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A character who at one point was a major character on a show is, instead of being written out entirely, put in a situation where they will appear sporadically as a Recurring Character. 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. 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 or returns to stay. 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.

If the commute is frequently discussed, you can expect a Back for the Finale as well.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • After Mikage and Mari Graduate from the Story on the thirtieth chapter / ninth episode of Asteroid in Love, they no longer take an active role in they story. However, they appear relatively often, as the kouheis of the Earth Sciences Club often call them for advice.
  • All the Digidestined from Digimon Adventure in Digimon Adventure 02, except for Kari and T.K., appear only occasionally because for most of the season their Digimon couldn't Digivolve through natural means (the protagonists used Digi-Eggs to Digivolve). Mimi also moved to New York and Joe went through high school entrance exams. Though Mimi's moving away became an important plot device as it helped introducing the foreign Digidestined.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Bulma was the co-lead in the original Dragon Ball, then got shoved Out of Focus with the rest of the human cast and never really had the same level of importance. Downplayed from the Namek to Cell Sagas in Dragon Ball Z where she has a bigger part. She also plays a prominent role once Beerus and Whis show up in Dragon Ball Super, functioning as their main supplier of delicious food and reason for not blowing up Earth. It works.
    • In the anime, after Captain Ginyu (the leader of the notorious Ginyu Force!) switches bodies with a frog, he shows up at least once per season until the end of the Buu saga (in the manga, he's simply Put on a Bus, not appearing again after the switch). Then he appears in Super, but he dies.
  • Durarara!!: Both Mika and Seiji hardly intervene in the plot by the end of the first half of the first season and the first part of the second one… Justified in the second part when Mika reveals that she is aware of every plot that the characters are involved and deliberately avoid them in order to not put Seiji and herself in danger, to enjoy the peaceful life of keep being secondary characters. However due to Seiji's uncle becoming one of the Big Bad of the second season, both of them along with Namie get the spotlight again.
  • In One Piece, due to the Party Scattering in the Sabaody Archipelago arc, the Straw Hat Crew (minus Luffy) spends almost the entirety of the Summit War Saga Out of Focus. note 
  • Pokémon: The Series
    • Team Rocket appeared less in the "Best Wishes" series, as they Took a Level in Badass and stopped trying to try another half-baked plan every episode. They returned to having a full schedule (and their comical forms) in the "X & Y" series, but withdrew from occasional episodes in later series allow Ash's team to remain more proactive.
    • After he was defeated by Ash at the end of the Original Series, Gary Oak had occasional appearances during the "Diamond and Pearl" series and later became Goh's companion during the latter's "Project Mew" episodes in "Journeys".
    • Misty and Brock had a few guest appearances in the "Sun & Moon" series, and Brock also rejoined the team during the arc in "Journeys" referencing Legends: Arceus. Dawn also had a few reappearances in "Journeys", including the aforementioned Legends: Arceus arc.
  • Pretty Cure All Stars: A strange example with Ayumi Sakagami (Cure Echo)- Appears in New Stage 1, cameos in New Stage 2, returns in full in New Stage 3, cameos again in Spring Carnival and returns once more in Everybody Sing - Miraculous Power.
  • This happens to Hazuki in Sound! Euphonium, after she fails to qualify for a spot in the orchestra line-up that participates in Nationals.

    Comic Books 
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (IDW): At the end of the first arc, Knuckles disbands The Resistance and returns to his duties as Angel Island's guardian. The story moves elsewhere with Amy taking over as the leader of the rebranded Restoration. Knuckles reappears when Angel Island is brought into the plot (like at the climax of the Zombot arc) but otherwise stays on his own.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): After leaving Themyscira and moving to Boston Diana started out living with Julia and Vanessa Kapatelis who were regular supporting characters in the books. After a couple of writer changes Diana moved to the West Coast, but the Kapatelises still showed up from time to time, just with far less regularity.
  • During Chris Claremont's run on Uncanny X-Men this tended to happen with former members of the team. Beast made a number of guest appearances early on, including in the Dark Phoenix Saga. Banshee quit the team due to injuries, but would show up whenever the story came back to Muir Island where he had settled down with Moira MacTaggart. Cyclops left the team to get married to Madelyne Pryor, but continued to make occasional guest appearances until joining X-Factor.
