It seems like Prof. Harold Hill has returned to River City, only this time instead of a boys' band it's cable television he talks about.

First he dazzles the city fathers and mothers with visions of a glorious cable system, one that will work virtual miracles on the town.

Seventy-eight channels in the big parade! And a business network right behind.

Every home in the city will be wired and ready for state-of-the-art services by 1990, they are told. All eight wards will have some cable by next year, and eight gleaming studios will await citizen-generated presentations.

So the city fathers and mothers sign a 15-year contract. Give us this spit-and-shine technological phenomenon, they said.

But four months have gone by, and all that has appeared are more and more excuses -- for missed deadlines, for the inability to get financing, for failing to meet obligations on security deposits and franchise award fees.

Some of the River City citizens are beginning to doubt.

But, they are told, if only they believe, it can happen. If you close your eyes and think you can have cable, you will. Oh, and throw in $32 million in concessions before we go any farther.

It's a scene that has been played out in a number of different cities throughout the country: lofty promises made to win cable franchise awards closely followed by a demand for concessions. Now it's the District of Columbia's turn to wonder if the cable company it chose will come through.

District Cablevision Inc. last year competed against two other firms that also wanted the cable franchise. While saying it could build a $130 million cable system with all the trimmings in four years, DCI officials billed their proposal as realistic.

They weren't going off the charts offering 170 channels like one of their competitors, Capital City Cable, DCI said. They weren't promising 20 neighborhood-access studios like a third competitor, District Telecommunications Development Corp. DCI told anyone who would listen that it could provide a basic tier of services to all residences by 1990 for $1.95 a month, substantially less than the $4.95 a month quoted by District Telecommunication and the $2.95 a month of Capital City.

DCI said it could do all the necessary underground wiring and provide an institutional network that would provide two-way communication between government agencies and hospitals and schools and banks.

Now the company says it is impossible to provide all that it promised, that it cannot get financial backing for such a system. To be economically viable, the city will have to allow the firm to delay payments to the District, to provide 60 rather than 78 channels, charge higher rates and not be required to wire all homes if the average cost goes beyond $500 per unit, the officials said.

City Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), chair of the council's cable television committee that is considering the request for concessions, made no attempt to hide her frustration and outrage at the trail of broken promises when confronted last week with the request for concessions.

She said she "cannot believe how irresponsible" DCI has been and that she has "no confidence" in them.

Richard Maulsby, director of the D.C. Office of Cable Television, told Kane's committee that DCI had established a pattern of failure to deliver that "makes me believe that there is nobody there minding the store."

In March the company failed to meet a deadline for showing it had bought necessary insurance policies for its operations. In April DCI failed to deposit $312,500 due into an escrow account as part of a $2 million security fund designed to protect the city's interest if the company defaulted on the agreement. At at the end of this month the company will not be able to meet its deadline pay the District the $250,000 franchise fee, Maulsby said.

Kane says the burden of proof is on the company to show that it really tried to get financing and could not.

But everyone wants cable in the District as soon as possible, and nobody relishes the idea of going through another year's delay and the ordeal of repeating the bidding and award process.

While irked, to say the least, both Kane and Maulsby said they still want to try to work with DCI. Some of the modifications make sense or would not hurt the system in any basic way, they say.

But the city does not want to free the company from wiring each and every home, nor does it want to give up on the institutional network.

So now the council has to decide whether it should yield to the request for $32 million in concessions, declare the company in default and start over or give it a take-it-or-leave-it offer with fewer concessions.

In the end, what most people really want to know is when the city will get a cable system, so District residents can watch rock videos on MTV or semicurrent movies or champion mud-wrestling along with many of their suburban neighbors.

The company wants to start wiring in areas that need only aerial wiring, leaving to the last those parts of the city that require underground wiring such as downtown areas. But the firm swears that, if it gets the concessions, it can start on schedule next spring with wiring the city.

But given performance to date, don't bet your pool money on it. the company to show that it really tried to get financing and could not.

But everyone wants cable in the District as soon as possible, and nobody relishes the idea of going through another year's delay and the ordeal of repeating the bidding and award process.

While irked, to say the least, both Kane and Maulsby said they still want to try to work with DCI. Some of the modifications make sense or would not hurt the system in any basic way, they say.

But the city does not want to free the company from wiring each and every home, nor does it want to give up on the institutional network.

So now the council has to decide whether it should yield to the request for $32 million in concessions, declare the company in default and start over or give it a take-it-or-leave-it offer with fewer concessions.

In the end, what most people really want to know is when the city will get a cable system, so District residents can watch rock videos on MTV or semicurrent movies or champion mud-wrestling along with many of their suburban neighbors.

The company wants to start wiring in areas that need only aerial wiring, leaving to the last those parts of the city that require underground wiring such as downtown areas. But the firm swears that, if it gets the concessions, it can start on schedule next spring with wiring the city.

But given performance to date, don't bet your pool money on it.