ITS A JOKE: James van der Beeks career choices havent really worked in his favour since Dawsons Creek. But he keeps at it, this time with M-Nets new comedy, Friends with Better Lives.

IF you are a newcomer to the industry and your TV show is a resounding hit, that’s not just a feather in your acting cap, it’s also the perfect opportunity to use that success as leverage to attract more projects. And, in so doing, take your career to new heights.

While some actors make the most of the opportunity, like Neil Patrick Harris, who has come far since the days of Doogie Howser, M.D. back in the ’80s, others simply fade into oblivion or drift about in mediocre offerings.

Tori Spelling (Beverly Hills 90210), Danica Mae McKellar (The Wonder Years), Melissa Joan Hart (Sabrina) and Andrew Keegan (7th Heaven) fall into the latter category, as well as a plethora of others.

They either attract B-grade projects or are too consumed by their scandalous personal lives to clamber their way back into the popular graces of viewers.

Such has been the fate of James Van der Beek (pictured right). The 37-year-old former Dawson’s Creek star hasn’t been able to leave bigger footprints in TV or film.

His big screen credits haven’t made much noise in Hollywood – several being made-for-TV offerings anyway. And his small screen exploits have been negligible since Dawson’s Creek. In fact, his only saving grace was Don’t Trust the B**** in Apartment 23 – and he only had a supporting role.

A string of other cameos aside, he returns in a main role as Will Stokes in Friends with Better Lives. Once again, he has managed to bag poor pickings – CBS pulled the plug on the comedy after five episodes.

The show focuses on a group of six friends: Will (Van der Beek) is divorced, but instead of enjoying his newly-single status, he is pining after his ex; Jules (Brooklyn Decker) and Lowell (Rick Donald) are enjoying the transition from dating to being engaged; Kate (Zoe Lister-Jones) is a high-flying career woman with a disastrous love life and, lastly, Andi (Majandra Delfino) and Bobby (Kevin Connolly) yearn for those days when their lives didn’t revolve around parenthood.

In theory, the polarised status quo of the relationships could be a breeding ground for situational comedy. But it isn’t. It evidently lacks the comedic finesse of The New Normal or Happy Endings.

And again, Van der Beek is saddled with a dud while his Dawson’s Creek co-stars fare so much better. Joshua Jackson has been more successful with his big screen outings and has moved on with Fringe. Michelle Williams walks Hollywood’s red carpet with pride. With roles in hits like Brokeback Mountain, Shutter Island, Deception, Oz the Great and Powerful and My Week with Marilyn, she has earned her A-list stripes.

And Katie Holmes has had her fair share of prominence in front of the camera – although most of the attention was hijacked by her marriage and subsequent divorce to Tom Cruise.

Nonetheless, she is throwing in her oar for big screen opportunities now that she is a free agent in every way. When it comes to Friends with Better Lives, it isn’t hard to gauge where our once famous TV star sits on that scale of stardom – in real life, that is!

• Friends with Better Lives airs on M-Net (DStv channel 101) on Wednesdays at 6pm.