  • At the beginning of X-Force, the characters Sunspot and Rictor from its predecessor series New Mutants were included as recurring guests: Sunspot in association with the villain Gideon, and Rictor as a member of the special ops team Weapon Prime. Both soon ended up joining the team. Cannonball also continued making regular guest appearances during the period he left X-Force to join the main X-Men team.

    Fan Works 
  • The Pokémon Squad: Sailor Pikachu was written out of the series (alongside several other characters who did not return, not even as cameos) after her real-life equivalent stepped down as co-author. She still occasionally makes appearances, but no longer lives in RM's mansion and rarely plays a major role in any episode.

  • In the Charlie Parker Series by John Connolly, Louis and Angel appear constantly as supporting characters up until The Reapers, their Day in the Limelight. Following that, they drop out of the books, making only brief, obligatory cameo appearances (in one book their only appearance is a phone call) until the most recent book, The Wolf in Winter, when they rent an apartment in Portland to be near Parker.
  • In the Tantei Team KZ Jiken Note series, Sunahara is closest to being Aya's official boyfriend, having mutually confessed to the point that he made a serious marriage proposal in the 20th novel. But he only appears once every few novels (stably once every 3-4 novels since the 12th novel), and leaves at the end of it. This is probably to enforce their Long-Distance Relationship so as to perpetuate what can be seen by older readers as a Reverse Harem.
  • Schooled in Magic: After graduating from Whitehall at the end of Fourth Year, Alassa and Imaiqah remain in touch with Emily via chat parchment, but they're not around to be involved in school plots.
  • A Study in Scarlet, the novel that introduced Sherlock Holmes, has four central characters in Holmes himself, Dr. Watson, Inspector Lestrade, and Inspector Tobias Gregson. Gregson's role in the story is of similar importance to the others, and he went on to be the model for important characters in works inspired by the Holmes mythos such as Elementary and The Great Ace Attorney, with Holmes himself describing him as "the smartest of the Scotland Yarders". Even so, he would be the only one of the novel's main cast to not become a major recurring character in the canon, only being featured in three other short stories, one of which didn't even involve him appearing in a proper scene or having lines.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones: Ghost the direwolf has a habit of disappearing for long periods of time, mostly because the show's CGI budget isn't able to accommodate the direwolves very well.
  • Happened in Supernatural many times, most notably Castiel in season 6-7 (he spends season 6 focusing on his role as leader of one side of a civil war in Heaven, and in season 7 he spent most of the time in an amnesic state where the Winchesters thought he was dead, a few eps in a catatonic state, and then he was just insane in his last two appearances this season).
  • 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. Dominic West wanted some time off to do film and theater and spend time with his family, this was explained in the show by him deciding to leave the Major Crimes Unit to go back to patrol work in the Western District after Stringer Bell 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.
    • Even before that, starting on Season 6, more episodes began putting more focus on other team members, with O'Neill having a minimum role in those episodes or altogether absent.
  • 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. He last showed up in one of Sheppard's nightmares where he angsted about all the people he failed to save.
  • 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 several episodes 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.
  • 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.
    • This eventually got downplayed in the last 2-3 seasons as the show realised that McCoy and Captain Van Buren made a good team and it was pretty easy to come up with episodes where the two had to deal with something that's above the main team's paygrade.
  • 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 & 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 series 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). In the eighth series (which had been delayed due to Craig Charles being charged with and then found not guilty of rape) he decided to return necessitating them to create a new Rimmer.
  • Power Rangers
    • 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.
    • This happened with Ryan in Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue. Due to the fact that he was created exclusively for the American version and didn't have a Sentai counterpart it was starting to become too costly to shoot new footage with him in Ranger form every episode, so to keep costs down he took off in the second half of the season to find a way to defeat the antagonists and only appeared in a handful of the remaining episodes.
    • This was the fate of Omega Ranger Sam from Power Rangers S.P.D.. In a bid to save money, Sam was not given an out of suit actor, which made it difficult for him to properly interact with the other characters since he could only do so while in costume or as a CGI ball of light. So the writers wrote around him as best they could, having him turn up whenever the Sentai stock footage called for him and then having him fade into the background as soon as he wasn't needed.
  • 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.
