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Commuting on a Bus
A character who at one point was a major character on a show but is now down graded to a recurring character. This is not quite as extreme as being Demoted to Extra or even Put on a Bus, but it can be the first step. This could be because the arc that featured that character has come to an end or, much more likely, the actor is getting ready to leave and this is an excuse to phone in another season. Expect said character to possibly be in every episode, but with drastically less screen time than they used to have, or now only appear every few episodes. Often accomplished by the character getting a promotion, moving farther away, put into a coma, etc.

Compare The Bus Came Back, where the downgraded character only returns once. Compare also with Out of Focus.

Opposite of Fake Guest Star, as the actor often has their billing copy-pasted from a previous season's credits.


Examples:

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     Anime and Manga  

  • Princess Cornelia li Britannia was a major character throughout Season 1 of Code Geass. After being Put on a Bus (sorta; her fate was left ambiguous for a while) at the end of the first season, she returned much later in R2. Aside from one memorable encounter in the middle of the season, she spends most of her time standing around and commenting on her brother Schneizel's moves.
  • In following seasons of Sailor Moon, any new characters introduced in the previous season will often get a lot less screen time. Namely Saturn, Uranus and Neptune at the end of their respective arc, and Usagi/Serena's non-magical classmates from the first season.
  • If you are a Lyrical Nanoha character and not Nanoha or Fate, you will first be subject to this before finally being Demoted to Extra. Except during ViVid, however, as both Nanoha and Fate have very minor roles in the manga and only serve to promote fanservice, while characters introduced in StrikerS and ViVid get far more attention.
  • Most of the cast of Dragon Ball Z were downgraded to second tier after the Saiyan saga, including Yamcha, Tenshinhan, Chiaotzu, Bulma, Master Roshi, Oolong, and Puar. Tenshinhan and Chiaotzu eventually completely disappear, minus a cameo in the Buu saga, and in GT Yamcha only appears in eye catches and a cameo in two episodes.
  • Team Rocket as of the Best Wishes iteration of the Pokémon anime. This was due to major Character Development and the undoing of their comedic schpeiel as the Goldfish Poop Gang into a more serious threat. Their once-an-episode appearances were downplayed in response to this.
  • Mamiya of Fist of the North Star was initially introduced as an Action Girl counterpart to Kenshiro and Rei who, while lacking the same martial arts training as her male counterparts, could hold her own against most of the thugs she faced. She gradually became less of a major character and more of a romantic interest for Rei as the series progressed and the enemies faced by Ken and Rei became tougher. When Rei was killed off at the end of the Yuda arc, Mamiya was demoted from a main character to a semi-recurring one, making only a couple of later appearances in the manga and TV series.
  • The title character of A Certain Magical Index is only a major character for the first arc and maybe one afterwords, but she continues to show up regularly due to her living with the protagonist.

     Comic Books  

  • This is extremely common for superheroes in shared universe settings whose solo titles are canceled.

