced on "The Simpsons." It's fitting that a human cartoon character has returned to his natural medium.
---Speaking of middle age, "POV" (10 p.m., PBS, TV-PG) presents "56 Up," the latest installment in filmmaker Michael Apted's remarkable "Up" documentary series.
In 1964, Apted spoke with 14 7-year-olds from a wide spectrum of British society. The interviews were compiled into the short documentary "Seven Up." Since then, he's revisited and filmed most of them every seven years for nearly half a century, following them through life's milestones. Some have become bitter about the films; others enjoy their strange "celebrity."
Warning: Watching these films can become habit-forming. And, like Evel Knievel, they have been worked into a "Simpsons" parody.
---A dying man's inspirational videos leave a trail of evidence on "Bones" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
---The San Diego Chargers host the Indianapolis Colts on "Monday Night Football" (8:25 p.m., ESPN).
---A young stranger returns on "Sleepy Hollow" (9 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
---Impoverished New Yorkers turn to recycling bottles and cans for spare change in the 2012 documentary "Redemption" (9:40 p.m., HBO).
---Brian and Ellen hatch an escape plan on "Hostages" (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
---Red offers a theory about a missing witness on "The Blacklist" (10 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
---A murder suspect takes a hostage on "Castle" (10 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
A married couple (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman) enter a sexual demimonde in director Stanley Kubrick's languid 1999 drama "Eyes Wide Shut" (10:15 p.m., IFC, TV-MA), his final film.
---Barney feels conflicted on "How I Met Your Mother" (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
---The battle rounds get started on "The Voice" (8 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).
---Alabama's most eligible bachelor emerges on "Hart of Dixie" (8 p.m., CW, TV-14).
---Things perk up on "2 Broke Girls" (8:30 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
---Tall, dark and dangerous on "Beauty and the Beast" (9 p.m., CW, TV-14).
---Bonnie confronts her nemesis on "Mom" (9:30 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
---Steven Yeun, Eric Andre and Aparna Nancherla appear on "Conan" (11 p.m., TBS).
---Loni Love guest hosts Nelly, Chris Franjola, Arden Myrin and Gary Valentine on "Chelsea Lately" (11 p.m., E!).
---Stephen Rannazzisi and Baron Vaughn are booked on
"Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell" (11 p.m., FXX).
---Tom Arnold, Laura Prepon and Ron Isley appear on "The Ar senio Hall Show" (WPMT, WPHL).
---Ray Romano and James Franco appear on "Late Show With David Letterman" (11:35 p.m., CBS).
---Jay Leno hosts Sandra Bullock on "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC, r).
---Woody Harrelson, Ke$ha and Ben Rector appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (11:35 p.m., ABC).
---Ben Affleck, Mindy Kaling and the Pixies visit "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" (12:35 a.m., NBC, r).
---Craig Ferguson hosts Malin Akerman, Jo Nesbo and Vintage Trouble on "The Late Late Show" (12:35 a.m., CBS).
Kevin McDonough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.