    • Almost all of the graduates in the fourth, fifth and sixth season. In season 4, Puck, Mike, Quinn, and Mercedes all come back occasionally to visit. In season 5, more characters graduate, adding Tina and Brittany to the mix of commuters, and Mercedes becomes a regular character again. By season 6, Puck, Quinn, Tina, Santana, Brittany, Artie, Emma, and Unique are all commuting regularly and the main cast is much smaller than before. It makes sense in universe since the characters are all over the country at college and still visit their home town sometimes.
  • 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).
    • More specifically, this tends to happen with characters who go away to college. They frequently end up coming back to deal with love interests or unresolved situations. As of season 14, however, the only graduated character still appearing is Eli.
  • 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, he began returning to his roots of Orthodox Judaism, and begin observant meant he refused to work on the Sabbath. He was downgraded to only appearing in a couple scenes per episode, before being replaced entirely by Peter Graves.
  • 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.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Roger Delgado's incarnation of the Master turned up in every single serial of his debut season (Season 8), from "Terror of the Autons" to "The Dæmons". After this, the production team of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks felt that he had been overused, and having the Master turn up in every story spoilt the surprise effect of him turning up. Thereafter, they scaled back his appearances to twice in Season 9 and once in Season 10. Delgado now became concerned that while officially a guest star, many casting directors still considered him a regular cast member of Doctor Who and therefore unavailable for other work, even though he was only getting paid for one or two stories a season. So Delgado requested that he be written out altogether, but his untimely death in a car crash in Turkey meant that farewell story never happened, and instead the character of the Master just quietly disappeared for a few years.
    • UNIT regular characters Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Captain Yates and Sergeant Benton were reduced to appearing once or twice during Seasons 9-13, having been almost ever-present in Seasons 7 and 8 when the Doctor was exiled on Earth and worked with UNIT in every story.
    • After the second K-9 was written out of Doctor Who in "Warriors' Gate", various models of K-9 (although this is played down to the point that non-fans probably don't realise that in-canon there is more than one version of the character) have intermittently appeared in different parts of the franchise, including a period as a regular character in The Sarah Jane Adventures, and K9, a short-lived Australian series with little connection to the rest of the franchise due to rights issues.
    • After Jack Harkness left the TARDIS and subsequently joined Torchwood, he made return appearances in the third and fourth series' season finales. Most recently .
    • Both Rose Tyler and Martha Jones 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. They later establish that she chooses to commute because "one psychopath per TARDIS" is enough.
  • Izzie Stevens in the sixth season of Grey's Anatomy.
  • After Katey Sagal'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 Sagal 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, Sagal'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.
  • M*A*S*H: Gary Burghoff decided to leave the series at the end of the 7th season to spend more time with his family but was convinced to return for a two part episode in season 8 to wrap up his character's time on the series before going back to Iowa. Even before leaving he had reduced the number of appearances on the show. While he was mentioned a few times and the character kept in touch with the people at the 4077, this marked the end of Radar's time on M*A*S*H. Radar would later appear in two episodes of the follow up series After M*A*S*H, then as the main character on the pilot episode of W*A*L*T*E*R, a series that was not picked up by the network.
  • Dustin Brooks is considered a main character on Zoey 101 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. 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.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: After his departure in season 4, Wesley Crusher did this a few times through the rest of the series after enrolling at Starfleet Academy.
  • Harold was co-host of The Red Green Show for the first 8 seasons, appeared in one segment per episode in Season 9, disappeared completely for Season 10, then showed up sporadically (sometimes in his old hosting role) in the final 5 seasons.
  • Friday Night Lights: This happened with nearly single original lead character from the series outside the Taylor family, who remained the main characters, and Lyla and Tyra who were both flat out Put on a Bus. Jason and Smash both left a season after being downgraded to this while Matt, Tim, and Landry still made occasional appearances even after no longer being regulars all the way up to the final episode.
  • Nate Getz was a main character in Season 1 of NCIS: Los Angeles, but has had only a few appearances per season since then.
  • Happens with any show that has actual teenagers playing teenagers—the character going away to college is because their portrayer is as well.
  • Very common in 24. Several former main cast members will be downgraded to guest, but still have heavy recurring roles, including Nina Meyers, Sherri Palmer, Tony Almeida, Michelle Dessler, James Heller, Curtis Manning, Charles Logan, Audrey Raines, and Ethan Kanin. On some cases a character will be credited as a regular but only make some recurring appearances (Sherri in Season 2, Tony in Season 5 and Curtis in Season 6), which often led to them being written out shortly after.
