Commuting on a Bus
A character who at one point was a major character on a show but is now downgraded 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 appears in one episode.
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 Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha character and not Nanoha/Fate, you will first be subject to this before finally being Demoted to Extra.
- Inverted during Vivid 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 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.
- 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.
- This is extremely common for superheroes in shared universe settings whose solo titles are canceled.
Live Action Television
- 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.
- On Angel, Cordelia spent a good portion of her last season in a coma despite nominally being in the opening cast.
- 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 and 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.
- 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. Notably, she didn't even appear in the season premiere (AKA the Poorly-Disguised Pilot for Saban's Masked Rider), and 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.
- 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. Naturally, hardly any of the original kids are still regulars, as the show is now on its ninth season. Give them credit for avoiding the California University route, although they did send about half of the characters to the same (non-fictional) university.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- Video game example: Remember when Donkey Kong was a main playable character in Mario Party? Yeah, me neither.
- A Koopa Kid was a playable character for a couple games as well.
- Donkey Kong was only a playable character for the first Donkey Kong Country as well, after that he was just someone who needed rescuing.
- In Backyard Baseball 2007, Amir, Gretchen, and Stephanie became like this. Then they were Brother Chucked 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.
- 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.
- Bree and Taylor on Lonelygirl15.
- This happened to 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 episode; 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 seasons, 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. Gets an episode here or there, but he's mostly gone.
- 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.
- the villain spends the entire episode calling him out for a fight, and is frustrated that seemingly every hero but Superman is pitted against him
- Though a villain, in Superman: The Animated Series he was still more or less part of the main cast, due to his position as an entrenched Villain with Good Publicity