Jesse James

Having mostly kept a low profile after a series of tabloid-sized scandals, Jesse James is ready to return to TV. The rebel motorcycle and car customizer will star in The Jesse James Project (working title), a special for Discovery Channel set to air Monday, April 9 at 10 p.m/9c.

The special will serve as a pilot to a new James series that, in success, Discovery —which ran the James-hosted Monster Garage from 2002 to 2006 — is keen on greenlighting. Discovery will air a sneak preview of the new special during next Wednesday's Sons of Guns, which features a guest appearance by James.

James hasn't had a regular series since Jesse James Is A Dead Man, ran on Spike TV in 2009. That was before his headline-grabbing divorce from Sandra Bullock and tumultuous relationship with Kat Von D. Now living in Austin, James is a partner in the Austin Speed Shop, where the new show will be set. "People like to see me build stuff," James says. "The further away from that concept I go, the less popular it is. Let's just go back to basics and build custom bikes and custom cars again."

Discovery first approached him last year about getting back into business together. First up, James agreed in December to compete against American Chopper stars Paul Teutel Jr. and Paul Teutel Sr. on Discovery's live special American Chopper: The Build-Off. Since then, cameras have followed James and his new crew as they rebuilt a 1932 Ford Roadster.

The custom job was done in time for a Bonnie and Clyde-themed reliability run. "We had a month to do it and they did it," James says. "They did what they didn't even think they could do, which is awesome."

James says the Austin Speed Shop crew was not necessarily thrilled with going on camera. "I like guys who don't want to be on TV," he says. "They just want to go to work and do a good job. We'll be a fly on the wall and cover what they do and get their honest feelings, not feed them a bunch of bulls--t. I think it's refreshing to see some of these kids. California and Hollywood brings a kind of pre-programmed state of mind, and Austin doesn't have that. It's real people — a little bit country and a little bit honest."

For the new show, James will work with American Chopper executive producer Craig Piligian, who's producing it through his Pilgrim Films production company. "He makes successful shows that last a long time," James says. "He and I have a great relationship and the show we did is on its way to being really good."

James says the Chopper special went a long way toward re-introducing him to both the channel and viewers. "I think everybody at Discovery and everybody that watches me on TV kind of forgot what a d--khead I am," he says. "How much I tell it like it is. I think they've only seen me on a tabloid level. I don't candy coat anything. You want an honest opinion, I'm going to give it to you."

The star brags: "I think people really dug it, especially Discovery, because I brought a whole new popularity to the network, and they forgot, 'Oh yeah, that's what Jesse does here, he breaks records and melts down our website.'"

James says he's heard rumblings that Discovery would also like to air an American Chopper: The Build-Off rematch. "But I want to compete against some one good," he trash talks.

As for the media frenzy over his personal life, James admits, "they're still chomping at the bit. It's a business, that's how they're making money. Everybody got their free shot; I stood there and took punches from everybody. And guess what, I'm still standing. I've shifted my life around full circle; it became all about my kids first and work second. Everything else is a distant third. For everything that happened, for me to come out way better than I was before is pretty awesome, I think."

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