  • Once Upon a Time has a large cast who slip in and Out of Focus. Due to the setting, their disappearances are explained as the main cast not seeing them. Archie was a regular in Season 1, but only makes a handful of appearances in other seasons. The Blue Fairy/Mother Superior is another, making a couple of minor appearances in Season 5. Ruby's absence during Season 4 was also explained as her having transported back to the Enchanted Forest offscreen during the events of the Season 3 finale.
  • On Gilmore Girls, Luke's nephew Jess was a regular character for two seasons where he pursued and dated Rory Gilmore. However, at the end of season 3, he leaves Stars Hollow for California in an attempt to figure out his life. He guest stars for a few episodes in seasons 4, 6, and the revival.
  • Happens to Danny post-season 4 of The Mindy Project. In universe, he and Mindy split up and he moves to another practice.
  • As Doctor Legg, Leonard Fenton was an important member of the original cast of EastEnders, with some major storylines centred on him. Fenton later half-left the series, and Doctor Legg became an occasional character who appeared only when someone needed medical help. Eventually, the character retired and moved away but he was seen again even after that.
  • Daredevil (2015): Wilson Fisk serves as the main antagonist of season 1. Following his arrest in the finale, his role in season 2 is significantly reduced due to being locked up, so the Blacksmith and the Hand take over as the main antagonists for that season while Fisk himself only shows up in two episodes. Albeit he still gets a fair amount of screentime across those two episodes, during which Fisk single-handedly sets up the third act of the season and orchestrate a major retaliatory move against Nelson & Murdock. With the defeat of the Hand in The Defenders (2017), Fisk resumes his role in season 3 as the show's main antagonist.
  • Fifth Gear host Tiff Needell occasionally popped up on the revived Top Gear prior to Jeremy Clarkson's sacking.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003): Captain Kelly is one of the highest ranked officers on Galactica, outranked only by Commander Adama and Colonel Tigh, but he only makes a handful of appearances across the entire series. A justified example as his official duty is supervising landing procedures and thus spends most of his time down at the landing bay. When he does make an appearance it's usually because something has gone very wrong and one or both of his superiors aren't available.
  • Better Call Saul: Howard Hamlin is something of a foil to Jimmy, Kim's boss, Chuck’s law partner and a major supporting character for the first three seasons. After Kim leaving his firm and Chuck dying seasons 4 and 5 find his role greatly reduced to appearing in about half the episodes, usually for only one scene.
  • Pie in the Sky: To begin with, WPC Sophia Cambridge is DI Crabbe's assistant and appears in nearly episode of the first three seasons. In the fourth season, she's been promoted to Detective Sergeant, with her own case load, and makes only occasional appearances. In the fifth and final season she doesn't appear at all.
  • Three's Company: When Chrissy's actress Suzanne Somers got into a bitter contract dispute with the show's producers, they responded by refusing to renew her contract and sending away Chrissy to visit her sick aunt so that her only interactions with the other characters were brief conversations over the phone until Somers' contract expired and Chrissy could be written off the show.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine: after Gina Linetti is Put on a Bus, she makes one guest appearance per season for the rest of the show.
  • Scrubs:
    • After the season 8 finale which made a big deal about J.D. leaving the Sacred Heart hospital, he returns right after for the first six or so episodes of season 9 which was originally intended to be a spin-off.
    • Elliot also left the main cast between season 8 and 9, making only sporadic guest appearances in season 9.
    • Subverted with Kelso. Even though he left the Sacred Heart hospital during season 7, he still continues to appear in almost every episode for all remaining seasons. Ted even points out how strange it is that he continues to come to the hospital every day despite being retired, guessing that Kelso has nothing else in life to do. Which is true and Kelso is using his "free muffins for life" as an excuse to hang around and later admits that he genuinely likes being at Sacred Heart and doesn't care if people think less about him.

