Is Paul T. Goldman Based on a True Story?

A new documentary series will have you questioning reality.

Documentary fans are used to diving into a slice of reality, but what happens when a viewer can’t figure out if what they’re seeing is even real? It might sound like an unpleasant viewing experience, but when it comes to the new Peacock docuseries Paul T. Goldmanit’s a rollercoaster that’s incredibly gripping, hilarious and truly rewarding.

Paul T. Goldman is the pseudonym of a real person named Paul Finkelman, an average yet eccentric man who was cheated on by his ex-wife. The story goes like this: Paul is an ordinary guy who sells insurance in Florida – a divorced single father looking for love who meets a woman online. She says all the right things about prioritizing family and wanting to settle down. They get married after a few months and things are going well… Until he realizes she’s cheating him out of thousands of dollars and has a girlfriend on the side. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon these days, but what happens next is true crime fantasy.


Trying to catch his wife in a lie, Paul comes to the unlikely conclusion that she is a madam who runs an international sex-trafficking ring with the help of others, including her pimp boyfriend. He hires private investigators and the media to help him get to the bottom of the caper. It all sounds unbelievable, and it gets Paul, so he decides to milk it: In 2009, Paul writes a book, followed by a screenplay, based on his experience with his double ex. Then he teases a bunch of filmmakers on Twitter, until he gets the attention of Jason Woliner (the director of the 2020 film) Borat Sequel motion picture).

Over the next decade, Woliner filmed Paul in typical documentary style. And when it came time to put together the Peacock series, Woliner mixed in those interviews the script scenes that Paul wrote with real actors (including Frank Grillo and Rosanna Arquette). Who plays Paul? Of course he does. “Nobody could play Paul T. Goldman better than Paul T. Goldman,” Woliner told us in a recent interview.

The result is a drama/docus series that revolves around a person so incredibly over the top that the end result borders on fake. “He has this specific personality,” Woliner said. “He’s one of those guys you look at and think, Oh, he’s a character. And part of that process is trying to get to the human underneath.” That’s perfectly demonstrated when they film a scene from the book where Paul’s fears about his ex are confirmed, and he smiles uncontrollably throughout the take until Woliner points out that it doesn’t make sense for him to smile at it.period.

Paul T. Goldman as Paul T. Goldman (Photo: Tyler Golden/Peacock)

Moments like these will make you pause to check the show description to make sure you didn’t misread: “So it said MOCKuseries?” Nix.

Paul believes that his wild tale is a true story, but even to the assumption begins to unravel as Woliner digs deeper. Woliner’s role as director eventually evolves into that of pseudo-therapist and detective, and he becomes an integral part of the series.

It will be a dynamic show that combines comedy, crime and heartfelt humanity. It makes you question why you watch true crime shows, what real documentaries are actually like, and whether Paul himself is the ultimate con artist. The series finale, which aired Sunday and was filmed until last month, leaves plenty of unanswered questions. So to fill in some of the blanks, we turned to Woliner – who still don’t have all the answers.

Paul T. Goldman and Jason Woliner direct the series
Paul and Jason direct a scene from his book.

Katie Couric Media: I’m kind of amazed: Can you break down what was real, what was written but based on reality, and what was completely fake, if anything?

Jason Woliner: When I met Paul in 2012, he had written his book Duplicity: A True Story of Crime and Deception, and he presented everything in it as true. Part of the show is me trying to determine what was true and what was false. Perhaps he misunderstood things or remembered incorrectly, or perhaps things were not quite as he understood them to be. The scenes we filmed were based on his first book and he thought they were accurate.

It’s not like Paul is crazy and it’s all fake. Some people online have wondered, “will it be revealed that this is all fake?” But no, Paul is a real person.

What did you do believe was true when you first met Paul?

It wasn’t like I found the story and said, “OK, that can’t be true. It’s all fake.”

I think Paul was in this marriage with this person who was leading a quote unquote double life. Whether it was an escort service or just a Florida swinger lifestyle was always unclear to me.

I went in knowing nothing but what I had read in the book and thinking that all of this could be true. I was unraveling it myself until the very end when we finally got some of the right players involved and we were able to really flesh things out. We were concerned when we reached out to the alleged pimp Cadillac McDaniel, whom Paul calls “Royce Rocco” in the book – we considered them possibly dangerous criminals because all I had was the picture that Paul had painted .

When we were filming the series, we were lucky enough to track down “Royce Rocco” and of course he was the nicest person, just an extremely likeable guy. That’s not to say that I think so he is told the truth about everything, but he was undoubtedly charismatic. And based on interviews with him and some of the other characters accused in the book, we determined that this whole thing about Paul’s ex running a people-trafficking operation was probably false.