     Live Action Television  

  • Happened in Supernatural many times, most notably Castiel in season 6-7.
  • Bonnie from The Vampire Diaries is increasingly absent from episodes, or has scenes where her only "appearance" is a phone-call.
  • Jimmy McNulty from The Wire in season four, going from being the defacto star in the first three seasons. The actor playing McNulty wanted some time off to do film and theater and spend time with his family, this was explained in series by him deciding to leave the Major Crimes Unit after his adversary was killed before he could take him down, becoming a patrolman and mending his ways while he was at it. He got off the bus in season five, though.
  • Richard Dean Anderson's final season as a regular on Stargate SG-1 had him promoted to general where he had vastly reduced screen time.
  • On Stargate Atlantis Weir and Ford did this before being dropped entirely Weir's actress could not return to do any more episodes (despite the writers having plans for a longer arc involving her), so they pulled (another) The Other Darrin on her (the character's 2nd time; disappointing the fans who hoped the 1st actress would be brought back) before having her Put on a Bus. Ford just wasn't very interesting to them, so despite bringing him back several times he was eventually dropped.
  • Buffyverse:
    • Cordelia spent a good portion of her last season of Angel in a coma despite nominally being in the opening cast. In fact, the Cordelia we had been seeing for most of the fourth season wasn't exactly Cordelia, strictly speaking, but was her being controlled by a God-like entity. Furthermore, she spends half of Season 3 on vacation with Groo, and so does not appear then either. She later came Back for the Dead in the 100th Episode, but was later revealed to be Dead All Along.
    • Speaking of Angel, his last season on Buffy the Vampire Slayer had very reduced screen time (though being in hell is quite a commute.)
    • This also happened to Giles in the last two seasons of Buffy.
      • Also interesting, because the actor was literally commuting (from Britain).
  • Jack McCoy on Law & Order after getting promoted to DA. Interestingly, this was at Sam Waterston's request—when Fred Dalton Thompson left, Waterston campaigned pretty hard for McCoy to get the promotion. Since the DA doesn't personally prosecute cases, this naturally meant a massive reduction in screen time.
  • On House, Doctors Cameron and Chase were fired from the title character's team at the end of Season 3. In Season 4 they were shown to have taken new jobs at the hospital, while House recruited a new team.
    • Season 6 has a lot of bus jumps. Following on from above, Cameron found a long-distance bus to jump onto, while Chase has jumped off the commuting bus and back into the cast.
    • Happens again with Thirteen in Season 7: she was billed as main cast, but only appeared in a handful of episodes at the beginning and end of the season, with the claim that she was taking an extended break from work. Though it later turned out she was, in fact, in prison for six months after helping her brother commit assisted suicide. Her absence was due to Olivia Wilde's film career suddenly taking off and her needing a leave of absence to film TRON: Legacy and Cowboys and Aliens. She's Put on a Bus more securely for Season 8, and becomes a Special Guest Star for her three or four appearances in that season.
  • In the seventh season of Red Dwarf, Arnold Rimmer only appeared in person in two episodes, then was relegated to flashbacks, dream sequences and - in one memorable case - a theme park ride based on his own diaries. The actor playing him, Chris Barrie, had decided to leave the show and had a very limited schedule, so he agreed to appear in a handful of episodes (and sequences that could be filmed out of order, such as ADR or flashbacks).
  • This started happening to Kimberly in season three of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. She had her powers drained halfway through after being captured by Kat Hillard. Since Amy Jo Johnson actually told Saban she was going to quit beforehand, instead of clumsy camera tricks and an abrupt Suspiciously Similar Substitute, half the season was spent slowly easing her character out of the Pink Ranger position and setting up her successor.
    • After Skull was Put on a Bus in Lost Galaxy, the writers apparently had trouble coming up with material for Bulk on his own. He only appears in a few episodes despite being in the opening credits.
  • Very prevalent in the weird final season of Welcome Back, Kotter. Mr. Kotter only makes fleeting appearances, due to actor Gabe Kaplan not being very happy with the show. No one acted as though it were at all unusual that Mr. Kotter hardly seemed to be around any more. In fact, Gabe Kaplan still got top billing. At least Barbarino, who was also absent that season because John Travolta was doing movies, was explained away as having dropped out of school. To preserve some semblance of familiarity, the previously stay-at-home Mrs. Kotter became the Sweathogs' new adult supervisor in her role as the school secretary, or something.
  • Josh has been in ONE episode of season 3 of 30 Rock. He's supposed to be a cast member of the Show Within a Show (and the only one who writes too), but hasn't been seen in writers meetings or on stage in forever.
    • This was eventually lampshaded before driving him to the bus station and replacing him with a new cast member in Season 4.
  • On Chicago Hope, Mandy Patinkin got sick of being away from his family by the demands of the show, so Dr. Jeffrey Geiger was reduced to making a few guest appearances each season.
  • Terri Schuester during the second season of Glee. The season had 22 episodes. She appeared in 6, and one of these appearances was literally a five-second cameo. She was dropped from the cast beginning with Season 3.
  • Noah Wyle as John Carter on ER. Eventually, he moved to the Congo. Then he moved back for the final season.
  • Degrassi The Next Generation started with characters in the seventh and eighth grade, and moved along with them on through high school. Degrassi, of course, is the name of the school. With the exception of Snake, none of the original characters remain on the show. Give them credit for avoiding the California University route, although they did send about half of the characters to the same university (the fictional Banting).
