On New Year’s Day, Peacock dropped the first three episodes of its true crime series “Paul T. Goldman,” a documentary loosely based on Paul Finkelman’s semi-autobiographical self-published book. The show, utilizing reenactments and behind-the-scenes shots, has the eccentric Finkelman telling the story of his relationship with his second wife, whom he believed was living a double life as a prostitute, dating her pimp and running an international sex trafficking ring.
It was directed by “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” director Jason Woliner, who brought an ambitious use of satire to the streaming platform. Finkelman’s unique delivery and distorted facts and his attempt to set the record straight in the form of a movie that he directs and writes himself, starring himself, creates an unconventional type of nonfiction storytelling. Still, Peacock and Woliner saw it as a documentary and decided to submit it for Emmys consideration in outstanding documentary or nonfiction series. However, not everything works out the way you hope.
After submitting, the TV Academy rejected the bid, but Woliner and Peacock persisted, submitting a petition to override the ruling. In the filing the petition, Woliner highlighted past docuseries like HBO’s “The Jinx” as references. Part of the document read: “Robert Durst isn’t forthright in The Jinx, but Andrew Jarecki allows him to speak and tell his version of his story and then presents facts that counter it. That is the same approach I took with Paul Finkelman in this series. Using a very common true crime documentary approach, I attempt to hook the viewer in by presenting Paul’s unchallenged perspective first before questioning, countering, and debunking his statements and introducing other real people’s accounts – along with factual evidence that our team collected from thousands of pages of court records, police reports, and other material – to arrive, by the end of the series, at the objective truth.”
Woliner also compared the documentary style to “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse” and “The Beatles: Get Back.”
The peer group rejected the bid, stating: “The series is Paul’s one-sided account of what he says happened to him, which doesn’t fall under documentary programming. Even the series itself calls into question if the content is factual.”
The lines between fiction and non-fiction and documentaries and reality TV have become increasingly blurred. That evolution is evident in shows such as Amazon Freevee’s mockumentary “Jury Duty,” which features an unknowing citizen (Ronald Gladden) participating in a fake court case. That series was successfully submitted as a comedy series, where it’ll face off against scripted shows like “Abbott Elementary” and “Ted Lasso.” However, Gladden’s acting submission would likely have not been accepted in the lead comedy actor category because he’s not “acting.” So don’t look for his name to be called on Emmy nomination morning.
With “Paul T. Goldman” now rejected for documentary, the creatives asked the TV Academy where it would be allowed to compete.
The next logical place was in the newly titled scripted variety category (formerly sketch series), where it would stand alongside NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” and HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” which was moved into the category by the TV Academy this year. Creatives were told by the TV Academy that would not be an option for the series as it lacks “scripted” elements.
That left the options of the main series races — drama, comedy and limited. Peacock and Woliner confirm to Variety exclusively that the show will compete for outstanding limited or anthology series, with its central figure, Paul Finkelman, angling for an acting nom against contenders Evan Peters (“Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story”) and Taron Egerton (“Black Bird”).
Woliner is “baffled” at the TV Academy’s refusal to accept it as a documentary series. “I’m well aware that it’s an unusual show, but in the decade-plus that I worked on it, I’ve always considered the project a documentary,” Woliner tells Variety. “In an era where similar formally-experimental documentaries like “The Act of Killing” and “Exit Through The Gift Shop” have received Oscar recognition, it’s disheartening that the Television Academy seems stuck in a rigid, outmoded view of what filmmaking tools a doc series can use to explore truth.”
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” netted two Oscar noms for supporting actress (Maria Bakalova) and adapted screenplay with many of its elements improvised. While a nomination for “Paul T. Goldman” may seem like a long shot, the debate highlights the need for the TV Academy to remain flexible in allowing shows to compete that align with the vision of the creatives that made them.
In addition to Woliner, the show is executive produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who owns the production company Point Grey Studios. Additional executive producers include James Weaver and Loreli Alanis for Point Grey, Megan Ellison for Annapurna, and Michael Sagol and Bert Hamelinck for Caviar. Tyler Ben-Amotz produces for Caviar.
The show is now streaming on Peacock.
Emmy Awards Predictions Categories
DRAMA SERIES | COMEDY SERIES | LIMITED OR ANTHOLOGY SERIES | TV MOVIE | LEAD ACTOR (DRAMA) | LEAD ACTOR (COMEDY) | LEAD ACTOR (LIMITED/TV MOVIE) | LEAD ACTRESS (DRAMA) | LEAD ACTRESS (COMEDY) | LEAD ACTRESS (LIMITED/TV MOVIE) | SUPPORTING ACTOR (DRAMA) | SUPPORTING ACTOR (COMEDY) | SUPPORTING ACTOR (LIMITED/TV MOVIE) | SUPPORTING ACTRESS (DRAMA) | SUPPORTING ACTRESS (COMEDY) | SUPPORTING ACTRESS (LIMITED/TV MOVIE) | TALK SERIES | SCRIPTED VARIETY | GAME SHOW | DIRECTING (DRAMA, COMEDY, LIMITED/TV MOVIE) | WRITING (DRAMA, COMEDY, LIMITED/TV MOVIE) | REALITY (COMPETITION, STRUCTURED, UNSTRUCTURED, HOST)
Creative Arts and Other Emmy Categories
GUEST ACTOR (DRAMA) | GUEST ACTRESS (DRAMA) | GUEST ACTOR (COMEDY) | GUEST ACTRESS (COMEDY) | VOICE-OVER | SHORT FORM | DOCUMENTARY | MUSIC | ANIMATED |