When did your confidence in Paul’s detective work begin to crumble?

In the big interview I did with him in 2014, which took many hours, I found that he elaborated on some stories in the book – like that his wife didn’t really throw lo mein at his head when he asked for a divorce. But at the time he said 99 percent of his stories are true—then he adjusts it to 97 percent. As for the criminal allegations in his story, I really didn’t have a firm opinion of what was true or not until we really went down to Florida a few months ago and did the legwork.

For me it was never just about proving Paul wrong or not telling the truth about certain things. It was much more about finding out if he was wrong about something or not conveying an image that is consistent with what I believe to be the truth. I wanted to explore how important it is to live in a reality that matches other people’s, or objective, reality? It was more interesting to me.

Paul T. Goldman - Season:1
Frank Grillo as Dan Hardwick, Paul T. Goldman as Paul T. Goldman (Photo: Evans Vestal Ward/Peacock)

The series also features produced scenes starring Paul as himself and actors portraying the people in his life. I understand that the scenes are taken from his book, but was there ever a point where you planned to make a scripted drama series out of this book?

At the very beginning, Paul reached out to me and many others and said he had written a book and a script. I read the book and fell in love with so much of it. And at first I thought, Maybe this could be a scripted movie about this kind of “character” trying to take down a crime ring. It’s fun – almost like taken, but with a nebbish silly guy. But then I met him a few months later and then I realized, oh no, Paul is the story here. Paul is the interresting. What I’m really obsessed with is Hi m.

So from very early on I knew that the best way to convey what I found so fascinating about him was to film Paul’s scenes from his script and his other writing, star him and show the process. But at the same time, I didn’t want it to feel like a joke or mean. So I sort of let him rule.

So what did he think was being done all along?

He knew exactly what was being done, in a very practical sense. When we shot, he knew we were shooting dramatized scenes from his writing and pairing it with the interviews with him and the real people involved.

I told him we would have cameras shooting all the time and we would try to find an honest truth. Of course there are differences between the way he would have edited the show and how I edited it.

When I finally showed him the show, and that moment is in the last episode, I had no idea how he would react. And you see him asking why we had to show certain things and saying he would have done it differently. But eventually he absorbed it and I thought he reacted very honestly, it was really mature and inspiring.

Why did you answer him in the first place?

That’s a good question. I think it’s the nature of my personality to go down an internet rabbit hole. It was 2012, Twitter was a different thing. It was fun — pre-Musk, pre-Trump. I watched his video and followed his Twitter for a while before reaching out. And then I bought his book, and after reading it, I was all in. I’m sure everyone else he contacted ignored the tweet. What lit a fire under me was when I saw that he kept tweeting to now-disgraced director Brett Ratner, who wrote back to him: “Send me the book.” And I thought, Oh no, what if this guy picks it and I miss something? So that’s when I emailed Paul.

Part of me thinks you may have been cheated. Is there any chance that Paul’s story is completely made up because he wanted to be famous? Maybe that’s why he did so well in the final.

I don’t think so, because when I was able to show him what we discovered, the way he reacted was so honest and raw. And it was really one of the only times he didn’t do “Paul T. Goldman.” He’s one of those guys you look at and think, Oh, he’s a character. But I don’t think he was acting at that moment. He absorbed the new information and it was almost like watching his brain change its shape. He realized, “This whole thing that I believed in for a decade and a half, it doesn’t seem to be true.”

I think he really believed it until then, but the belief was based on a few pieces of evidence. I always assumed there would be a reasonable explanation for what happened, or just some kind of Florida shade, but probably not a big sex-trafficking ring. Of course, it turned out to be none of that.


He appeared Jimmy Kimmel with Seth Rogen, who co-produced the series, and Jimmy asked Paul if he’s still single. He said he is, and for anyone interested, sending him a message on Twitter, which Seth pointed out, might just “make the same thing happen again.” Do you think Paul is susceptible to fraud? Are you worried that it will happen again or that he is falling for another scam?

I do not know. I don’t think there is anything more I could have done to prevent something like this from happening to Paul again. Part of the show is meant to make a viewer wonder, Is this show just an example of this happening again? Did Paul give me too much power to tell his story and what are my intentions? And I think they’re clear by the end, but I wanted people to see that Paul is still a very trusting person.

What is your relationship with Paul now?

I like Paul. I have known him for a decade and I consider him a friend, we talk every day. I really tried to do right by him.

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