    Multiple Media 
  • BIONICLE, being a Merchandise-Driven toy series, cast most of its characters aside unless they were still marketable but still gave them roles in side stories. LEGO even had a rule that discontinued toys could only appear in comics if it was necessary for the story. This fate befell the six original Turaga elders, most of the Matoran villagers from the early years who were not upgraded into Toa heroes, and various side characters like Roodaka or Brutaka who survived their introductory years and kept appearing in books or online serials without affecting the main plot.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • After Stuart was promoted to district manager in Retail, he didn't appear as often in the comic. Understandable, as now he's responsible for many Grumbel's stores, not just the one that the comic takes place at.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • WWE wrestler The Undertaker is one of the company's biggest names and spent about thirty years with the company, but as time went on his screen time had been scaled back considerably, due to the multitude of lingering injuries he'd picked up over his career. In general it seems he was pretty much limited to showing up during the build to WrestleMania, where he would put his then-undefeated Streak at that event on the line against some other big-name talent, with some other sporadic appearances throughout the years. Given how popular he is, and the fact that his then-recent matches at Wrestlemania had been generally considered the best matches of the show, fans tended 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.
  • Chris Jericho, since the end of his second WWE run, only appeared in yearly six-month runs, due to focusing more on his band Fozzy and other ventures. Much in the vein of the Undertaker, Chris doesn't get as much flak as other part-timers such as, say, Brock Lesnar, because when he does come back, he goes all out. He does house shows, appears on RAW every week, and puts over younger talent. He hasn't even held a world title since 2010, as he is much happier to give the younger talent the spot. In the breaks between WWE runs, he toured with his band Fozzy and worked in NJPW before ultimately leaving WWE for AEW in 2019.
  • Dramatic Dream Team: Kota Ibushi due to a dual priority contract with New Japan Pro-Wrestling.
  • Participation in Ring of Honor's Decade Of Excellence Tournament was supposed to be exclusive to wrestlers who had wrestled for the company for ten years, but an exception was made for Chris Sabin, who had wrestled on and off for the company for ten years.

    Puppet Shows 
  • In the late 1980's and 1990's, Frank Oz' busy movie director schedule put limits on how often his classic Muppet characters appeared in new projects. Bert, Grover and Cookie Monster appeared in less new material for later seasons of Sesame Street, while The Jim Henson Hour and Muppets Tonight reduced Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and Animal to occasional guest appearances. This has been more-or-less reversed now that Oz has semi-retired from the Muppets and his characters have been recast to full-time performers.


    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.
  • Mario Party:
    • Mario Party 5: Starting with this game, Donkey Kong was demoted from a playable character to a star-giving NPC. He only returned to playable status in Mario Party 10, over a decade later.
    • Mario Party 7: After a temporary promotion to playable character for the fifth and sixth installments, Koopa Kid is demoted back down to NPC in this game and disappearing completely after that, his role being handed over to Bowser Jr.
  • 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 was initially subverted with the end of the Tales of Ash arc in XIII when Ash removed himself from time at the end of the game, but he was later brought back at the end of Team Official Invitation's Story Mode in XIV and became playable again in XV (with both games belonging to a Story Arc focusing on new hero Shun'ei).
  • Most of the supporting cast from the Sonic the Hedgehog series has gotten this treatment. This trend began after the much-reviled Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), after which Sega shifted from its large cast approach to having Sonic as the only playable character, with Tails as support and Dr. Eggman as the primary antagonist. The supporting cast eventually returned as NPCs in Sonic Generations and Sonic Forces. Sonic Boom had a few series staples, it was still scaled back compared to the two Sonic Adventure games.
  • The Puyo Puyo series has had three main protagonists so far — Arle Nadja, Amitie, and Ringo Andou. Each time a new protagonist was introduced, the previous one engaged in this trope, losing prominence but still appearing in every game. Sega's reluctance to remove any of the large cast from the "core cast" has been a major factor in this — Witch and Draco Centauros appear and are playable in Puyo Puyo Tetris entirely because they're still part of this group, but have zero actual plot relevance.
  • In Monster Hunter, the Leviathan group of monsters was introduced in Monster Hunter 3 (Tri), and made subsequent apperances in the spinoff Monster Hunter Portable 3rd and the Updated Re-release of tri-, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. Since then they've come and gone with every set of games: they were excluded from Monster Hunter 4 and 4 Ultimate, brought back in Monster Hunter Generations and Generations Ultimate, excluded again from Monster Hunter: World and World: Iceborne, before returning again in Monster Hunter: Rise and Rise: Sunbreak.
  • Splatoon: Off the Hook have been all over the place, going from prominent supporting cast characters in Splatoon 2, to main characters in the Octo Expansion DLC, to bit parts in Splatoon 3, then back to main characters for its DLC. While the Squid Sisters and DJ Octavio are usually main characters, they are mostly absent from the Octo Expansion, appearing only in pictures and a text-only cameo from Marie after collecting every Mem Cake.