  • Done by necessity with some characters from Last of the Summer Wine due to the actors' age catching up with them.
  • During the final season of The Bob Newhart Show, there are several episodes where Newhart himself has only one scene, which is not shared with any other characters (allowing him to perform one of his trademark one-sided telephone conversations).
  • Steven Hill was originally the main star of Mission: Impossible, but partway through the first season (after his returning to his roots of Orthodox Judaism meant that he refused to work after sundown on Fridays) he was downgraded to only appearing in a couple scenes per episode.
  • Though still listed as a main cast member, LOST's Desmond was pretty much commuting on a bus to make brief appearances in a few episodes in the fifth season. Still listed as a main cast member (on the episodes, not in the press releases) in season six... he showed up in the first episode, but didn't show up again until the second half of the season.
  • After Don Knotts' departure from The Andy Griffith Show as a regular, his character of Barney Fife was brought back as a guest for at least one episode in each of the remaining seasons.
  • In Doctor Who, after Jack Harkness left the TARDIS and subsequently joined Torchwood, he made return appearances in the third and fourth series' season finales. Similarly, both Martha and Rose returned for the series 4 finale (along with Martha making prior guest appearances in both Doctor Who and Torchwood) after officially "leaving" their roles of companion.
    • River Song, after her introduction in Silence in the Library hops trips on the TARDIS for an episode or two, only to get off at the end, but she's supposed to be incarcerated so there is a supposed reason.
    • A similar thing happened to Roger Delgado's incarnation of the Master. In his first season of Doctor Who, the character turned up in every single serial, from Terror of the Autons to The Daemons. Then, Delgado, while enjoying the show, became concerned that while officially a guest star, many casting directors considered him a de facto regular cast member of Doctor Who and therefore unavailable for other work. So in the next season dramatically scaled back his appearances, with an eye to making a splashy departure the following season. Due to his untimely death in Turkey, the character was quietly retired for a time.
  • Izzie Stevens in the sixth season of Grey's Anatomy.
  • After Katey Segal's tragic miscarriage on Married... with Children, where the producers had written her pregnancy into the storyline before being being forced to backtrack, the character of Peg Bundy was instead subjected to this trope during the second and third times Segal became pregnant during the show's run. Both times, Peggy was sent out in search of her missing father, and was only shown in voiceovers talking to her family on the telephone, or only shown in scenes where she didn't have to do anything strenuous and the viewers couldn't see her pregnancy. Happily, Segal's later two pregnancies were both successful, and when she was ready to return to work the producers brought Peggy home, much to Al's chagrin.
  • This was done to Emily Prentiss in Season 6 of Criminal Minds, as a result of some extraordinarily ill-advised Executive Meddling. She came back in Season 7.
  • On Boy Meets World Alan, Amy, and Morgan Matthews did this during seasons 6 and 7 when the main characters went to college.
  • After Richie Cunningham left Happy Days, his friend Potsie remained on the show in various different roles before getting a job working for Mr. Cunningham. His screen time, however, was greatly reduced and he wasn't present in several episodes because the writers struggled to find things for him to do.
  • Dustin Brooks is considered a main character on Zoey101 but appears much less frequently than any of the other characters.
  • This happened to Toby in the final season of The West Wing. Understandable, given that Toby had been fired from the White House and so would no longer be naturally interacting with the characters on a day-to-day basis.
  • Jorja Fox on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Sara left, then came back, but though she's credited as a regular, she doesn't appear in every single episode.
  • Eureka: Several early season regulars became recurring characters in the later seasons, especially Carter's daughter Zoe, who left town to go to college.
  • Mulder got this in season 8 of The X-Files before formally getting Put on a Bus for the final season until returning for the series finale. You could make an argument that Scully in a vastly reduced role was commuting during season 9 so they could focus more on Doggett and Reyes.
  • The Sopranos: After essentially being the Big Bad for the first season Uncle Junior was gradually phased out as his ailments got worse and worse. In season 5 he only appeared in half of the episodes and the season 6 carted him off to a nursing home where he spent most of his time offscreen. Notably, Junior only appears in two episodes during the final batch of 9 episodes.
    • In season 6 Johnny Sacks got put in prison and appeared infrequently before dying of cancer after having been central to the storyline of the previous two seasons.
  • Stark in Farscape must be one of the most indecisive examples in history. He was introduced as a guest character towards the end of the first season for a single two-part story, was reintroduced towards the end of the second season and stayed (apart from one episode when he was Not Quite Dead) until towards the end of the third, being a credited regular character in the third. Then he disappeared again until the final arc of the fourth and final full season, and stayed for the Wrap It Up mini-series.
  • Bulldog on Frasier. For a long time he was the most important supporting character, appearing in more than 30 episodes during the show's first 7 seasons. Then he was mostly written out of the series when he lost his job as a KACL sports commentator. However, since he got a new job working at the KACL storage room, the writers could still occasionally use Bulldog without needing to explain why he was "back". He had four more appearances during the show's last four seasons.

