Are fussin’ feudin’ and fightin’ as American as apple pie? Or strictly show business?
“The Feud” on “American Experience” (9 p.m., PBS, TV-PG) explores some of the historical facts behind one of America’s most enduring legends. Tales of a murderous battle between the Hatfields and the McCoys are known to many who live far from the Appalachian Mountains. The documentary begins with an extended clip of a “Bugs Bunny” cartoon riffing on the family battle.
For more than a century, the Hatfield-McCoy saga has fed into stereotypes about mountain people as savage, uncivilized and prone to settle scores with violence.
The story that emerges in “The Feud” is more complicated. It’s one of rural people displaced from their way of life as 19th-century America became increasingly industrialized. The fact that members of both families fought on opposite sides in the Civil War did not help matters.
According to experts and historians interviewed here, the legends of Hatfield and McCoy enmity were exaggerated by many of the investors and bankers trying to buy up the land for coal and railroad interests. It was far easier to pass yourself off as a civilizing force “saving” Appalachia from innate savagery than as outsiders trying to exploit the region and despoil its natural beauty.
While mainly concerned with events in the second half of the 19th century, “The Feud” has great resonance in our time, when books like “Hillbilly Elegy” cling to the best-seller lists.
It’s also interesting to see how popular culture seizes on the violence of “vendetta” stories. While culturally very dissimilar, the Hatfield and McCoy trope parallels the myths that propel movies like “The Godfather Part II.”
• “Frontline” (10 p.m., PBS) explores new facets of a familiar story. To many, “Flint’s Deadly Water” crisis is an infrastructure problem, a question of aging lead pipes leaching toxins into a city’s faucets. But “Deadly” reveals that the city also suffered from an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease and that many people have suffered from a severe form of pneumonia caused by waterborne bacteria. Worse, it seems that many officials who were slow to react to the lead problem have been equally reluctant to discuss Legionnaire’s.
This “Frontline” reflects years of research, including interviews with state and city officials, internal emails and a thorough analysis of every death record since the beginning of the city’s water disaster. That’s what’s called diligent reporting.
• Seen on the AT&T Audience Network, the Stephen King adaptation “Mr. Mercedes” (10 p.m.) enters its third season.
TV-themed DVDs available today include “This Is Us: Season 3.”
Tonight’s other highlights
• Semifinals unfold on “America’s Got Talent” (8 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).
• A murdered agent’s story unravels on “FBI” (9 p.m., CBS, R, TV-PG).
• Rachel Lindsay (“The Bachelorette”) and Travis Mills host “Ghosted: Love Gone Missing” (9 p.m., MTV, TV-14).
• Attempted murder at the museum on “NCIS: New Orleans” (10 p.m., CBS, R, TV-14).
• Finalists get one last chance to impress judges on “Bring the Funny” (10 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
• Bishop hopes a rival church might woo Mae and the entire congregation on “Greenleaf” (10 p.m., OWN, TV-14).
• EZ and Angel spell trouble on “Mayans M.C.” (10 p.m., FX, TV-MA).
• A suicide hotline operator (Sidney Poitier) tries to distract a woman (Anne Bancroft) until help arrives in the 1965 thriller “The Slender Thread” (10:15 p.m., TCM, TV-PG). A debut for director Sydney Pollack, it features a great score by Quincy Jones.
Grace under fire on “NCIS” (8 p.m., CBS, R, TV-14) ... Money woes on “The Resident” (8 p.m., Fox, R, TV-14) ... Luke must choose between four women on “Bachelor in Paradise” (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) ... Lost in space on “Pandora” (8 p.m., CW, TV-PG).
Cameras capture the season finale of “First Responders Live” (9 p.m., Fox, TV-14) ... Area 51 needs explaining on “Mysteries Decoded” (9 p.m., CW, TV-PG) ... On two episodes of “The Conners” (ABC, R, TV-PG), man trouble (10 p.m.), Darlene discombobulates (10:30 p.m.).
Sona Movsesian appears on “Conan” (11 p.m., TBS, R) ... Jimmy Fallon welcomes Jennifer Lopez, Russell Westbrook and Solange on “The Tonight Show” (11:35 p.m., NBC).