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‘P.O.V’ offers tale from the South

Kevin McDonough United Feature Syndicate

Veteran documentary filmmaker Ross McElwee likes to talk about himself and the South, roughly in that order.

And for the patient viewer, his epic-length movies are invariably fascinating, maddeningly self-involved and whimsically profound.

“P.O.V.” (10 p.m., KSPS) presents McElwee’s latest work, “Bright Leaves,” a meditation on the filmmaker’s roots in the tobacco country of North Carolina.

According to McElwee family lore, their ancestor returned from the Civil War and developed the bright leaf tobacco plant that flourished in North Carolina soil. But the elder McElwee fell victim to the financial and legal machinations of the Duke family, and while the Dukes became the Rockefellers of the South, establishing cigarette empires and founding Duke University, the McElwees fell into obscurity.

Early in the movie, McElwee’s cousin, an obsessive film buff, informs him that Hollywood once chronicled his family’s fallen fortunes in a 1950 potboiler called “Bright Leaf,” starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal.

So McElwee sets out to learn as much as he can about the film, his family’s tobacco-growing past, and the impact of tobacco on the lives and lungs of Southern smokers.

Along the way, he interviews a long-winded film theorist who dismisses the significance of “Bright Leaf,” and Patricia Neal, who politely refuses to agree with McElwee, who sees the film as a kind of “home movie” documenting her affair with co-star Cooper.

The filmmaker also roots around in the old buildings that once belonged to the McElwee tobacco company. One has been turned into a hair salon where employees are forbidden to smoke.

After much rumination, he finds the widow of the man who wrote the novel “Bright Leaf” upon which the film was based, and she adds a few more mysteries to the director’s family legend.

McElwee has a knack for finding interview subjects who are as eccentric and articulate as himself. His films are not for everyone, but if you don’t mind spending time with a very thoughtful storyteller who has a very long tale to tell, pull up a chair and lend an ear.

Ashley Judd and India.Arie lend their celebrity to the cause of ending AIDS in Africa in the special “Tracking the Monster” (8 p.m., VH1).

“Gutted” on “Wide Angle” (9 p.m., KSPS) follows a family of Scottish fishermen who have seen their livelihoods and traditions threatened by overfishing and increased European Union regulations.

Other highlights

On two episodes of “House” (Fox), an expectant mother’s bad news (8 p.m.), and a 12-year-old’s surprising illness (9 p.m.).

On back-to-back episodes of “Gilmore Girls” (WB), Rory’s misgivings (8 p.m.), and Luke’s ulterior motives (9 p.m.).

“Taste of America with Mark DeCarlo” (8 p.m., Travel) celebrates the cuisine of Charleston, S.C.

“Real Sports” (9 p.m., HBO) profiles controversial NFL receiver Randy Moss.

A tough day for Fin on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (10 p.m., NBC).

The firm downsizes on “Boston Legal” (10 p.m., ABC).

Cult choice

Robby Benson and Glynnis O’Connor star in the 1976 drama adapted from Bobby Gentry’s 1967 country song “Ode to Billy Joe” (8 p.m., CMT), directed by Max Baer Jr., who played Jethro on “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

Series notes

A buried scene of domestic horror on “NCIS” (8 p.m., CBS) … Motley matriculation on “Tommy Lee Goes to College” (9 p.m., NBC) … On two episodes of “According to Jim” (ABC), time flies (8 p.m.), and gender roles (9 p.m.) … Spirit steps out on “One on One” (8 p.m., UPN).

On two episodes of “Rodney” (ABC), first impressions (8:30 p.m.), and a surprise visitor (9:30 p.m.) … False fronts on “Eve” (8:30 p.m., UPN).

Julie Chen hosts on “Big Brother 6” (9 p.m., CBS) … The search continues on “R U the Girl” (9 p.m., UPN) … Hoop dreams on “The Office” (9:30 p.m., NBC) … Auditions continue on “Rock Star: INXS” (10 p.m., CBS).

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