The more specific the focus, the more interesting the documentary. "The Tailenders" on "P.O.V." (9 p.m., PBS) looks at a phenomenon few of us have ever heard of, yet raises questions that are profound, spiritual and truly global in scope.
Founded in 1939, Global Recordings Network has produced recordings of the Bible and Bible lessons in more than 5,500 languages and thousands of dialects. They have distributed these recordings through missionaries carrying devices handcrafted for proselytizing in remote places. We see crude phonographs made out of cardboard, tape players that use a hand crank and other ingenious inventions. The title "Tailenders" refers to the evangelists' potential audience, the very last people on earth who have not heard the gospel.
"Tailenders" also discusses the relationship between missionaries and global capitalism, and the modern merging of religion, technology and marketing. Are the folks at Global "saving" these obscure languages or helping to destroy the cultures that create and sustain them?
¢ How long has Hugh Hefner been around? A light-year removed from the pathetic train wreck "The Girls Next Door" (Sunday nights, E!), the new DVD compilation of Hefner's legendary "Playboy After Dark" series (on sale today) offers a mind-boggling time capsule of celebrities, fashion, music, dance, decor and people pretending to have a really groovy time.
The three-disk set includes black-and-white party scenes from the 1950s, including Lenny Bruce, Ella Fitzgerald, Cy Coleman, Jerry Lewis, Sammy Davis Jr. and Nat King Cole sharing cocktails and piano seats.
But this Rat Pack-era camaraderie is merely a baroque prelude to the rococo craziness of the late 1960s. Where else could Canned Heat and Vic Damone share the same microphone? Or Linda Ronstadt and Billy Eckstine duet? Larry Storch ("F Troop") offers impersonations while Dick Shawn ("The Producers") puts down rock and roll.
Despite the Playboy connection, "After Dark" seems remarkably chaste by today's standards - free of foul language and revealing outfits. With its garish colors and jaw-dropping juxtapositions, it would make a perfect companion to "The Lawrence Welk Show" reruns now in steady rotation on PBS. Think of it as a bourbon chaser to all that champagne music.
Tonight's other highlights
¢ Julie Chen never fails to get the big scoop on "Big Brother: All Stars" (7 p.m., CBS).
¢ On back-to-back episodes of "House" (Fox), an addict's dark secrets (7 p.m.), House "cures" the dead to save the living (8 p.m.).
¢ On two episodes of "Veronica Mars" (UPN), Jackie's plight moves Veronica (7 p.m.), exposing a blackmail ring (8 p.m.).
¢ "Wide Angle" (8 p.m., PBS) looks at graduation day at a school for female imams.
¢ Murder attends a high-school reunion in the British TV mystery "If I Had You" (8 p.m., BBC America).
¢ Scheduled on "48 Hours Mystery" (9 p.m., CBS): A teen's bloody dream may be too real.