  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Another example is Aradia. She is most relevant during the beginning of the troll's SGRUB session, but after she uses powers to freeze Jack in time, her appearances are sporadic.
    • 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.
  • In Precocious, Xander transferred to a private school, but still appears in the comic just about as often as he did before.

    Web Original 
  • Bree and Taylor on lonelygirl15.
  • Pvt. Donut and Doc frequently flit in and out of Red vs. Blue. In Donut's case, it's because his voice actor, Dan Godwin, notoriously refused to quit his day job and join Rooster Teeth Productions, and only appears as Donut when it's convenient to his personal schedule (by comparison, the rest of Red Vs Blue's principal cast and crew either work at Rooster Teeth or are full-time actors). The result is that Donut can go from being a regular character to recurring to completely absent within the space of a few seasons.
  • Pike on Critical Role. Her player, Ashley Johnson, is more of a mainstream celebrity than the other gamers and is often in New York filming Blindspot, so the character is often separate from the group, staying behind at local temples while the rest of the team goes off on their quests. When Ashley has time to make an appearance, either via Skype or in person, the crew either go to Pike's location to pick her up or she comes in via Astral Projection.
    • In the second season of the show, Ashley's new character Yasha is given the character trait of occasionally leaving the party without warning in the dead of night, only to randomly turn up later wherever they happen to be, adding an air of mystery to the character while still working with Ashley's schedule.

    Western Animation 
  • During the second season of The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the Hulk 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. Despite this, the Opening Narration still calls Hulk an Avenger during his absence.
  • Lilith from The Owl House was the Arc Villain of Season 1, and after pulling a Heel–Face Turn in the season finale, moved into the Owl House. However, she moved back out after only a few episodes to go live with her parents again, leaving the main cast. Despite this, "Knock Knock Knockin On Hooty's Door" reveals that she's remained pen pals with Hooty, she returned briefly in "Elsewhere and Elsewhen" to go on a solo-adventure with Luz, and she re-joined the main cast in "Edge of the World" in preparation for the Season 2 finale.
  • For most of the Eighties, Fred and Velma were both largely absent from Scooby-Doo—Velma had joined NASA while Fred had become a mystery novelist—only occasionally dropping by in a few episodes.
  • Steven Universe has Peridot and Lapis Lazuli. Throughout the second season of the show, the former went from a regular villainous threat, to Fire-Forged Friend, and eventually an official member of the team after insulting one of her home planet's rulers to their face. The latter was the show's first major villain, who became Steven's friend (and only Steven's friend) as a result of his empathy, making occasional appearances as an Aloof Ally trying to keep herself and Steven safe. At beginning of the third season, following the events of the Cluster arc, Peridot and Lapis take residence in the countryside at the Universe family barn. This leaves them out of many episodes, but still close enough for the other characters to visit and interact with.
  • Sheriff Terrorbull, also known as The Masked Bull, was phased out of the second season of Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa when season two's first episode "No Face to Hide" ended with him being exiled from Cowtown after Marshal Moo Montana captured and unmasked the real Shock Holliday. In spite of this, he did return for a few more episodes that revealed he became the sheriff of a deserted town called Lonesome Gulch.
  • X-Men: The Animated Series:
    • In the first season, 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.
    • In season 2, Professor X and Magneto 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.
  • X-Men: Evolution: Spyke is major character in seasons one and two. In season three, he up and joins the Morlocks early on, and only makes one reappearance before the Grand Finale two-parter.
  • 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 seasons four and five of Voltron: Legendary Defender, Keith only appears in five episodes (three in season 4 and two in season 5, excluding non-speaking appearances) due to him temporarily leaving Team Voltron to join the Blade of Marmora.
  • After a season of buildup, Launchpad decides to do this in DuckTales (2017) — helping the McDuck clan in the daytime, and teaming up with DW and Gosalyn at night. One could only imagine what will happen to his crash tally going between Duckburg and St. Canard.
  • Despite being an anthology series, Infinity Train has three characters that function under this trope: One-One, Amelia, and The Cat. One-One was a main character in Book 1, Amelia was the main antagonist of Book 1, and The Cat was a major supporting character in Book 1. All three of them would go on to make appearances in future seasons to varying degrees of importance, but The Cat is the only one to show up in every season.