     Professional Wrestling 
  • WWE wrestler The Undertaker is one of the company's biggest names and has spent over twenty years with the company, but as time has gone on his screen time has been scaled back considerably, due to the multitude of lingering injuries he's picked up over his career. In general it seems he's pretty much limited to showing up during the build to WrestleMania, where he will put his undefeated streak at that event on the line against some other big-name talent, with some other sporadic appearances throughout the year. Given how popular he is, and the fact that his recent matches at Wrestlemania have been generally considered the best matches of the show, fans tend not to have a problem with this.
  • In 1998-2001 WCW, Meng would get built up as a threat, lose to, say, Goldberg and then disappear again. This happened several times.

    Radio 

     Video Games  

  • The Koopalings in the Super Mario Bros. series have been subject to this. Appearing extensively since they were introduced, they disappeared after their Hotel Mario role. Since then, they have appeared sporadically, aside from remakes.
  • Following the fifth installment of Mario Party, Donkey Kong was demoted from a playable character to a star-giving NPC.
    • After a temporary promotion to playable character for the fifth and sixth installments, Koopa Kid was demoted back down to NPC for the seventh and disappearing completely after that.
  • Between the first Donkey Kong Country and Donkey Kong 64, Donkey Kong's role was reduced to a Distressed Dude, only showing up at the end of the game.
  • In Backyard Baseball 2007, Amir, Gretchen, and Stephanie became like this. Then they were dropped from the series.
  • The King of Fighters pushes the protagonist of the previous arc into this role for the following arc. Kyo's importance to the plot during the Orochi saga was downgraded to make room for K' in the NESTS saga and then K' himself moved down to make way for Ash Crimson in the Tales of Ash arc. After being demoted the character continues to add to the story (Kyo was used as a base for a series of clones in the NESTS arc and K' got to fight Mukai in 2003) but it's the current main character who gets the spotlight and wraps up the saga.
    • This has been instantly subverted with the end of the Tales of Ash arc in XIII: Ash removed himself from time at the end of XIII, meaning that there will be no commuting via bus for him.
  • Most of the supporting cast from the Sonic the Hedgehog series at one point from another, as Sega shifted from its Loads and Loads of Characters approach to having the games focus almost exclusively on Sonic in the late 2000's.

     Web Comics  

  • Arguably, John in Out There. He certainly seems like a main character during the strip's initial 6-7 months (he's in almost every strip), but once he and Miriam reach Portstown, we start to see him far less frequently; sometimes several weeks will go by between his appearances.
    • The latter can be said for all the other characters aside from Miriam, though; the only difference is John's first "co-starring" arc is at the very beginning of the strip, and lasts for a long time. It seems to establish him as a main character when perhaps all it really establishes is the pattern of long arcs starring Miriam and one of her supporting characters. Sherry, for instance, has a co-starring arc of about the same length a year later.
  • Homestuck: Vriska and Tavros became this since they died. They still show up occasionally, but much, much less than they used to, particularly in the case of Vriska, who was something of a Spotlight-Stealing Squad for a while. Also, the exiles had a fairly big role early in the comic, but slowly drifted further and further Out of Focus until WV and PM probably fill this trope now.
    • Also, Gamzee appeared less often after being calmed down by Karkat. He's begun appearing more after the beginning of Act 6 Act 3, when he suddenly showed up on Jane's planet. Since then he's been popping up in all sorts of weird places.
    • John Egbert. He started off as the main viewpoint character of the comic, but his plot significance has diminished to the point where he's now at the periphery of the action. John's former Lancer Dave and Foil Karkat have basically supplanted him as the male leads.
  • Precocious: Xander transferred to a private school, but still appears in the comic just about as often as he did before.

