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`The Thorns': new Mike Nichols series is painfully short on laughs

The Thorns ABC, Fridays, 9-9:30 p.m. Stars: Tony Roberts and Kelly Bishop. Creator/chief writer/supervising producer: Allan Leicht. Executive producer: Mike Nichols. Mike Nichols is returning to television with his first TV venture since he co-created ``Family'' in 1976. ``The Thorns'' is a late-season entry that is arriving very late - about two decades too late.

It is a new ``comedy'' series about a status-seeking, pretentious New York City family of nouveau riche characters. Twenty years ago it might have been considered interestingly offbeat; today it is simply another ill-conceived disaster.

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The premi`ere episode, built around the mercy killing of the family dog (which causes the youngest member of the family to react by starting to act like a dog), is distastefully executed: badly written, falteringly directed, haltingly acted, and - perhaps worst of all for a sitcom - excruciatingly unfunny.

Unable to find one likable - even bearable - character in the show, this viewer was antagonized by the entire cast as well as by the laugh-track audience.

In less than half an hour, the program managed to demean or trivialize Chinese-Americans, mothers' helpers, Asian orphans, marital fidelity, mothers-in-law, dignified animal euthanasia, and just about everything else it touched upon.

The score for me was 3 chuckles, 19 pained grimaces.

It is hard to imagine that talented executive producer Mike Nichols had anything at all to do with this mangy piece of work. I hope Nichols will take a hint from the initial script and put the series out of its misery as soon as possible.