On NBC's "Wings," Thomas Haden Church's character of Lowell Mather may act dumb and talk dumb, but the actor says that behind that thick skull wheels are turning.

"No one attempts to understand Lowell," Church says. "He's not dumb. He's innocent, truthful and straightforward. Some people perceive that as stupidity, as being out of it."If you look past that I think you will discover a very complex character. Look at Brian, for instance. He's supposed to be a skirt-chasing wiseguy. But Steven Weber has been able to shade that and develop his character. Lowell's not a lovable nincompoop. He's sweet and innocent, but not without an edge. He'll come up with a little whiplash of his own."

"Wings" follows "Cheers" on NBC on Thursday, and in a sense came out of that hit comedy. Its creators and executive producers, David Angell, Peter Casey and David Lee, had worked on "Cheers." Church's character of Lowell Mather grew out of a character he had played on "Cheers."

Church originally auditioned for the role of Brian Hackett, who with his brother Joe runs a small commuter airline on the island of Nantucket. Lowell Mather is the airport's airplane mechanic.

"He's heavily based on a hockey player I did on `Cheers,' who was a teammate of Carla's husband," Church says. "He has that deadpan look, slightly vacuous delivery."

Many comedy series are shaky when they begin and take a while for the concept and characters to develop. "Wings" soared on its first solo flight. All of the characters had their eccentricities, complexes and neuroses in place, although they have evolved and explored new areas.

The show centers on the flying Hackett brothers, played by Timothy Daly and Steven Weber, and Helen Chapell, played by Crystal Bernard. Daly's character Joe is compulsively neat and organized. Weber's Brian is simply compulsive and yields to his glands. Helen is a failed cellist and childhood friend who runs the airport lunch counter.

Other characters are David Schramm as the blustery owner of a rival airline, Rebecca Schull as a former airline stewardess who is still perky in her 60s, and Tony Shaloub as an immigrant taxi driver pursuing the American dream.

During time off from the series Church took a guest staring role in a pilot for a new Fox series called "Flying Blind." It stars Corey Parker.

Church was born in California, but grew up in various parts of Texas as his family moved. His birth name was McMillen, but he took his stepfather's name of Quesada. He changed it to Thomas Haden Church "because nobody could spell Quesada or pronounce it." He says Haden and Church are in the family tree.

"I dropped out of high school about 1977 and worked in the oil fields in Louisiana as a roughneck," he says. He returned to get his high school diploma, then attended North Texas State. During that time he lived in Dallas, because it was easier to find work, and commuted to school in Denton.

A casting director persuaded him to move to Los Angeles in 1988 and get into acting. His first role was on "Cheers," but he also played a sociopath in the feature movie "Stolen Moments." He appeared on many television series, including "China Beach," "21 Jump Street" and "Booker," where he was a recurring character.