HDTVChallenged, I had a similar reaction. I first read about Downton Abbey shortly before the UK premiere and said to myself "Oh great, yet another period drama...I'll pass." Then, after the UK premiere received such high ratings and great reviews, I quickly went online, "found" the first episode, and was hooked! And as you've probably read above, I bought the US DVD last week when it was released, and I can't wait to watch Season 1 again.
I refuse to think of Downton Abbey as a primetime soap..."UK period drama" sounds so much better!
Just in case anyone wasn't aware, the US DVD contains Season 1 presented in its original unedited format (7 episodes - the season premiere and finale run about 63 minutes each and the five episodes in the middle about 47-48 minutes each). The PBS broadcast version has been "condensed" to 4 episodes that run about 86-87 minutes each, meaning roughly 30 minutes has been removed. Luckily, PBS had enough sense to put the full version on DVD (something they haven't done for some past UK shows, like the first two seasons of Lewis).