Goldstone was noted for the momentum and "fifteen-minute cliffhangers" that he brought to TV pilots such as Star Trek ("Where No Man Has Gone Before", 1966), Ironside, and The Bold Ones: The Senator. His later career helped pioneer the concept of "thirty-second attention span" pacing over detailed content in his dramatizations of Rita Hayworth, Calamity Jane, and the Kent State shootings for which he won the Emmy.
During his Hollywood career, he directed Paul Newman, Robert De Niro, Robert Shaw, James Garner, Richard Dreyfuss and Sidney Poitier and collaborated with composer and musician, Lalo Schifrin. He "discovered" Tiny Tim. In addition to his work in film and television, Goldstone was a longtime leader in the Director's and Writers Guilds. In his later life, he taught both at Bennington College and in the masters program at Columbia University. During the 1990s he directed a number of theatrical productions in New England. He was also central in the establishment of National Public Radio presence in Vermont and was the moving force behind the creation of the Vermont Arts Council which named its award for new talent the James Goldstone Award.
Goldstone was the son of Hollywood agent and early television producer, Jules Goldstone.