Nobody stays on top forever in TV. Except for Johnny Carson, but there's strong evidence he was really a comedy cyborg from Perseus 3. Even the most successful show business movers and shakers go through periods when nothing's moving or shaking.
A few weeks ago, msnbc.com contributor Stuart Levine took a look at the power players who shaped this television season.
Now let's take a look at some of those people and programs on the opposite side of the curve — those who struggled to keep what power they had. But don't write them off yet: We're not talking about people on the short list for "The E! True Hollywood Horror Story," just the ones far enough off their peak that we can clearly see when that peak was.
But don't give up hope, all you former A-listers, because F. Scott Fitzgerald was dead wrong: There are plenty of second acts in American life, and even more on television. But still, try to mange the money you've already made more like Johnny Carson, not like Ed McMahon.
Not long ago, it seemed that the Reege was TV's most ubiquitous host. But then last spring he stepped down as host on "America's Got Talent" to be succeeded by ... Jerry Springer? Whether or not Reege voluntarily stepped down, it's still a symbolic slap to be replaced by the ringmaster of daytime's worst circus. Since then, if you're not watching his mid-morning show, you're not seeing much of Regis Philbin anymore. Even if the holder of the Guinness World Record for "Most Hours on Camera" (now estimated over 16,000) is just trying to cut down and take it easy — how many times has he yelled "I'm only one guy!" on camera? — a low profile just seems so un-Regis.
After the end of "Arrested Development," often dubbed the show nobody watched, most of the cast has popped up on new series and in movies, sometimes introducing themselves to larger audiences than "AD" ever garnered. Tambor has popped up in more shows than anyone else — and that's the problem. He keeps getting new series that last for two to four weeks before being euthanized (anyone still mourning 2006's "Twenty Good Years"?). And this fall, he lands a secondary role in "Good Behavior," a comedy based on a show from New Zealand about a family dealing with the head of the clan going to jail and ... wait, wasn't that the plot of "Arrested Development"?
Star Trek: All the Next Generations
These days, when you hear about a "Trek" veteran, it's almost always original series alums William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy or George Takei. "Next Gen" captain Patrick Stewart picked up another iconic role as Professor Xavier in the "X-Men" films, but the captains of subsequent series have disappeared, as if in a tragic transporter accident. Brent Spiner briefly returned to "Enterprise" as his android character Data's grandpa (yeah, I don't understand either), former Ferengi Armim Shimerman had a one-season run as a mortal human bad guy on "Buffy" and even Colm Meaney's once-ubiquitous Irish accent has been little-heard. All in all, former Trekkers have been getting most of their work doing cartoon voices.
It has been widely assumed that once your daytime talk show survives for three years, you get to keep doing it for life. So when Montel Williams' syndicated daily hour was cancelled after 17 years, America wanted to know why. Stories flew about a confrontation he had on Fox News that reportedly caused Fox-owned stations to drop his show, but the real reason for the axing came with the announcement. His distributor would continue providing daily "Best of Montel" episodes to whoever wanted to air them. They'll keep running Montel without Montel. Which may or may not be a good deal for the longtime host — getting paid less but doing nothing — but what does it say when all the important issues he addressed over 17 years are easily re-runnable?
Whoever is left on "ER"
"ER" has seen a lot of doctors and nurses come and go in 14 years — several departing on gurneys with sheets over their faces. But the show still staggers on from one intubation to the next. The addition of John Stamos to the medical staff 10 years after "Full House" may have been less a case of him making a comeback than everybody else on the show needing one. Considering that the current senior cast members Maura Tierney and Goran Visnjic are expected to leave the show early in the upcoming final season, old fans returning to watch the final episode will be asking themselves, "Who ARE these people?" Making a good first impression on the last show might make or break a few careers. So try to never get caught standing behind Stamos.
GEICO (and a lot of other sponsors)
Yes, GEICO did not create or run the failed sitcom based on characters from its ads. But last fall's "Cavemen" bombed so badly that it now seems most unlikely that the gecko will ever get his own show. But it's more than that. While product placement is more prevalent than ever — from Coke cups sitting in front of the "American Idol" judges to Knight Rider driving a Ford — the advertising business's biggest dream since Mr. Whipple has been getting prime-time shows based on their commercials. That dream is now a somewhat safer distance from reality.
Wendell Wittler is the online alias of a writer from Southern California.