"Shadow Play" is the 26th episode of the second season of The Twilight Zone, and was first broadcast in May of 1961. It starred Dennis Weaver as convicted murderer Adam Grant. It was written by Charles Beaumont.
The story begins with Adam Grant in the courtroom, where the jury foreman declares him guilty of first degree murder and the judge sentences him to the electric chair. Grant then laughs and launches himself at the judge, yelling that the judge has doomed all of them to death. The opening is rather stark, and certainly raised my intrigue about what was to come.
Adam Grant has claimed that he is asleep, dreaming, and that all the people around him are the creation of his dream. When he dies, everyone around him will disappear, and he will then relive the nightmare of execution over and over. The next scene cuts to the district attorney meeting with a newspaper editor who suggests that as insane as the story sounds, it might have some meaning to it. At the very least, someone who has such a far-fetched belief may not be sane enough to stand trial for murder. The district attorney goes to visit the prisoner, and while he doesn't believe his story, he does try to get the man a reprieve for insanity. But will he manage to do so in time, and if he doesn't, will the entire world, indeed, disappear?
This is one of the best Twilight Zone episodes I have seen so far at playing with the viewers' sense of reality. It is not necessarily one of the best, or scariest, but it does manage to keep the viewer on edge wondering where reality starts and stops. It is also perhaps the most intelligent piece of metafiction I have seen so far. The imprisoned Adam Grant comments that his upcoming execution is too perfect: his sentence is scheduled for the same day he was convicted, and he is waiting on a cellblock with a stereotypical cast of prison characters. He is aware that his reality is only the product of recycled media tropes, but he is unable to do anything about it. In all, this episode is a strong example of The Twilight Zone as an innovative, concept-driven show.