The White House is not amused that The TV Column referred to President Clinton as a replacement for Mariah Carey on yesterday's debut of CBS's "The Early Show," after the dance-pop diva bailed.

It seems nobody, but nobody, gets an interview with the great and powerful Wizard of . . . excuse me, president of the United States, on short notice. Not even CBS. So much has to be sorted out. There's the Who, not to mention the What, followed by the When, and the Why and, of course, the How--and that takes weeks.

"The White House has been working with the new program for several weeks--about a month and a half--to work this out, and we're really pleased it did work out, but it's been in the works for a long time," said White House spokesman Barry Toiv, who called yesterday morning.

Toiv acknowledged that the White House's official green-light for Bryant Gumbel's interview with Clinton probably came after Carey took a powder last Wednesday. The clothing-challenged singer canceled on "Early Show" when CBS couldn't produce the city permits she needed to do a two-song outdoor infomercial on the program, to plug her new album.

NBC's "Today" show, which is located in Rockefeller Center, was happy to accommodate and that's where she appeared on Monday, exclusively. Clinton appeared exclusively on "Early Show" and was absolutely not, the White House says officially, a fill-in for Carey.

"Anybody who has listened to his voice would know that," Toiv quipped.

It's that time of year again--the leaves are turning, the days are growing shorter, and the stars of TV shows are renegotiating their contracts in the press.

This time it's "Friends," and this year the strategy is as follows: David Schwimmer--he's the Geeky Spice Boy on the hip NBC sitcom--does a phone group hug with the press to flog the fact that he directed this week's episode of the show. During the course of the Q&A, he says he's not interested in doing another season if any of the gang decides not to come back. All of the cast members' contracts expire at season's end.

Schwimmer also tells reporters that the show will be around only if all six cast members--including Courteney Cox Arquette, Jennifer Aniston, Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc and Lisa Kudrow--are doing it. How cute is that! Apparently he's operating under the illusion that the reporters have never heard of another NBC show called "Law & Order" that has continued to thrive on the network for nine seasons even though cast members are routinely dumped for sport. Maybe Schwimmer's too young to remember Shelley Long's much-publicized, the-show-can't-survive exit from NBC's "Cheers."

Then again, maybe he's sending a signal to NBC that the "Friends" stars will once again, as they did in '97, collectively negotiate their new contracts.

Surely NBC suits anticipated that over the summer, when they agreed to cough up about $5 million per episode to renew the show through the 2001-02 TV season.

Schwimmer also said society is obsessed with what people earn on TV shows--and then reminded reporters that "Friends" cast members are each making about $125,000 a week and that the stars of "Seinfeld" made $600,000 a week.

I'm telling you, this guy's the cutest!

John Yang, formerly of The Washington Post, has been named a correspondent at ABC News. He'll be based in the network's Washington bureau and will cover politics and general news stories for ABC's news programs as well as

Yang most recently was director of recruiting and hiring for the Post newsroom, after serving as a staff writer in the business section while anchoring "The Washington Post Business Report" on NBC's WRC.

He joined the newspaper in 1990 as a congressional correspondent, and also served as White House correspondent, assistant financial editor, and political editor for the Style section.

Before joining The Post, Yang worked for the Boston Globe, Time magazine and the Wall Street Journal, covering Congress and national politics.

NBC has finally yanked its Friday ratings repeller "Cold Feet." Last Friday the new one-hour series was NBC's least watched original program ever in its Friday 10 p.m. time period. The network will run "Law & Order" reruns in its time slot through the end of December, starting with the episode from last season that featured Julia Roberts.

WJLA is karate-chopping ABC original programming tonight in favor of a 10-year-old martial arts movie.

"Best of the Best," starring Eric Roberts (Julia's older, less pretty brother) and James Earl Jones, will preempt original episodes of "Spin City," "It's Like, You Know . . . ," "Dharma & Greg" and "Sports Night" on Channel 7 from 8 to 10 p.m. "Once and Again" was spared the ax and will air at its regular 10 p.m. slot.

The movie last aired on Channel 7 in September 1996 at 11:30 p.m., when it drew 76,000 households--viewer figures weren't available.

WJLA General Manager Chris Pike told The Post's John Maynard that he wrongly presumed ABC would air reruns this week, a time of year when many of the networks save their strength for the November sweeps derby, which starts Thursday. "We have since found that it is original episodes," Pike explained. Since WJLA itself bought the broadcast rights to the movie, it sold all the ad time, rather than splitting it with the network.

Pike said that Channel 7 is "making plans to try and broadcast the episodes" of the four displaced series so that "people that are loyal fans can catch up with their favorite shows."

The station has in fact scheduled those "lost" episodes--for Saturday morning, at 1:05 a.m. If you don't know how to set your VCR, call WJLA for help.

I'm sorrier than you'll ever know to report that ABC has green-lighted a script for a drama series called "Holmes & Watson" in which Sherlock Holmes and his partner, Dr. John H. Watson, are now private eyes working the Venice Beach area of Southern California.

CAPTION: President Clinton, CBS's best guest after Mariah Carey canceled on "The Early Show."