Has the tension of our current political era changed the way television is being made? Game of Thrones EP and former HBO President Carolyn Strauss thinks so.

Speaking during a PaleyLive panel discussion celebrating the first part of the upcoming CNN original series The 2000s: A Look Back at the Dawn of TV’s New Golden Age, Strauss said that these days, “There’s a totally different consciousness in the mind of viewers and the mind of the people who are buying the shows.”

“We need a laugh,” Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul creator Vince Gilligan added, elaborating that polarized, straightforwardly ‘good’ or ‘bad’ characters began to seem outmoded in the 2000s with the advent of the anti-hero, but that maybe now, “it’s time for heroes again.”

walter white

“I can tell you just from the way Walter White came about,” Gilligan said of creating one of those first anti-heroes of note. “I watch a lot of TV. I love TV. I still do. Growing up I watched a lot of ’50s ’60s TV, and back then the order of the day you had the folks wearing the white hats and the folks wearing the black hats. You had good guys and bad guys.”

With the success of anti-heroes Walter White, Tony Soprano and The Shield’s Vic Mackey, there grew a solid platform for more complex and realistic characters.

“The truth is none of us are all good or all bad, Strauss said. “We move from dark to light… I think all of us at HBO are attracted to the grey areas.” 

“Real people are various shades of grey,” Gilligan added. “We all have good and bad that are contained within us.” 

Gilligan added. “I don’t know that we can ever go back to the characters that are all good or all bad, but maybe around the corner are more characters who are flawed, who work very hard to do the right thing and who want to be good, even when they’re not. Even when they try and they fail. They have feet of clay but still do their best to self-sacrifice.”

James Gandolfini in 'The Sopranos'

Strauss also discussed being part of the Game of Thrones team following her transition from her previous corporate HBO role.

“I will say that I think I got incredibly lucky in being able to work David (Benioff) and Dan (Weiss) and that was one of those things where it was like, ‘These guys have never done something like this before’, but they really adapted to it…I had a lot of people at HBO that I loved working with, then being at Thrones is a great, great team…It’s a great group to work with.”

Asked by an audience member what budget discussions had been like for such an ambitious show, Strauss said, “I think that we were really, really lucky in that HBO was willing to jump off a cliff with it. And ultimately I think it will be–it already is–a profitable show for them. But we didn’t want to do anything halfway. We wanted to do it better than we’d done it before. The thing about Game of Thrones that’s amazing is you have this entire crew who has that same ambition. Everybody wants to do their job better than they’d done it previously, so it’s very aspirational in that way, and we had the support from the network to back it up.”