     Web Original  

     Western Animation  

  • This happened to the The Flash in the first season of Justice League Unlimited because of voice actor Michael Rosenbaum's commitments on Smallville (though you may not notice simply on the basis that the cast is frickin' huge). He came roaring back for the second and third seasons though (in particular the Season Finale of the second season).
    • It was particularly bad in season one, where he didn't have any lines at all. When he finally appears early in the second season, he complains to a fellow Leaguer about not getting any respect despite being one of the original seven.
    • The Big 7 arguably suffers in the last season. Despite being the main characters, they only appear in less than half of the final thirteen episodes, with some episodes ("Patriot Act," "Grudge Match" and "Alive!") focusing on recurring characters instead. Though Patriot Act is interesting since it actually still revolves around one of these characters, Superman, even if he barely appears in the episodenote ; Alive! is also different because it actually focuses on the villains; also, since Lex Luthor is more of less the main character in that episode, even though he's not one of the Big 7 it still stars someone whose been around longer than every character in the series apart from Batman and, again, Superman, and could even be seen as a subversion he'd been Commuting On A Bus for several seasonsnote , but starting with the previous season had been getting more and more screen time, culminating in this episode and the Grand Finale.
  • In Danny Phantom, the character Valerie frequently appeared throughout Season One and Two, playing as the series' main Anti-Hero. Then she seemingly disappeared throughout Season Three until the second-to-last episode, then later made a small, speechless cameo in the Grand Finale. And her story arc wasn't even completed yet!
  • Kenny from South Park. Having exhausted themselves killing him off every episode, the creators tried to kill him off permanently, but eventually brought him back. However, he no longer dies every episode, and since that was his main gag, he often no longer appears at all, despite being one of the nominal main characters (with Butters largely filling in for his absence).
    • Starting with season 12, he seems to be as prominent as he was in seasons 1-5, albeit of course not dying as often.
    • Tweek could count as well — in the middle of the sixth season, he was made the fourth friend in Butters's place, and got significant involvement in most of the subsequent episodes (most notably the "Free Hat" episode, where his friends get captured by Steven Spielberg and he tried to destroy the remastered Raiders of the Lost Ark with a bazooka). Then the story arc with Kenny's spirit trapped within Cartman's body came up, and Tweek was quietly pushed back into the sidelines.
  • X-Men: Evolution has Spyke. Major character in seasons one and two; season three, he up and joins the Morlocks. Returns once in a big way after an upgrade, and isn't seen again until the Grand Finale two-parter. However, he was so awesome in his one return episode it made him a prime example of Rescued from the Scrappy Heap.
  • Let's put it this way: during the second season of Family Guy, Meg had more episodes focused on her than Stewie. Now Meg barely appears, and only to remind us that she's the Butt Monkey.
  • Luanne on King of the Hill was in nearly all the episodes for the first three seasons. When she moved into her own house midway through the fourth season she was quietly changed to a recurring character, often not appearing for weeks unless the episode was specifically focused on her. Later on in the series she was upgraded again and became a semi-regular, appearing in about half the episodes.
  • In the first season of the nineties animated X-Men show, Beast only appears sporadically, because he's in prison. At the end of the season, he gets out, and becomes a regular from then on.
    • This then proceeds to happen to Professor X in season 2. He and Magento are trapped in the Savage Land and left powerless at the end of the 2-part premiere, so after that we see the two of them every episode or two wandering around it for a few minutes before things switch back to the main action
    • Jubilee suffers this through the entire series after season 1. Although she did get a good amount of screen time in the first season as the new addition to the team, after this she often disappears for several episodes without a single mention, or possibly just appears in one scene (such as a 2-parter where Cable and Bishop both wind up crossing paths in the present day). She doesn't even show up during the finales with Mr. Sinister or Dark Phoenix.
  • The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes had this happen to The Incredible Hulk during season two. If you watch the season in chronological order, he gets arrested in the ninth episode, for a rampage actually caused by Red Hulk. Hulk becomes pardoned 13 episodes later, but decides to sort some personal things out before becoming a full-time Avenger again. Frustratingly, the Opening Narration still calls Hulk an Avenger during his absence, as an example of Wolverine Publicity.
  • The G.I. Joe cartoons had this happen to older characters every time the following season had to make room to introduce and plug a new batch of Joes or Cobra agents.


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