Since the dawn of social media, fans have found creative ways to obsess over their favorite TV shows, whether it’s chat rooms littered with “lost” theories; Tumblr pages dedicated to “Teen Wolf”; or “Game of Thrones” hashtags filled with millions of tweets in a single episode.
A few years ago, the Internet gave birth to another mechanism for interacting with television: “contextless” Twitter accounts. True to their name, these profiles feature captioned screenshots of popular series — from “Glee” to “Succession” — taken out of the show’s context.
There are no pop-up accounts for series ranging from “The Sopranos” to “Queer Eye” to “SpongeBob SquarePants,” while 274,000 Twitter users follow a profile solely dedicated to Nick Miller (Jake Johnson) from ” New Girl”.
“The Office” alone has over a dozen context-free accounts, the most popular of which has over half a million subscribers. Sometimes the screenshots are just isolated moments in the series – think of Kevin (Brian Baumgartner) spilling the vat of chili peppers on the floor of Dunder Mifflin – but sometimes they’re placed in a whole new context tied to world events. .
Kaysi, a 24-year-old “Parks and Recreation” fan who runs @nocontextpawneerecount Variety that several of her most popular tweets were broadcast during the 2020 presidential election. During the recount, she posted a screenshot of Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) saying, “Well, math is hard. ” A day later, when Donald Trump had officially lost, she posted a meme of Donna Meagle (Retta) saying, “You’re fired.”
“Abbott Elementary” writer and producer Brittani Nichols says no pop-up account allows fans to “put their own spin” on their favorite series: “It gives the show a life of its own outside of the broadcast and It also gives fans that kind of shorthand and mode of communication that is unique to the community.
Kaysi has run the “Parks” account for about five years, but she said her follower count skyrocketed as the pandemic took hold. Screenshots of Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) wearing a mask during flu season or Leslie complaining about not being able to go to the office due to a government shutdown has taken on a whole new meaning around the world of COVID-19 and went viral on Twitter.
“These things were so relevant to everyone during the pandemic, even though these episodes came out five, six, seven years ago,” Kaysi says. In fact, many other owners of context-free accounts credit the pandemic for boosting their subscriber numbers — likely because folks glued to the couch in times of desperation went back to their favorite comfort shows and started searching. a sense of online community.
“My favorite thing about running the ‘Parks’ account is being able to talk to other fans,” says Kaysi. “It’s nice to see how even seven years after the show, there’s still such a community for it. To be able to pop up online and be like, ‘Li’l Sebastian died 11 years ago today’ … we all cry about a fictional horse.
However, Kaysi notes that her account isn’t just loved by “Parks and Rec” pundits who have seen the show dozens of times. New fans are constantly joining the community.
Similarly, Anna Golez, who runs the most popular “Succession” fan account, @nocontextroyco, says many of his followers started watching the show because they wanted to understand the context of his screenshots. In other words, no context account has inspired many hyper-online people – largely Gen Zers – to jump on board TV shows because “they see all these memes on their timeline, but they don’t know what they mean,” Golez says. .
Nichols adds, “It gets the show to a whole new audience who benefits from seeing the screenshots. It gives people the chance to check out something they normally wouldn’t.
When writing scripts, TV writers obviously don’t think about which lines will land best on Twitter. But Nichols says seeing his jokes go viral online is a treat nonetheless. “We don’t write to be memes. We don’t write lines specifically thinking they’d make a good screenshot, but when they do, it’s definitely something I think everyone appreciates.
“We’ve all wondered who’s behind the no-context account for ‘Abbott,'” says Joya McCrory, another writer on the hit elementary school sitcom. “I’m glad they like the show and make that effort. We have so much gratitude.
“Abbott Elementary” isn’t the only writers room that benefits from its context-free counterpart. Allison running @nocontextbcs, says the official “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” accounts follow her, as well as “Saul” showrunner Peter Gould. Yağmur, who runs a popular “community” account, says star Ken Jeong was one of his first followers and helped the account grow through retweets. Soon after, Joel McHale and many of the show’s writers also came on board.
Managing context-free accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers is no easy task. Golez says that when new episodes of “Succession” came out, she watched them “once for me and twice to get screenshots.” Kaysi maintains an organized system of folders on her computer filled with “Parks and Recreation” screenshots tagged by episode and tagged with keywords so they’re easy to find. Allison says she pulls screenshots from a Plex server, where she can take photos in the highest resolution available.
Yet nearly all of the account owners interviewed for this piece do so without being paid. While no popup account promotes vibrant online communities, they also provide amazing free marketing for major networks and streamers. After all, that’s why they don’t distribute cease and desist letters.
“I don’t know how anyone could view free marketing as bad,” Nichols says. “If it was harmful to the creators and the networks, I think they would shut it down. They would pull their little copyright laws and shut down these accounts, but they don’t because they know how they are useful.
Going a step further, Netflix has embraced the no-context trend for its official marketing strategy for the high school comedy-drama “Sex Education.” With over 400,000 followers, the context-free Twitter-verified account is hugely popular, but it’s also met with some resistance.
“I totally disagree with [Netflix] co-opting the trend,” says Nichols, adding that he often gets “cranky” when corporate social accounts and TV shows attempt to mimic internet language. “Some things are born from the Internet and should continue to belong to Internet users.”
McCrory adds, “That’s how the Internet works. Young people come up with something cool, then companies see it and co-opt it, and it gets uncool.
Of course, while many dispute that a major streamer is taking advantage of something online fans are already doing for free, others are simply surprised to see the trend reaching new heights.
“We do it for fun, so it’s just crazy that it reached Netflix and got this far,” says Francesca Persick, who runs a context-free account for “Glee.” “They saw all these amateur accounts bringing resurgences to their shows, so they created their own account without context because it works.”
Representatives from Netflix and ‘Sex Education’ declined to speak with Variety for this report.