As Page Six first reported last night, and which has been confirmed (of all places) on Tyra Banks’ Facebook page, Tyra has fired noted fashion photographer Nigel Barker, photo shoot director Jay Manuel and runway trainer extraordinaire J. Alexander from the America’s Next Top Model team — thus axing the series’ three longest-running and most beloved personalities in one fell swoop.

Barker, Manuel and Alexander were reportedly informed Thursday morning that their contracts would not be renewed for Cycle 18. Late last night, Tyra posted this message along with a photo of her three former assistants:

“To my Nigel Barker, Miss J, and Mr Jay: Thank you for all of our years together on America’s Next Top Model! Working with you is always an absolute pleasure. Excited for what the future holds for us.”

Executive producer Ken Mok tells US Weekly in a statement:

“Nigel Barker, Jay Manuel and J. Alexander have been an integral part of the America’s Next Top Model brand and they helped turn this show into the household name it is today. They have been amazing assets to the show and will always be a part of the Top Model family. We will continue to actively work with each of them on future projects.”

Indeed, all three men have played big roles on Top Model since the beginning. Barker has served on the judging panel since the show’s second cycle in 2004, and Manuel and Alexander have both been regular personalities, coaches and judges since the very first cycle. The underlying and unanswered question, then, is why?

Don’t expect the answer to come from Tyra (we all know how forthright she is about explaining ANTM personnel changes), but the Page Six story hints that publicist Kelly Cutrone’s addition to the ANTM panel this year, replacing Vogue editor-at-large Andre Leon Talley, could be just the beginning of a philosophical shift going on behind the scenes:

“A show insider told us the departures were a “production decision” and that there are “major changes planned for [season] 19.” We hear producers are looking to add a social media slant to the show, and they’ve already reached out to bloggers and fashion insiders with a strong Web presence, including street-style blogger Bryan Boy.”

Jay Manuel posted on his blog this morning, under the headline, “It’s a Wrap Everybody…”:

“I’ve truly been blessed to work on a show that was recognized and loved around the world. I’ll take with me memories and lessons that will last a lifetime. Nigel, Miss J and I had a great run, and now it’s time for us to move on. But you know me… I’m already working on many interesting projects.”

UPDATE: Nigel Barker spoke with E! Online and said that his dismissal “wasn’t a shock,” “there aren’t any hard feelings,” and that, “This isn’t a Tyra thing. This is a network thing.” The photogragher said he had been on and escaped the CW chopping block before, and that before the decision was made, he had been privy to “a discussion that ratings were down and that something like this would happen.”

Tell us: Will you still watch America’s Next Top Model without Nigel, Mister Jay and Miss J? Oh, dear. Even typing that just gave me an incurable case of the sads.

(Image courtesy of CW)

Meghan Carlson

Senior Writer, BuddyTV

Meghan hails from Walla Walla, WA, the proud home of the world’s best sweet onions and Adam West, the original Batman. An avid grammarian and over-analyzer, you can usually find her thinking too hard about plot devices in favorites like The OfficeIt’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and How I Met Your Mother. In her spare time, Meghan enjoys drawing, shopping, trying to be funny (and often failing), and not understanding the whole Twilight thing. She’s got a BA in English and Studio Art from Whitman College, which makes her a professional arguer, daydreamer, and doodler.